Julia Child's souffles prepared me for taijiquan


With the holiday feasting lately, I realized that, of all things, souffle-making was part of my childhood "training" that prepped me well for taiji - which I found in my 20s. My mom had a side hustle as a caterer for large, in-home dinner parties. It was a BIG deal whenever she brought out Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking cookbook. I watched her handwhip souffles, and when she felt I was ready, she let me whip and fold on my own.

My mom said that some use an electric beater and mixer, but Julia Child wouldn't, so we wouldn't either. Just like taiji. No short cuts. Handwhipping the egg whites into stiff white peaks was the toughest step. "No stopping! The air will escape!" Too much beating and the egg whites collapse. All joints along the arm - wrist, elbow, shoulder - should remain loose. Gripping the whisk too tightly leads to cramping. Sound familiar? She even overwhipped a set to show me what that meant. The puffed white "melt" back into liquid. A souffle can collapse at any point - during whipping, folding, or baking. It is not a mindless recipe. Lose focus as it bakes and you might miss the peak rise and serve deflated, sunken sponge cakes.

I worked with my mom this way from ten years old through my teenage years. Now, when I read Julia Child's cookbook for myself, I can better appreciate what it must have took for her to document all her pointers so that French cooking would be available to the masses. What touches me about her work is that she did not compromise or water down the cuisine. There is no short cut to a coq au vin or bourguignon. Often in taiji class, new students will might ask about a shorter form (aka 24 postures) or a shorter system of joint rotations (less than 20 min?), and wonder why the Lao Jia "mother form" given to absolute beginners is 75 postures. Julia Child's book believed that readers were capable of complexity and detail. My taiji lineage prides itself on preserving the "Old Frame" of Chen Taijiquan - and also believes "taiji belongs to the world." Julia Child was her own Grandmaster. She wrote a cookbook that transformed American home cooking - one that publishers didn't want to print because it was too big and too expensive. Thankfully, one lucky publisher recognized it's masterpiece. Her story gives me faith in transforming taiji practice for Americans too. ;)