Periodically I revisit this short clip of Julia Child flipping a potato pancake —”a daring thing to do” — on her ’70s television show where flubs and mess-ups were left as-is. In the course of a few minutes, the amazing Julia ad libs essential wisdom that applies to any daring endeavor, and life itself.

After half the potato pancake landed on the stove, she explains why the fail happened:

When you flip anything, you must have the courage of your convictions...See when I flipped it, I didn’t, I didn’t have the courage to do it the way I should have.

Her assessment is spot-on. Look closely and you can see her unease as she gets ready to flip the potatoes. She didn’t feel courage. But she was candid about her momentary lapse — we all have them — and completely unembarrassed about what to do with the crashed mess of potatoes:

But you can always pick it up. If you’re alone in the kitchen, who is going to see?

For Julia, her fail was an opportunity to learn:

But the only way you learn how to flip is just to flip.

And of course, expanding her essential principle:

The only way you learn how to cook is just to cook…

The only way you learn how to draw is just to draw…

The only way you learn how to love is just to love…

…making mistakes and learning, on and on…


Through her crashed potato, Julia shared a lesson that applies to most things in life:

Anytime that anything like this happens, you haven’t lost anything because you can always turn it into something else.

The morphing of failure into something new is what art and life are made of.

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2 replies on “Julia Child’s Life Lessons with Potato Pancake

  1. Isn’t she just phenomenal? I find it far more helpful to see experts experiencing some sort of failure than seeing groomed footage where everything goes perfectly from start to finish. It’s much more instructive to see how things might (probably will) go wrong and how the expert handles that. Because if it goes wrong for Julia Childs, I’m pretty sure it’s going to go wrong for me. And now I know how to fix it if it does. Brilliant clip. Thank you.

  2. Julia was/is a force! In all the times I crossed paths with her when I worked in the food world, she was utterly herself, generous, kind, never trying to be some perfect idea. Which is why she was such a great teacher.

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