If you said Julia Child, you are mistaken. Julia Child has often been credited with bringing French cooking to America, but, in fact, Julia Child herself described the first woman to host a television cooking show in America to be the “the mother of French cooking in America.”
Child’s show, The French Chef, first aired in 1963. The first cooking show by a woman, however, actually erred in 1947. The host of Dione Lucas, and the name of the show was To the Queen’s Taste. It ran on CBS from 1947 to 1949. Lucas then hosted other shows such as The Dione Lucas Cooking Show, from 1953 to 1956. This means that not only was she the first woman to host a cooking show, she was on of the earliest television cooking show hosts, period. She had up to 100,000 viewers.
The Dione Lucas Cooking Show was sponsored by Caloric gas appliances, and her huge audience and celebrity status allowed her to sale many gas appliances, such as gas ranges, through her show.
Dione Lucas, like Julia Child who followed in her footsteps, taught about cooking from a much different perspective than most of her contemporaries. Cooking instruction catering to women in America had usually been dominated by home economists, who were more concerned with feeding a family on a budget and housewifery which could be translated into “being a good little wife.” Lucas, on the other hand, was a big proponent of French cooking, and promoted cooking as an art.
Instead of preaching thriftiness and advocating modern time-saving conveniences, as well as conforming to gender-roles, she broke the prevailing mode. This may be part of the reason she is not as remember as Julia Child who was able to take advantage of the cultural expectations that Lucas herself helped change. About cooking, she said in the Cordon Bleu Cook Book:
There is a tendency to whisk in and out of the kitchen, to be lured by dishes that can be made most quickly. Cooking cannot be relegated to
the same category as dishwashing or making beds.
Lucas graduated from Le Cordon Blue Cooking School in Paris. She is listed by the school to be the first female graduate. Along with her fellow graduate, Rosemary Hume, she opened the Cordon Bleu Cooking School in London. In 1937, she opened Au Petit Cordon Bleu Restaurant. Later, 1942, she opened another Cordon Bleu Cooking School and Restaurant in New York.
She had several other restaurants in New York, including The Egg Basket Restaurant, opened in 1956. There, Lucas would make omelets while her customers watched. She is said to have been an artist with omelets. She also owned Potters Yard Brasserie, in Bennington, Vermont, the Heritage Restaurant in Southbury Connecticut, and The Ginger Man restaurant in NYC.
Among her cookbooks were The Cordon Bleu Cook Book (1947), The Dione Lucas Book of French Cooking(1947), and The Gourmet Cooking School Cookbook (1964).
She wrote articles and published recipes in many magazines, and gave cooking demonstrations and cooking class all over America. She also traveled to Australia and gave cooking demonstrations in the major cities there.
Dione Lucas deserves much of the credit for bringing an awareness of French cooking into America. Her legacy is often overlooked for that of Julia Child, who became an cooking icon in this country. She was the nation’s leading expert in French Cooking before Child took over the reigns, and had a great impact on food culture in America, Britain, and Australia. It is actually quite astonishing that she is almost completely unknown today.
In fact, when Julia Child’s book Mastering the Art of French Cooking (co-authored by Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle) was published in October of 1961, Dione Lucas hosted a publication party, to which the culinary leaders of New York flocked.
Read a fascinating paper by Kathleen Collins, A Kitchen of One’s Own: The Paradox of Dione Lucas.
In the video presentation below by Jillian Adams discusses Dione Lucas and her impact, showing a segment from one of her shows.