Growing up in a remote town in Northern Brazil’s Amazon region, Jaíne Mackievicz passed the time watching television with her mother, who loved learning new recipes on TV cooking shows.
Then one day when she was around 7 years old, Mackievicz had her world rocked when she saw famed American chef Julia Child making spaghetti on the “Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood” show.
“She was so funny and vivid and different. She was making spaghetti and enjoyed it so much,” Mackievicz said. “I was a tall kid and got bullied in school and thought it was a negative thing. But Julia was so tall. I realized there’s a space for tall women in the kitchen and I had this vision that I wanted to do this when I grow up.”
This week, Mackievicz’s vision comes true. The Oceanside resident is one of eight dedicated Child fans competing on Food Network’s new series “The Julia Child Challenge.” Filmed on a Los Angeles set built to look exactly like the kitchen where Child filmed her long-running cooking show, the series features contestants sharing their Julia stories, cooking her recipes and creating their own dishes inspired by their culinary hero. The series premieres at 9 p.m. Monday on Food Network and the discovery+ streaming network.
While still in grade school, Mackievicz told her parents — her late father was Polish, her mother is Brazilian — that she wanted to be a chef when she grew up, but they pushed her toward a more stable career. So she followed in her lawyer mother’s footsteps and spent six years in law school in Brazil, where she baked and sold cakes to her classmates in her spare time. She became a lawyer but was secretly miserable.
Then six years ago, with the encouragement of her fiancé, Douglas, Mackievicz followed her passion. They moved to Massachusetts — Child’s longtime home — where she started learning English and taking weekend classes at Boston University’s Metropolitan College culinary school, which Child co-founded with French chef Jacques Pépin in 1989.
Mackievicz’s initial goal was to become a food writer, which she accomplished when she met Kerry Diamond, the founder of Cherry Bombe, a media company that celebrates women in the food industry. Diamond hired Mackievicz to write about her lifelong passion for Julia Child for Cherry Bombe’s 2021 “Julia Child Jubilee” issue. That article caught the eye of Food Network producers, who invited her to audition for the series.
Child is considered one of the 20th century’s greatest influences on American home cooking. From the late 1950s through the early 1990s, Child translated French cookbooks, wrote her own cookbooks and starred in a long-running series of TV cooking shows. Her bestselling 1961 cookbook, “Mastering the Art of French Cooking,” made French fine-dining cooking accessible to all and it’s still in print. Child passed away in 2004 at age 91.
“Julia Child is a culinary hero to cooks everywhere. Her love of food and sense of humor set the tone for this one-of-a-kind competition,” said Courtney White, president of Food Network, in a press release. “The series is also very intimate, with competitors sharing their personal food journeys and how Julia Child changed their lives.”
Mackievicz, who moved to Oceanside with her fiancé one year ago for a restaurant industry job, said she struggled with her confidence and nerves after being cast. But once she stepped on the Julia-style kitchen set, she felt right at home.
“It was pure magic. I felt like I was in Julia’s kitchen 100 percent. It was a dream come true just to be there,” said Mackievicz, who has also decorated her Oceanside kitchen in the Julia style. “At one point during filming I even forgot it was a reality competition because I was having so much fun. I had this mindset of really enjoying the time I had there because that’s not going to happen again.”
The first episode, airing Monday night, will require the chefs to cook sole meunière, the butter-sautéed fish dish that changed Child’s life and made her want to become a chef. After trying the dish at a restaurant in Rouen, France, in 1948, Child and her husband, a U.S. foreign service officer, moved to Paris where she enrolled in the Le Cordon Bleu cooking school.
The winner of “The Julia Child Challenge” will receive an all-expense-paid three-month cooking course at the same school in Paris.
Mackievicz said she is thrilled to have followed in Child’s footsteps to pursue her culinary dream and to represent Brazilian cuisine on American television. Her future goals are to keep writing about food and sharing her Brazilian recipes and stories from the Amazon. Eventually she’d like to publish her own cookbooks.
“If I think about my past and where I was born, it was so far from being even close to something like this show and and being able to cook for a living or write about food for a living,” she said. “It’s this Julia magic. It brings me so much happiness and joy.”
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