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The TV camera zooms in for a close-up and focuses on her hands. She may be dicing an onion, mincing a garlic clove, trussing a chicken. Her fingers fly with the speed and dexterity of a concert pianist. Strength counts, too, as she cleaves an ocean catfish with a mighty, two-fisted swipe or, muscles bulging and curls aquiver, whips up egg whites with her wire whisk. She takes every short cut, squeezes lemons through “my ever-clean dish towel,” samples sauces with her fingers. No matter if she breaks the rules. Her verve and insouciance will see her through. Even her failures and faux pas are classic. When a potato pancake falls on the worktable, she scoops it back into the pan, bats her big blue eyes at the cameras, and advises: “Remember, you’re all alone in the kitchen and no one can see you.”
But seen she is. Julia Child, 54, is the 6-ft.-2-in.-tall star of the Emmy-winning half-hour program, The French Chef. Her viewers on 104 educational TV stations across the U.S. watch her every move, forgive her every gaffe and, in a word, adore her. Manhattan matrons refuse to dine out the night she is on. When Washington, D.C.’s WETA interrupted her program to carry Lyndon Johnson live, the station’s switchboard was jammed for an hour. Miami’s WTHS-TV ran through 117 of her 134 taped shows (the earliest tapes have simply worn out), found demand was so great that the station is now running through the whole series a second time. So good is she that men who have not the slightest intention of going to the kitchen for anything but ice cubes watch her for pure enjoyment.
A Tradition—with Rules. Julia Child’s TV cooking shows have made her a cult from coast to coast and put her on a first-name basis with her fans. And when her followers are not watching and taking notes, they are likely to have her cookbook open at their elbow in the kitchen. Amid an avalanche of new cookbooks—206 last year alone—Julia Child’s five-year-old Mastering the Art of French Cooking has grown to be the new bestseller in the field, with close to 300,000 copies sold at $10 apiece. But what really makes her just about everybody’s chef of the year—and the most influential cooking teacher in the U.S. —is that her specialty, French cuisine, is the central grand tradition for the growing multitude of home gourmet cooks. It is an enthusiasm that is also cascading into the U.S. kitchen, turning it into the most scientific, colorful and savory room in the house, a combined work area and show place (see color pages).
“Gourmet” happens to be a word that makes gourmets, including Julia, wince. “French cooking is just a wonderful way to treat food,” she says in her pleasant, direct way. “All it really is, is just good cooking.” It is her thesis that French dishes are superior not because they are fancy but because they are logical, simple and good.
The same could be said of Julia herself. For, though she has a diploma from France’s Cordon Bleu, is a member of Paris’ Le Cercle des Gourmettes, and with two friends, the co-authors of her book, once ran a cooking school for Americans in Paris, she approaches her subject with straightforward simplicity: “French cooking starts out from just perfectly direct principles. It’s so important that there are reasons for doing things. It is a tradition with rules—perfectly simple ones. If you know them, then you can do any kind of cooking.” To teach rules and take the mystery out of French cooking, and adapt it to the U.S. kitchen and supermarket, is Julia’s aim and the key to her success.
Shallot of the Month. If 1966 is the year that everyone seems to be cooking in the kitchen with Julia, this is partially because Julia is just right for the times. The concern with good eating, which first became evident after World War II, has now swept across the nation. Cooking schools everywhere report themselves oversubscribed. Supermarkets have found that their gourmet counters are their handsomest profit earners, and are rapidly expanding them. “Sixty percent of the items in this store weren’t here ten years ago,” says the manager of Chicago’s Stop ‘n’ Shop. De Falco’s Bon Vivant supermarket in San Diego stocks more than 3,000 kinds of fancy foods, from kippered sturgeon and kangaroo tails to pickled rooster combs and 4-lb. tins of Caspian Sea caviar ($200).
A decade ago, the typical market offered half a dozen cheeses. “Today,” says Ed Kiatta, manager of Larimer’s in Washington, D.C., “if you don’t have at least 50 assorted, high-powered imported cheeses, you’re not in business.” The same is true of herbs and spices. Once a store could make do with a dozen old dependables; today, supermarkets carry more than 100 items, with such old standbys as sage being displaced, as “too strong,” by such postwar newcomers as fresh tarragon, fennel, thyme, dill and coriander. And for shallot fanciers there is now a Shallot-of-the-Month Club; for $9 they can receive a month’s supply.
Let Julia Child so much as mention vanilla wafers, and the shelves are empty overnight. The kitchenware she brandishes with so much relish fares similarly. At Chicago’s Cooks’ Cupboard, Owner Robert George credits her show with the sudden spurt in sales of such things as fish poachers and French chef’s knives.
Manhattan’s La Cuisiniere has noticed a dramatic increase in sales of charlotte molds and copper beating bowls (at $18 to $27 each); the Bridge Co. now finds that its bestsellers are $10.95 cast-aluminum omelet pans used on Julia’s show, followed closely by $9.95 paella pans and $50 butcher’s blocks. And in Pittsburgh, when she beat egg whites with a wire whisk, her followers bought out every whisk in town.
Contretemps into Triumphs. What keeps her fans turning on her TV show is the same thing that sent their grandparents to the movie theaters to watch The Perils of Pauline: suspense. For from the moment that Julia appears on the screen, sleeves rolled above the elbow and blue denim apron about her waist, until her closing “Bon appetit,” there is no telling what calamity may confront her.
This is inevitable on a noncommercial TV show budgeted so low that there was only one rehearsal before taping, where volunteers had to be recruited to wash dishes, and the food sometimes had to be auctioned off to the audience afterward to cover expenses. Obviously, the station could not afford to dub the flubs even if it wanted to. The thing is, it didn’t. Seeing Julia Child goof can only make viewers less fearful of disasters in their own kitchens. Says the producer, Ruth Lockwood: “We wanted to let Julia be herself at any cost.”
Julia’s success as a showman has been to turn her contretemps into triumphs. When the prop men forgot to take the butter out of the refrigerator, she covered by saying: “I’m rather glad this happened because I can tell you what to do if you’ve left your butter in the refrigerator and you find it is much too hard to work with.” With that, she took the butter, dumped it into a stainless-steel bowl, and heated it carefully on the stove. Again, when the apple charlotte that she was making began sagging, she patted it back together, reassured her viewers: “It will taste even better this way.” Her cardinal rule for hostesses: “Never apologize.”
Shaving a Snout. Sometimes her fluffs are intentional: she deliberately let the hollandaise sauce curdle so that she could demonstrate the various ways of rescuing it. But most of the time the goofs are genuine. On her salmon show, she lovingly lifted,the fish out of the tub, carefully peeled back its skin with a paring knife, painstakingly wrapped it in a double roll of cheesecloth to prevent its coming apart during poaching and “so that he is happier while in the water.” But when she came to prepare the simple white sauce for it, she was almost undone. “My sauce is going to be lumpy,” she panicked momentarily. “Oh well, too bad. Maybe I can beat it out.” She could, and did.
Once in a long time she gets stymied. Her suckling-pig program is a famous example. First she explained the extraordinary preparations she had gone through: cleaning its ears and nostrils, shaving its snout, even brushing its teeth. Each step, using three pigs with two in reserve, went smoothly. Then came the time to carve. Using an electric knife—”It certainly sounds like a dentist, doesn’t it?”—all went well until she reached the rlbs. They would not yield. She attacked with a huge chef’s knife. Still no luck. Finally she put down the knife, rested her hands on the table, and looked straight into the camera: “People say that you just carve it into chops, but you try to do it. I certainly can’t.” And with that, Julia wound up the show.
Nipping Gravy. She counsels both her readers and viewers that there is no substitute for starting with fresh, high-quality meats and vegetables, and says, “Every woman should kiss her butcher.” (Actually, Julia’s Cambridge butcher, Jack Savenor of United Service Super Market, tends to kiss her first, proudly keeps an autographed copy of her book on the meat-counter shelf so that his other customers can check ingredients.) But, trusting though she is, Julia also insists that women should know their steers. In her zeal to demonstrate the various cuts, she has no hesitation in using her own body along with the meat chart to get the point across.
So uninhibited are her on-camera demonstrations that some viewers suspect that the more hilarious moments may stem from a preshow nip or two. But such is not the case. Although she is a staunch advocate of using wine in cooking, she never imbibes on the set. In fact, the wine that is shown on the table at the end of her show is, for economy reasons, a mixture of water and Gravy Master; Julia herself once kidded the rumor by pretending to take a sip of the mixture, announcing, “I am now going to enjoy a delicious glass of estate-bottled Gravee Mastere.”
For all her lighter moments, Julia takes TV seriously, put in as many as 13 hours of work on taping day. Discipline for the cook, she believes, is second only to cleanliness. “French cooking is easy if you get good working habits and stick to them,” she insists. And just as she carefully lined up her equipment before each show, so, in her book, she lines up the ingredients for each recipe on the left, the directions on the right.
Both the book and the show are loaded with tips. She recommends carbon steel knives rather than stainless because they are easier to keep sharp, heavy cast-iron or copper pots and pans because they spread heat evenly and won’t tip over. The food shopper can be sure that fish is fresh, she advises, if the eyes are clear, the gills bright red and the flesh firm. The keys to successful sauteing are, first, patting dry the food, then hot fat and an uncrowded pan. A souffle has a much better chance of rising if it is put on the middle rack of an oven preheated to 400°, which is then immediately reduced to 374°.
Biscuits & Rabbit. The irony is that the mistress of all this expertise. could barely boil water when, at the age of 34, she married New Jersey-born Paul Child, ten years her senior. The two had met during World War II while she was serving as a chief filing clerk in the OSS in Ceylon and China and he was in charge of organizing the war room for General Wedemeyer and Lord Mountbatten. As Julia quickly found out, she had married a gourmet, a man who cared passionately about food, and had been brought up by a mother who once spent six months searching for just the right coffee bean, ended up by roasting her own combination of three.
By any test, Julia’s cooking was a bust. As a girl she was a tomboy in a well-to-do Pasadena, Calif., family of six-footers (both her sister and brother, like Julia, top 6 ft., making their mother modest in her boast: “I have produced 18 feet of children”). Julia was content to eat what the family cook served, learned her mothers complete cooking repertory: baking-powder biscuits and Welsh rabbit, and little else. The one time she tried to cook pancakes for breakfast, she recalls, “it took about an hour. It was a real mess.”
Scrambled Brains. Sent East to Smith College (’34) to follow in her mother’s footsteps, she is remembered by her classmates for her gigantic appetite for jelly doughnuts, her high good spirits, and her practical jokes (painting the John seats in Hubbard House red and dangling tom-toms in the wind outside a faculty member’s window). Her dreams of glory as a star basketball center were dashed when, after one look at her height, Smith decided that she had an unfair advantage over her college mates, changed the intramural rules so that the ball was thrown in from the side. With vague hopes of becoming a novelist and a ¶average, she graduated.
Before the OSS sent her to Asia, Julia was in Washington, D.C., where she struggled valiantly with a hot plate, only succeeded in “splashing chicken fat all over the walls.” Back home after the war, she enrolled in a Los Angeles cooking school to prepare for her marriage—with disastrous results: her bearnaise sauce congealed because she used lard instead of butter; her calves’ brains in red wine fell apart; her well-larded wild duck set the oven on fire—she had completely forgotten to put it in a pan. Says Husband Paul gallantly: “I was willing to put up with that awful cooking to get Julia,” but he still shudders at the memory.
Maítres & Pátissiers. After their marriage, Julia delved into cookbooks and made rapid progress, but it was not until Paul was transferred to Paris with USIS that the Julia of today burst into full bloom. Having polished up her college French with two Berlitz lessons a day, she decided to master French cooking, enrolled in the six-month Cordon Bleu course along with twelve G.I.s. “Some of the boys weren’t very serious,” says Julia. “Those of us who were could get the chefs full attention.”
Julia was lucky enough to have for a teacher Master Chef Max Bugnard, then in his 70s, who had worked under Escoffier in London, had run his own restaurant in Brussels. “I absolutely adored him,” she confesses. Classes ran from 7 to 9:30 a.m.; in the afternoon she attended a little cooking theater manned by some of the top pátissiers in Paris. “Unlike at Smith College, I became very friendly with my teachers,” Julia says, and the maitres responded in kind. “Since then,” she says brightly, “my whole life has been cooking.”
Watching Sales Soar. Through friends in Paris, she met Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle, a pair of Frenchwomen who were working on a cookbook for Americans. In no time they decided to open a cooking school, L’Ecole des Trois Gourmandes, using the Childs’ spacious Left Bank kitchen as their classroom. At $5 a lesson, the school fees barely covered the cost of the food. But the practical experience of teaching proved invaluable, for by now Julia-had not only been taken on the team as translator, but also, with Simone Beck, was making the major creative contributions to the cookbook.
“We felt the book should break down into something intellectually reasonable, so you could see the connection between things,” explains Julia. “The idea was to take French cooking out of cuckoo land and bring it down to where everybody is. You can’t turn a sow’s ear into veal
Orloff, but you can do something very good with a sow’s ear.” Putting theory into practice was something else.
A year was spent producing the chapter on sauces, partly, she says, “because we had to learn so much while we were doing it.” Then Paul’s assignments took the Childs away from Paris, first to Marseille, then to West Germany, then back to Washington, and finally to Norway. All the while Julia and “Simca,” as she calls Simone Beck, corresponded furiously, including one epic discussion of cassoulet. The question at issue: Must the bean dish include preserved goose? Their conclusion: no.
By the time the manuscript was completed in 1958—seven years after they had started—it ran to 850 pages, and Houghton Mifflin, which had contracted for it, turned it down. Reluctantly, the three girls cut it to 684 pages—still too long for Houghton Mifflin, but not for Gourmet Alfred Knopf, who brought it out in 1961, and has been watching the sales soar ever since. . Three Pounds to Go. When Paul Child resigned the same year, he and Julia moved into the pleasant, intellectual community of Cambridge, Mass., buying the house once owned by famed Harvard Philosopher Josiah Royce. One of their first improvements was to redo the kitchen to make it a cooking laboratory for Julia. Designed by Paul, whose paintings, wood carvings and metal engravings decorate the rest of the house, it is a gourmet’s palace, with everything from a restaurant range and double electric ovens to walls hung with pots, each hook marked by a silhouette so that no pot or pan is ever out of place.
Cooking dominates their life, with Julia endlessly perfecting recipes and Paul acting as the cookbook’s official photographer, recording each step in Julia’s preparation for sketches to illustrate future chapters. “The thing about food,” says Julia, “is you’re a much happier person if you eat well and treasure your meals.” No purist, she thinks nothing of belting down a couple of stiff bourbons at home just before Paul serves a superb Grands Echezeaux from his 350-bottle wine cellar. She keeps tubs of Marlboros on the kitchen table, gaily dips into them for a smoke between courses. “I hate people who put on the dog, don’t you?” she smiles guilelessly.
One thing the Childs do watch relentlessly. Overweight is the occupational disease of cooks, and as Julia, who has slimmed down to 159 lbs. and still has three more to go, insists, “Calories do count. Why, even an apple is 70 calories.” To keep trim, she and Paul exercise every morning, breakfast on fruit and tea, lunch on cold meat and salad. Even at dinner, their one big meal of the day, they limit themselves to just one helping. “People who have to diet and who also like French food,” says Julia, “just have to eat less.”
Tastes & Teflon. Today, when weight watching is a national pastime, the gargantuan fare of yesteryear is hard to digest, even in imagination. First to use an element of scientific method in home cooking was Mrs. D. A. Lincoln, whose 1883 Boston Cook Book introduced accurate measurements, explained, for instance, that a piece of “butter the size of an egg” was equal to 2 oz., or one-fourth of a cup. But it remained for one of her students, Fannie Farmer, who borrowed freely (and without credit) from Mrs. Lincoln, to make her precepts into national guidelines with The Boston Cooking School Cook Book, published in 1896.
By present-day standards, some of Fannie’s recipes seem barely edible. “Lamb is usually preferred well-done,” wrote Fannie, who recommended cooking it for an hour and 45 minutes; nowadays, lamb is preferred pink, and an hour generally does the trick. As for string beans, Fannie said to boil them for three hours; the current advice is ten to 20 minutes.
As late as the 1920s and 1930s, American cooking was still a homely affair, and a reform was long overdue. The great shift in U.S. home cooking did not take place until the end of World War II rationing. The postwar travel boom brought millions of U.S. tourists back from Europe with their tastes broadened and sharpened by what they had eaten there. At the same time, a host of kitchen aids, from dishwashers, pressure cookers, blenders and Deepfreeze units to the latest nonstick Teflon pans, were taking the drudgery out of cooking.
For most brides, the guide during the transitional years was Irma Rombauer’s Joy of Cooking, a primer that marked a distinct advance upon Fannie
Farmer, tackled such subjects as how to poach a fish and how to cope with broccoli. Published in 1931, it had sold, by the time she died in her native St. Louis in 1962, 6,000,000 copies, second only to the Better Homes & Gardens Cookbook (11,500,000).
Now leading the trend toward better eating is a new hierarchy of gourmet cooking teachers. Among the current leaders:
> Dione Lucas, 57, considered the doyenne of fine cuisine in America. Trained at the Cordon Bleu in Paris, she opened a Manhattan branch in 1941, wrote The Cordon Bleu Cook Book, and was one of the pioneer TV chefs in 1947. Her specialty was omelets, and for a while she held forth at her own restaurant, the Egg Basket; now she fills in by doing the cooking at the Ginger Man, a fashionable pub near Lincoln Center.
> Craig Claiborne, 46, Mississippi-bred food editor of the New York Times, a discriminating one-man Guide Michelin to restaurants not just in Manhattan but throughout the nation, and editor of the 717-page The New York Times Cookbook (over 100,000 copies). “I love American cooking,” says Claiborne, and he is writing a book on regional U.S. cooking to prove it. The recipes in the Times, some taken from hostesses whom Claiborne writes about, are so good that many women leave their cookbooks behind when they go on vacation, rely on the Times’s menus almost entirely.
> Michael Field, 49, a relative newcomer who gave up a successful career as a concert pianist to conduct socialite cooking classes in his Manhattan apartment and to write the highly regarded Michael Field Cooking School. He is the consulting editor for LIFE’S forthcoming 16-volume series, Foods of the World. An uncompromising traditionalist, Field maintains that “cooks are not creative; they’re simply brilliant technicians.” Comparing the pianist’s task of illuminating a Bach cantata with the task of a cook, he says: “You don’t illuminate a souffle—it either rises or it doesn’t.”
> James Beard, 63, a jolly giant who is 6 ft. 4 in. tall, according to his own estimate weighs “275 lbs. plus,” and is today’s king of gourmets. “My mania is my profession,” he has said. It began in his childhood in Portland, Ore. “I was on all fours,” he recalls. “I crawled into the vegetable bin, settled on a giant onion and ate it, skin and all.” He has been an omnivorous eater ever since. Author of 14 cookbooks, including the bestselling paperback James Beard Cookbook (over 500,000 copies), he has probably done more to get men into the kitchen than anybody before Julia Child, whom he considers to be “one of the greats in cooking—she will be a household word for a long, long time.” Julia returns the compliment: “It’s thanks to Jim that there is a cooking fraternity.”
Dinner for 22. Julia is all for men being in the kitchen. “A man in a chef’s apron is a fine sight,” she exclaims. “They are marvelous. They’re more daring, while women are often timid and tend to get bogged down in detail. I think one can see from history that the great creators are men.”
But though J. Edgar Hoover rises early to cook Sunday-morning popovers, Almaden Vineyards President Louis Benoist perfects his crab gumbo, or Actor Burgess Meredith spends hours concocting his “All Mighty Salad,” the brunt of cooking and planning still remains the woman’s task. Today’s hostess, jealous of her favorite recipes, prefers to make them herself, even when she can well afford a cook or caterer. And the change in party and daily diet is nothing short of revolutionary.
“Mother never cooked anything that wasn’t in a can or a container, and all she had to do was warm it up,” says exurban New York Matron Maria Cunningham, 31. Not Maria. Veal, lamb and chicken are her favorites, and she and her husband like Julia’s recipes for saute de veau Marengo, gigot de pre-sale roti a la moutarde, and supreme de volatile aux champignons, which they served recently at a dinner for 22. Says Maria: “The only thing that made it possible is that Julia tells all the things you can do in advance.”
Sowing Wild Rice. The gourmet trend has created a succession of favorites. According to Gourmet Magazine Editor Jane Montant, boeuf bourguignon and coq au vin were the fashionable dishes in the 1950s, only to give way to the vogue for paella in the 1960s. Right now, the rage across the U.S. is beef Wellington, a filet slathered with pate de foie gras and baked in a pastry crust. Manhattan Hostess Mrs. Bartley C. Crum, who sends out Menus by Mail to 6,000 subscribers in 45 states (among them: Jacqueline Kennedy, Ilka Chase and Pauline Trigere), currently recommends beef Wellington along with Indonesian pork sate, but varies her suggestions with more unusual dishes, such as Peruvian seviche (cold raw bay scallops marinated in the juice of limes, lemons and oranges) and Arabian chicken, roasted with cloves, honey and bacon.
In Washington, with the departure of Nicole Alphand, party-giving wife of the former French ambassador, the Spanish and Venezuelan embassies have become the chic places to go, and Latin fare has leaped into prominence. The favorites: esponjoso, a rich, caramel-covered confection that delighted Lady Bird when she sampled it at the Venezuelan embassy, and pisio, a Spanish vegetable concoction similar to the French ratatouille.
South of the Potomac in Smithfield, Va., Sybil and Doyle Northrup would rather stick with Julia Child. “Last week I went down to our pond and caught two bluegills,” says Sybil. “My husband has never been able to get me to touch a fish, but I thought: ‘Julia, if you can do it, so can I.’ We broiled them in butter just the way she does. They were delicious.” Under Julia’s tutelage, the Northrups are developing into fullfledged gourmets. They are even going so far as to plant their own wild rice, because, explains Doyle, “at $4.50 for 8 ounces, you’d better grow your own.”
Haute Cuisine Turkey. For all their new-found epicureanism, Americans are not about to fiddle with their traditional Thanksgiving menu. Julia is as patriotic as the rest, but she cannot resist giving her Thanksgiving a French accent. The turkey she and Paul will share with her sister-in-law in Bucks County, Pa., is called dindon demi-désossé (see diagram). To make it easier to carve, the upper part of the rib cage is removed before roasting. She plans to use a sausage and bread-crumb dressing (rough measurement is I cup of dressing for each pound of “bought weight”), recommends marinating the cut-up breast meat in cognac, shallots, salt and pepper for 20 minutes while preparing the stuffing. “If you do your turkey this way,” she says, “it will be haute cuisine—which means never leaving anything alone.”
Failure at 5 a.m. Next week, with Thanksgiving behind them, Julia and Paul Child will be off to winter in the house that the book built, next door to Simone Beck in Grasse, above the French Riviera. There, Julia and Simca will get down to the serious work of preparing Volume II of Mastering the Art. The new volume will follow the same pattern as the first, but will vary the recipes and include such new material as puff pastry, brioches, croissants and a plain chocolate cake. Promises Julia: “It’s going to be the best chocolate cake anyone ever ate.”
She has already attacked with her customary zeal the problem of exactly duplicating French brioches using American ingredients. Her brother-in-law, Charles Child, recalls how she arrived at the family’s summer home on Mount Desert, Me., for a two-week vacation with her regular traveling armory of knives, whisks, skillets, spoons and apron. But this time she also brought an array of bottles containing every conceivable kind of oil, except castor oil, plus half a dozen varieties of flour, six kinds of margarine, and sticks and sticks of butter. Then, for eight straight days, Julia did nothing but bake brioches, dozens at a time. When the rest of the house were awakened by a loud crash in the kitchen at 5 a.m., they knew it meant that Julia had jettisoned yet another batch. “You can’t have had much of a vacation,” said her brother-in-law. “Nonsense,” she replied, “I’ve had a glorious time.” And besides, she had found the perfect combination of ingredients.
French for a Lifetime. With the next volume taking up all of her time, Julia has stopped taping The French Chef, plans to wait until color comes to educational TV before resuming it, because “I’m tired of grey food.” Meanwhile, the program is being run and rerun on a rapidly increasing number of stations. Encouraged by the show’s phenomenal success, Boston educational station WGBH-TV plans a new program on Chinese cooking presided over by Joyce Chen, Cambridge restaurant owner, cookbook author and teacher. Already, 80 stations have inquired about carrying the show as soon as it is available.
Julia could not be more delighted. “Chinese cooking is marvelous,” she says. Not that she has any intention of cooking Oriental style herself. “I will never do anything but French cooking,” she says with Francophilic fervor. “It’s much the most interesting and the most challenging and the best eating. There are so many wonderful French dishes; I don’t think I’ll ever live long enough to do them all.”
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