A succulent, garlic-crusted leg of lamb slipped out of the oven and onto the floor rather than landing on the parsley-garnished serving platter. The unflappable chef maneuvered the hind quarter to the counter, dusted it off, then positioned it on the plate for carving.

Never mind that the whole country was watching Julia Child blunder through meat preparation techniques on television.Preparation mistakes endeared the gangly 6-foot-2 cook in the hearts of Americans and fed the subsequent explosion of televised cooking lessons.

Though Child was preceded on the instructional screen by writer and chef James Beard, it was her inimitable style that secured the kitchen as a permanent television setting for hundreds to follow. From network shows and national recognition, TV cooks have now produced a sizeable collection of home videos.

But without Julia Child's impact, the market might have slipped through the viewing sieve.

In a Washington Post profile, Phyllis Richman says Child has been an unlikely television role model for more than three decades.

"When women were supposedly acceptable on television only if they were young, pert, beautiful, thin and without an accent, Julia ousted everyone even though she was lanky, with a voice that bellowed its New England regionalism, and didn't begin her video career until she was past 50. It wasn't that she could do no wrong; rather, she made doing wrong so right," said Richman.

Before Child's 1963 television debut, Americans seldom looked past canned soups and casseroles for menu plans. Child's light-hearted approach to French-influenced cooking and the publication of her text, "Mastering the Art of French Cooking," propelled American cooks to culinary heights not previously imagined.

Richman notes that in 1962, the year Child's first cooking volume appeared, only 49 other cookbooks were published. Now annual publications exceed 800, indicating the huge growth in the interest in recipes and cooking.

Child not only pioneered the network market for cooking lessons but was one of the first to record videos for home use. In a six-part series titled "The Way to Cook," Child demonstrates basic techniques coupled with both simple and exotic recipes.

Her discussion of pastrymaking, for example, chides viewers on the importance of a proper rolling pin.

While using an 18-inch, heavy dowel-type roller, Child advises, "You're better off to use a broom handle than those silly little things most stores call a rolling pin."

In her comfy-as-an-old-shoe kitchen, Child finger-tastes a batter, prods a dough or counsels a food processor to "let it rip."

Jeff Smith rips through worldwide cuisines like Magellan on a carefully charted voyage. As the most-watched TV chef, the "Frugal Gourmet" has spent much of his televised time exploring cooking traditions worldwide. This season, Smith relocated to his hometown, Seattle, and introduced a series on the most important topic in cooking - the family.

Smith, a former chaplain and divinity student, preaches a sermon on how food and cooking can be a point of unity in today's households.

"At least three times a week I want you to cook together," says Smith, admonishing modern families who insist they are too busy to prepare home-cooked meals. "The family that cooks together stays together, or at least they have a lot more fun."

Part of the family fun could consist of watching a collection of nearly 60 home cooking videos Smith has produced.

Covering nearly every subject imaginable, the "Frugal Gourmet" teaches in a no-nonsense style laced with occasional spiritual encouragement. Smith discusses tapas, garlic, ethnic cuisines, meats and even firefighter cooks in his video presentations.

With a $12.99 price tag per video, you can collect the entire series for about $750 - but then Smith admits frugal never meant cheap.

Bags of Chinese recipe ingredients were difficult to locate when chefs Ken Hom and Martin Yan began teaching Far Eastern cooking techniques on television. Now cleavers, tofu and bok choy are readily available to wokking cooks.

Based on his philosophy, "If Yan can cook, so can you," the Chinese chef always presents a cooking skill as a part of his recipe preparation.

Yan claims a record for deboning a chicken in less that 30 seconds but admits his culinary techniques are focused on fun in the kitchen.

"I'm bringing culture and information to the show and having fun doing it," Yan says. "People should have fun in life. If you don't have fun with what you're doing, why do it?"

Yan's contemporary, Ken Hom, author of "Quick and Easy Chinese Cooking," tells home video viewers that Oriental dishes can be prepared without special ingredients or equipment.

"Except for a few sauces," Hom explains, "Chinese cooking is not limited to certain ingredients, the way, for example, Japanese cooking is. Thus tomatoes, corn, potatoes, sweet potatoes, asparagus and a host of `alien' foods have been readily accepted into Chinese cooking."

Less readily accepted in hectic lifestyles may be the classic cooking techniques presented in video form by French chefs like Jacque Pepin, the student chefs at the California Culinary Academy or the New York Cooking School.

Based on the elaborate and complicated skills espoused by Escoffier, the French-inspired student instructors seem stiff and unresponsive to an audience, while Pepin attempts to lighten the cuisine with a less formal approach to instruction.

Pepin, who apprenticed in France at 13 and served as chef to three French presidents, including Charles DeGaulle, is a master of resourcefulness.

While demonstrating the proper technique for dicing a leek, the chef removed alternate outer leaves, carefully split the remaining stalk and chopped it in four blows. The discarded sections, along with tomato seeds and bread scraps were all recycled for stocks or bread crumbs.

The frugal Pepin probably doesn't recognize a garbage disposal.

Like the renowned French chef, others have taken the video route to culinary schooling.

Wolfgang Puck, of Los Angeles restaurant Spago fame, shares the secrets of his brick-oven pizzas, while Cajun cook Paul Prudhomme defines the Louisiana kitchen of blackened redfish, jambalaya, chicken gumbo and bread pudding.

Craig Claiborne tapes portions of the "New York Times Cookbook," while Madhur Joffrey discusses Far Eastern and Indian cookery.

The Jewish Mamas share their cooking secrets, entertainment guru Martha Stewart suggests plans for every holiday celebration, and even the San Francisco fire department sells its "hotter-than-fire" recipes on tape.

There's something about a television cook that endears the public, whether on the network or the home video.

"You'd be surprised to know how closely viewers follow a cooking series," says Carol Tate, promotion assistant at KUED Ch. 7. "When a particular series is over we get lots of calls. It's like the viewers lost a member of their immediate family; they get so involved with the shows."

And that involvement has broadened the exposure to cooking styles of every kind.

Whether or not you ever jot down a televised recipe, purchase the required groceries and prepare the novel dish, you've tasted a new recipe through television.