Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Happy 100th to Julia Child and My Julia Sighting

It must have been close to 30 years ago when I first dined at Chez Panisse, Alice Water's famed Berkeley, CA, restaurant. Back then I was overly intimated by name restaurants and Alice's restaurant was famed not only for its food and founder but for the impact it was already having on the cuisine of California and elsewhere.

I was prepared to be amazed and delighted and to have the meal I'd remember for a lifetime and I suppose I did, except I remember nothing, absolutely nothing of the meal.  All I remember is the charming, laughing, curly-headed, tall older woman sitting a few tables away who I instantly realized was Julia Child.

Alice herself came over to Child's table and there was much hugging and more laughing and pleasure in being together.  The two certainly seemed to be bon amies. 

Just seeing two of my American idols was enough, I've never been one who needs to ask for autographs or impose on the famous since I've found their golden touch really doesn't rub off, but it is a delicious memory I'll always treasure.

A few years later I was at a women's club meeting in San Francisco.  There a few tables away, was a familiar looking woman - tall, curly-haired, booming voice, good natured.  I kept thinking she looked just like someone I knew.  A tablemate leaned over and whispered, "Oh, that's Dorothy, Julia Child's sister" and the mystery was solved.  Turned out Julia's sister lived in the Bay area.

I did not have any other brushes with Julia (or her sister), but I was always grateful to have had a chance to glimpse her in person.  Back then I didn't need to tell her how she influenced me, but 30 years ago her impact was more based on her cooking and her entertaining personality that the lessons I learned and the person I came to know between the lines of her recipes. (You can read some of that in my post about making Julia Child's lemon curd.)  Her dogged determination, her reinvention not just of herself but of cookery and the American food landscape combine to make a character worthy of being played by Meryl Streep.

One last word, it has been bandied about much that the elderly Child did not care for the Julie & Julia project (where Julie Powell cooked through Julia's Mastering the Art of French Cooking in one year).  I always felt the nonagenarian was broadsided by the interview. But later reading a post by a L.A. Times reporter and her discussion with long-time editor Judith Jones, I began to have more understanding for her position on it. Jones felt that Child had a generational difference as well as an impatience with such a derivative project. Sarah Moulton, also reported her friend Julia's disdain for those she felt would try to make money off her reputation and name.  I much prefer the report of a family friend who said Julia appreciated her work inspiring others. 

I myself have mixed feelings about the blog and resulting movie, but I'm glad Julia's legacy has been made relevant for another generation of Americans.

Happy 100th Birthday, Julia.
Thanks for the recipes.

Bon Appetit.
Photo credit: Public domain Julia Child signature -- Wikipedia

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