This Wednesday, August 15th, is Julia Child’s 100th birthday. Many in the food world have a “Julia” story, a casual encounter, a recipe learned, executed and conquered or memorable culinary experience. This is mine.
When I was in my 30s, living in Ames, Iowa, and obviously quite full of myself, I donated a French dinner for six to a charitable auction. The chef would be moi. I would serve the gourmet feast in the winning bidder’s home.
May I admit to many adult What-Was-I-Thinking moments? This was one.
Unfortunately, on that night my item was near the end, the bidders full of drink, and the dinner sold for $600. Today, not so much. In the early Eighties, a big chunk of change. My cooking experience? Three French cooking classes and ownership of “Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volumes 1 & 2. Before leaving the Auction, we set a dinner date. I had six weeks and no clue.
To lessen my anxiety, I wrote a letter to Julia explaining my predicament, imploring her to help with the menu and, because of the dinner date, requesting an answer within two weeks. (Yeah, I also cannot now believe I gave Julia Child a deadline!) I had every confidence she would answer my plea.
Julia’s long letter, now safely framed, was a personification of that extraordinary woman and a testament to everything she represented. She offered no specific food choices but rather she suggested a general food plan, explaining how to successfully prepare, prep, cook and serve it. Her letter to me could be summarized by one of her favorite quotes, “The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking you’ve got to have a what-the-hell attitude.” How did she know that advice was exactly what I needed to hear?
In the end, the dinner, a smashing success, was the front-page article in the following Sunday’s Des Moines Register’s Society Section. However, lesson learned, I have never done that again.
Fast forward to Aspen, where we moved in 1988 when Michael retired from medicine. Julia often visited the annual “Aspen Food & Wine Festival” in June. When I would catch a glimpse of her, at a cooking class, a book signing or lecture, I would always run over to remind her of the letter and thank her again. She’d always be charming, as she was to everyone, but probably, with her busy schedule and hectic life, had no recall.
In the mid-nineties, Michael and I had dinner with Julia during ironically what was her last visit to the Aspen festival. She loved the festival but could no longer tolerate the altitude. For me, it was one of Life’s special moments.
Over the past thirty years, my personal life and culinary skills have been enhanced and made fuller, thanks to Julia, Lydie Marshall and Dorie Greenspan. With Julia leading the charge, through her doggedness and determination, she showed American women how to “Do Better” and “Be Better” in the kitchen and in Life. Lucky me, I was one of those women. Lydie and Dorie, with personalities of their own, soon joined the cause. Julia-Mold-Broken. My Life would have been lesser without her in it.
We all have our own vision and expectations of Afterlife and this is mine. I just know that in the past month my Michael has hooked up with Julia and Paul and they are drinking freshly squeezed orange juice in crystal glasses every morning and enjoying perfectly sliced Casaba melon when they wish.
I miss you all.