Like every other American, I’m in love with Julia Child. As a young girl I would occasionally catch her cooking show on our local PBS station, but in all truth, I didn’t become hooked on her until I saw Dan Aykroyd’s impression of her on Saturday Night Live, imitating her unforgettable voice. I was gifted her first book Mastering the Art of French Cooking and thought the colors of the book were beautiful but it sat on a bookshelf in my house for a good while.
In 2002, I took her cookbook with me on a trip. The recipes were very complex and at first I was intimidated but she inspired me to start expanding outside of my comfort zone and into French cooking. I’ve always been fascinated with France and the culture and their joie de vivre… heck, my name is the Hill Country Bon Vivant! But still it was intimidating.
The first dish that I made out of her cookbook was “Boeuf Bourguignon” or Beef Bourguignon. I got all the ingredients to make it on a very snowy day. My family thought it was just beef stew but in my heart I knew I had made Julia Child’s Beef Bourguignon. That experience helped build my confidence in knowing that if I read the instructions from beginning to end and got all of my ingredients out “mise en place”, as the French say (meaning to set out all of your cooking necessities), it really wasn’t that hard. I went on to make dishes like “Sole Meunière”, “Suprêmes de Volaille À Blanc” and the “Queen of Sheba Cake”. Years after that, Beef Bourguignon would end up changing my life. It was the first dish that I made for my husband Scot, which he says won his heart.
In 2012, the ABC show The Chew released a casting call for Julia Child fans to submit auditions for a cooking contest, celebrating what would have been her 100th birthday. After seeing that, I immediately wrote my 250 word essay on why Julia Child meant the world to me. I wrote that not only did Julia’s “Beef Bourguignon” give me the confidence I needed to continue trying new recipes but watching her late-in-life love affair with her husband Paul Child in the 2009 movie Julie & Julia, she influenced me even more. The deep affection Paul and Julia had for each other, even in their more mature years, helped me envision that after my first marriage, romance and passion were still possible. Their story encouraged me to believe that life after 40 wasn’t over and that it could begin again. I was 42 when I began dating again and met my very own Paul Child. Scot is the butter to my bread and the breath to my life.
After submitting my essay, I ended up making it to the first round of contest candidates, then to a phone interview and then to another phone interview with a producer for The Chew. I was super excited because she really pulled out of me why I loved Julia and why I wanted to pay tribute to her by entering this contest. The next day I got a phone call saying that they needed to see a video of me doing my best Julia Child voice. My husband was about to pull a chicken off the grill so my then teenage daughter, Marissa, and I pulled out all the butter, (at least five pounds of it can be found in my freezer at all times) and put it all over my counter. Marissa held my iPhone while I was cutting the chicken and talking about butter in my best Julia Child voice and then hit “SEND”.
I was chosen to be one of three people to come to New York to be on the TV show, The Chew.
I brought Marissa who had just graduated from high school and was getting ready to leave for college. What’s a better sendoff then going to New York and being on a daytime TV set?? We stayed with my high school friend Ros, who lived in the village. We had such a wonderful time with her and her family and it really got us excited for what was going to happen the next day.
We had to arrive very early at 6AM to the ABC studio. I and two other ladies had a little practice run and then we shot the show live with an audience but it was shown at another time. I got to meet Clinton Kelly who is really tall, handsome and sweet. Daphne Oz was vivacious and fun. Carla Hall with an absolute hoot and on commercial breaks she would go out and dance in the audience and actually included Marissa one time. Then there was Chef Michael Symon… I had such a crush on Michael I can’t even tell you how big a crush it was. I think one of the reasons Michael was so lovable was his love for life, he’s a mid-westerner through and through, and he loved Liz, his wife. I love seeing a man talk about his wife like that. If you didn’t already know this… I won! After it was announced, I got to cook Beef Bourguignon with Chef Michael Symon. I’ll talk more about Michael in next week’s blog but that day was definitely on the list of the top 10 best days of my life. Thank you Julia for gifting me with that opportunity!!
Back to the recipes, Julia’s “Suprêmes de Volaille À Blanc” or Chicken and Cream and Port, might not sound like an incredible dish but let me tell you how wrong that is. When you boil down the cream, it gets nice and thick and has a sweetness that comes through and then after you add in the port…hold onto your hats. My husband and I had neighbors who were husband and wife that had done some lovely things for us so to thank them I invited them over for dinner. I was better friends with the wife than the husband and hadn’t spent much time with him but during this meal, I had the opportunity to see him get real comfortable… I decided to make the Chicken with Cream and Port and added in the optional mushrooms. I can’t remember what else I made but I always have French bread so one can politely sop up the sauce from their plate, as one does. This gentleman loved my sauce so much that he was emboldened enough to get up from the dinner table, walk over to my stove, grab the actual pan that had the sauce, bring it back to the table to proceed sopping every last drop with the remaining bread. Shocked. This was outlandish behavior in my book and needless to say I “couldn’t find the time” to invite them over again, but I do love that story because of this man’s brazen passion for my sauce.
Now to my rolling pin story. When we lived in Lenox, Massachusetts, there was a small restaurant in the village a few blocks from our house and on one snowy night in February my husband and I made our way down to it. While we sat at the bar, the bartender, who we were friends with, started telling the gentleman sitting next to us (mind you, there was only four of us in the restaurant) that I had been on the TV show The Chew. He listened intently as the bartender told him why I was on the show and that I had won. It was very sweet to hear.
After he was done, the gentleman turned to us and told us that he was a new pastry chef in town and had lived in Boston and was actually in a cooking club with Julia Child. Now, yes, we were drinking, it was winter, and it was cold, and I definitely wasn’t drunk but I just couldn’t fathom that I heard him correctly. I asked him to repeat it probably three times. Even though he was the appropriate age to have known Julia Child and Julia did live in Cambridge so it was technically possible, I just wasn’t buying it. I basically told him I wasn’t buying it and he said, “Well I can prove it to you! I just moved here and I haven’t cleaned out the trunk of my car yet and in my trunk is Julia’s rolling pin”. Without pausing for a second, I said, “I want to see it”. So he gets up, treks out into the snow and brings back this huge rolling pin. As he handed it to me I felt the tears coming fast. I sat there crying, cradling her rolling pin like a baby. I couldn’t believe the emotion that poured out of me. I was one degree of separation from the Julia Child and I couldn’t believe it. When I met Michael Symon, he did tell me that he had met Julia at one point but for some reason this was it! I was touching something that Julia Child had used to make pastries. This gentleman didn’t know what to do with my emotions… All of my friends and family know that I’m a very emotional person and I wear my heart on my sleeve but this guy was stunned witnessing this grown woman crying in a restaurant holding a rolling pin.
He told me that because I was so moved he wanted me to have it. Usually, if somebody offers me something, I’m never the person who just grabs it and goes, but he didn’t have to offer it more than once. All I could say was, “Honestly?? I’ll take it! Thank you!!” The look on my husband’s face and on the bartender’s face was the funniest thing. Check please! Let’s go! I bolted out of there, speed walking with that rolling pin under my arm. It is one of my most cherished belongings and when my husband and I drove 2,000 miles to relocate to Texas from Massachusetts, Julia Child’s rolling pin sat like a passenger and friend in my backseat.
I have so many more stories about how Julia’s spirit has made cameos in my life along the way, encouraging and inspiring me, even though we never met. Whenever I’m feeling sad, I watch Julie & Julia (skipping the Julie parts because she was actually a little whiny) and I imagine that in my kitchen is Stanley Tucci as Paul Child and Meryl Streep as Julia. When I make Julia’s recipes I listen to French music and transport myself back to time when she taught everyday servant-less Americans to cook.
It really does my heart good to see so many TV shows, movies, and cooking contests still telling Julia’s story because it proves that one person can make a difference and fundamentally change the way an entire country views food. If it wasn’t for Julia paving the way for me, I don’t know if I would have the opportunity that I have now to teach others how to cook. She was an indisputably incredible woman and a genuine inspiration. I love the stories that I have of her and will carry them in my heart for the rest of my life.