There are a number of saints who are considered the patrons of cooking, including San Lorenzo, San Pasqual, the baker's patron St. Honore, and others depending on the country. But any American knows that the patron saint of cooking is really Julia Child. Today, on her 99th birthday, I will do some reminiscing. Let me start by saying my relationship with Julia is by no means unique. Through her involvement through the International Association of Culinary Professionals and her appearances at many food writers conferences, she made herself available to other food professionals, and her generosity was unbounded.
Julia popped up in my life many times at unexpected places. She was a kind of culinary lighthouse, beaming me towards shore. This sounds unnecessarily dramatic, but here are some "snapshots"
1. If if weren't for Mastering the Art of French Cooking, I never would have become a chef, which was the first step towards writing cookbooks. In college, I cooked my way through the two volumes, cover to cover. My roommates at my various houses in San Francisco considered this a mixed blessing, as there were always plenty of pots and pans to wash along with the freshly baked croissants and coq au vin. There was one dinner, still talked about by my friends, where we didn't eat until 11 PM because I was so wrapped up in the step-by-steps.
2. I first met Bruce Franchini when I was a sophomore at San Francisco State and he was newly graduated from the Media Communications Department. A few years later, Bruce became the director on Julia's television shows. If you had told either of us that this would come to pass in the late 1970s, I doubt that we would have believed you.
3. Susie Davidson, who was Julia's right hand for many years,and I met through mutual friends in the early eighties. At the time, she was working at the legendary La Varenne in Paris for another grande dame of the culinary world, Anne Willan. This was at the very beginning of my career, when I was still working in restaurants and barely doing a little catering on the side. Susie's support (she hired me to write my first magazine article) was invaluable. She supplied another entryway to Julia's world.
4. I really got to know Julia when she and I shared speaker duties at The Greenbrier Symposium for Food Writers. Offstage, she made herself available to the novices in the group, and sat in on every session as if she was a newbie herself. Julia's willingness to share and support other food professionals was well-known, and everyone in the food business loved her for it.
5. When the movie Julie and Julia came out, I felt that Julia's coldness to Julie wasn't clearly defined. Julia simply could not understand how Julie could appropriate her work. Julie's' well-documented problems with Julia's recipes were unfair depictions (even if Julie did say that she may have embellished them for dramatic impact) because Mrs. Child's recipes work, unless you have had one glass of Montrachet too many. While Nora Ephron did not put words into Julia's or Judith Jones' mouths, a scene explaining why they ignored Julie would have been helpful so Julia didn't come off as if she was unjustly shunning a newcomer.
6. Immediately after seeing Julie and Julia, I headed to a local French bistro to have dinner with my friends. While we were discussing the movies (or rather, while I talked about Julia and they listened), Sara Moulton was seated next to me with her family. Sara and I originally met when she was running the culinary end of things at "Good Morning America," and then I appeared on her much-missed Food Network show. Julia was the in-house chef at GMA for many years, and she and Julia were close. I wouldn't have been more surprised if Escoffier (or maybe Simca Beck) had sat down next to me. Sara and I swapped Julia stories and impressions about the film. I recall that Sara was more generous about the film's inaccuracies. But, to be fair, there were more truths than misfires.
So, tonight, in honor of Julia, I think I will make my favorite of her dishes, Poulet Sauté aux Herbes de Provence. I made this for many a dinner party until I realized that chicken with Hollandaise sauce may not be in everyone's diet plan. Julia loved her butter--all the more appropriate for her birthday dinner.