From her towering stature to her unforgettable voice and comforting French cooking, Julia Child was the epitome of warmth, humor and power. She was a pioneer in food television, bringing French cuisine to America and making it accessible for the home cook. She loved butter. And everybody loved her.
Although Child passed away in 2004, her legacy has endured, and today feels stronger than ever. Ask anyone who's met her, cooked with her or simply watched her from afar, and witness them pull out story after story of the impact she's had on their lives, both past and present.
In honor of what would have been her 105th birthday on August 15, we do just that. We ask those chefs lucky enough to have known her to share their favorite memories, and they answer willingly. From cohost and fellow French chef Jacques Pépin to close friend and baking maven Dorie Greenspan, the love for Child is palpable.
Have a favorite Julia Child memory or recipe? Let us know in the comments.
A close friend
"Let me start by stating the obvious: Working with Julia Child was one of the great experiences of my life. Anyone who didn’t know Julia but who fell in love with her on television, through her books or maybe even by watching Meryl Streep play her in the Julie & Julia film will be happy (maybe even relieved) to learn that the real-life Julia was exactly the same person you fell in love with from afar. She was the real deal through and through.
"There are a thousand things I could tell you about Julia: how she taught my husband to bear-hug, how she taught me to wear lipstick, how she imitated Dan Ackroyd imitating her on SNL, how she made tuna sandwiches for everyone who came to visit (I’m sure she would have made that lunch for the Queen, if Her Majesty had dropped in), how she bought Pepperidge Farm Goldfish in industrial-size boxes to have with reverse martinis at cocktail hour—I have so many warm and wonderful memories of our time together as working partners and later as friends. But the memory that I hold dearest is the one that shows who Julia was to the core.
"We were shopping together at a drugstore near her home, when a couple—maybe they were teenagers, maybe they were in their earliest 20s—stopped Julia, mid-toothpaste-gathering, to ask if she’d give them an autograph. All they had was a store receipt, and I scrambled to find them a pen. Of course, Julia signed the stub, but then she did what she always did: She talked to the couple. She asked them about themselves, where they went to school, what they were doing, did they like food, did they cook, what interested them most in life, what did they hope for. This was Julia. She was curious about everything in the world, but she was most interested in people. Julia had the capacity to make a connection with people, even in the short time it took to sign a book (or a receipt) that touched the world and touched her, too. When Julia talked to you, you were right to feel that you were the only person in the world, because, for that moment, she felt that way, too. She truly cared, and I loved that—and so very much more—about her."
A close friend
"I’ve always believed that good health and good food aren’t mutually exclusive . . . and I’ve never loved it when even well-meaning advocates of the former work to obliterate the pleasures of the latter. I take my cues in this matter, as in so much else, from Julia Child, my mentor, whose credo was 'everything in moderation'—and everything was just as important to her as moderation.
"One day back in the 90s, I went with Julia to the annual conference of the International Association of Culinary Professionals. The food police of the day had decreed that fat—every kind of fat—was bad for us: animal fat, butter, cream, oil (including olive oil), avocados, nuts and seeds. 'all fat is bad fat' was the unofficial theme of that conference.
"Lunch was served in a ballroom holding about a thousand people, a meal sponsored by the Pork Board, which was then promoting its namesake product as 'The Other White Meat.' Afterward, we were treated to a lengthy speech bashing away about the multiple evils of fat. When the speaker finished, he looked out into the crowd and asked if there were any questions.
"Julia raised her hand, and the speaker called on her by name. She stood up—all six foot, three inches of her—and fluted out the question on her mind. 'You know,' she said, 'I just don’t understand—what is so terribly wrong with butter? I just love butter!' A dead hush descended on the ballroom. Nobody knew what to say. I agreed with Julia, and even I wanted to hide under the table.
"But that was Julia. Never a follower of fashion, nor a foodie, but a trendsetter, an icon and an iconoclast. Everything in moderation, including moderation. She lived to 92. It’s kinda hard to argue with her."
Fellow chef and TV personality
“Not only do we share a birthday, but on or around her birthday, Julia used to come into the restaurant to celebrate over lunch. . . . She did this for 10 years running give or take. What impressed me the most was that she always made a point of coming into the kitchen and thanking each and every cook.”
Proprietor at Michael’s Santa Monica and Michael’s in New York
"I met Julia Child in the early 70s at the Le Cordon Bleu in Paris. I was standing at the reception and in walks this force field of a woman. The receptionist was fawning over her, 'Madame Child!' and I was wondering who is this woman? Julia looked at me and asked if I was a student there, and we started chatting in French and immediately hit it off. I’d just finished a class, so we decided to go grab a quick lunch at a restaurant near the school. We ended up having a four-hour meal that was the beginning of a friendship that lasted the rest of her life. I had many happy meals with Julia, Dick Graff, Robert Mondavi, Richard and Tekla Sanford, all with the American Institute of Wine & Food. My wife, Kim, and I would often go up to Santa Barbara to cook meals with her when she was living in Montecito. Great eats, great wines, great people and great parties to the end!"
Partner at Love & Salt in Manhattan Beach, California
"The first time I met her was at a dinner I was invited to at a restaurant. A group of five of us were seated, and there was an extra chair at the table next to me. Someone said, 'We’re waiting for Julia.' A few minutes later Julia Child walks in. I couldn’t speak for 10 minutes. Finally, she turns to me, and she says, 'Can you speak French or not?' I respond, 'Well, I am French.' She asks, 'Why don’t you speak French with me then?' So we speak in French a bit, and then at the end of the meal, she says, 'For a Frenchman, you are quite nice.'”
Chef and restaurateur
"The first time I met Julia was around 1989 in Los Angeles. It was a time in my life when I met many huge celebrities—Madonna, Warren Beatty, Tina Turner, all of the supermodels of that era, studio moguls—all of that didn't compare with the thrill of meeting her. I was cooking lunch at Patina and so nervous to cook for her. She came into the kitchen to say hello, her booming, legendary voice, formidable stature—exuding warmth with her warm sparkling eyes and hugs, such a force. Over the following years, I saw her several more times; she had that special gift of making you feel like the most important person in the room when she talked to you, like she had all the time in the world for you and that you were truly special."
A close friend
"I met Julia in 1960 in New York when I'd been living here for maybe six months, and at that time, she hadn't written any books or done any television yet. She had just come back from France. Helen McCullough, who was the food editor of House Beautiful at the time, gave me a manuscript and asked me to take a look. She said that a woman from the West Coast had written it and that she was coming to New York, so we should cook for her. She said, 'She's a big woman with a terrible voice.' That was the manuscript for Mastering the Art of French Cooking, of course. We became friends shortly after that . . .
". . . I have to say that we argued a lot, discussing one thing or another. And she always said that we started cooking together, even though she was 23 years my senior. She started working in Paris in 1949, and I went into apprenticeship in 1949, so she was saying that the style of cooking and the way things were done at that time meant we were trained in the same way.
"When we did the show, the beauty of it was that we did not have any recipes. We discussed what we would cook the day before, but when we finished taping that series, it took over two years to go on the air, because Random House had to look at the show ad nauseam to establish the recipes for a cookbook, which was unusual. But for us, of course, it was fun, because we could cook whatever we wanted. (It was kind of crazy for the cameramen, because they never knew where we were going to go.) I have done 13 series of 26 shows for KQED-TV in my years, and for many of those shows, we used to do them on time: a 30-minute show. You would have someone telling you exactly how much time you had left at any point. But with Julia, we just said, 'We're going to cook, and when it's finished we'll tell you.' So I know we did some shows that were over 100 minutes, but we just cooked and had a glass of wine and eventually the show was over. In a sense, it was easier to do the show this way.
"I think what people like about her is that she was very genuine. She was the same way in person as she was on television. And she was always teaching. When we were cooking together, very often she would tell me that I was too serious. Often she would say, 'It's television; you should have fun.' But then at the end of the show, she would still always say, 'OK, what did we teach today?' There was always a teaching element with her. She wanted to teach something, I think, as I do."
All month long, the Tasting Table Cookbook Club is cooking through Julia Child's "Mastering the Art of French Cooking." Join the conversation and cook with us in our Facebook group!
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