Thanks to the success of the movie Julie and Julia, a film I can’t bring myself to see, Meryl Streep’s picture is on the cover of Julia’s masterpiece MASTERING THE ART OF FRENCH COOKING. Yes, I am happy that the book is on the best-seller list, but putting Streep’s picture on the cover is an outrageous insult to my heroine.
Nevertheless, since the movie appeared, the press and internet have been flowing over with anecdotes about personal encounters with Julia Child. It suddenly occurred to me that I ought to share my special Julia story.
My first cookbook, To the King’s Taste, was published in 1975 by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I was a PhD candidate at Columbia and the medieval recipes I happened upon in the library there and adapted for modern cooking were accompanied by charming woodcut illustrations from the museum’s collection. I was thirty years old and very excited, and I was certain that everyone involved in cooking would want to know how King Richard II of England dined in 1392. So, in addition to writing to Elizabeth David and Jane Grigson, the two most famous cookbook writers in England, I sent a note with the book to Julia.
Knowing that I would be in Aix-en-Provence that summer to study French, and knowing that Julia and Paul would be at their home in nearby Gras, I suggested that perhaps I could visit them. How I got the nerve to do all this, I do not know. But Julia, in her characteristically friendly and generous way, wrote back that she would be delighted to have me over to lunch and suggested a date and time.
Not having a car, I had no idea how I’d get there, but when I told two fellow students, Pietro and Rick, about my dilemma, they offered to drop me off and pick me up, knowing that it would give them a chance to meet Julia, if only briefly. As I recall, the Child home (on the property of colleague and co-author Simone Beck) was pretty but quite modest–I remember an open space with a dining table near a window and I remember Julia serving a simple, very fresh, sauteed fillet of fish with some fresh vegetables. Paul was curmudgeonly, but Julia doted on his every word and remained chipper and cheerful. She inquired about my work and how I came about it, and wondered what I’d be doing next.
The time flew and after about 1 1/2 hours or so, my friends Pietro and Rick arrived to fetch me. “What have you two been doing with yourselves?” asked Julia. “We went to Moulin de Mougins,” said Pietro, rolling his eyes with pleasure. “Ah, good choice,” said Julia.
When I heard that my friend had gotten a last-minute reservation to eat at the world famous restaurant of Roger Verge in nearby St. Paul de Vence, I became green with envy. After a few more pleasantries, I gave Julia a goodbye-hug and thanked her for the lovely lunch and we were off.
On the ride home, Pietro and Rick regaled me with details of their magnificent lunch and I continued to feel envious that I had missed out on this great gastronomic experience…until it suddenly dawned on me that anyone with the interest and means could have a four-star meal in a glorious French restaurant in the south of France.
But how many people got the chance to have a delicious, home-cooked meal made just for you by Julia Child?
We miss you Julia!