Today would have been Julia Child’s 100th birthday; here’s an account I wrote for a local publication of my singular lunch with her 27 years ago. Hope you enjoy it.
For weeks, Julia Child’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” hovered again near the top of the charts in the New York Times’ Book Review Section (under Advice/How-to’s), a pinnacle Julia never achieved during her lifetime. The renewed interest in her breakthrough book shows what a hit movie, “Julie and Julia” ,can do, not to mention the luminous Meryl Streep playing the feisty Julia herself.
Yet on the heels of this tremendously renewed interest in how to cook well — to cook as the French do — with Julia as our guide, Gourmet Magazine suddenly stopped publishing after 68 years. Another signpost of good living, eating and traveling bit the dust. Yes of course, it’s the economy, the drop in high-end advertising, the bottom line. Even with a visionary editor, Gourmet couldn’t make it.
But once upon a time principles of excellence in all things were something to strive for – still valid, it seems, to judge by the Times best-seller list. And once upon a time, years ago, I had lunch with Julia Child.
It was 1985, the last year of Julia Child’s final PBS series, “Dinner with Julia.” My husband and I were running a public relations firm and TPT, Twin Cities Public Television, was our client. Julia was a huge PBS star by then and was coming to town to promote the series – did we have any ideas as to soliciting media coverage of her visit? It so happened that the then quite new downtown Hyatt Hotel was also our client at that time. We were promoting The Willows, their lovely fine dining restaurant. (The Willows is long gone now, replaced by a sports bar.) From those two relationships came the idea – our PR event would be a “chef’s table” in the Willows’ kitchen, and Julia would be our invited guest.
An often-used event for top restaurants, a chef’s table is aimed at demonstrating the food, chef and menu capabilities of the restaurant to media and other life-style leaders. Guests sit at a smallish table set up in the kitchen and the chefs buzz around cooking and presenting their best menu items for tasting.
And so it happened – Julia came for lunch in the Willows’ kitchen – along with about 10 of us in attendance. The executive chef, his two sous chefs and their assistants were on hand, nervous but confident. We were there, along with some media types and a few other hangers-on when Julia was ushered into the kitchen by the TPT entourage. I remember being totally amazed at how incredibly tall she actually was – you couldn’t really tell on her TV shows because the counters were raised to suit her six foot two height. In 1985 she would have been 73, but she was full of energy and interest, shaking hands vigorously with all of us and settling in for a good meal. We did much more than tasting at this lunch – we were presented with a six-course meal that began with an array of appetizers, then a soup course, then the fish course, followed by the beef entrée, followed by a scrumptious salad and finally, a wide choice of desserts and cheeses. The wines were flowing throughout, of course, with sorbet palate cleansers between each course.
How I wish I could remember what we ate! But the exact menu, along with any extant notes, is long gone now. I do remember the chefs presenting each dish to Julia as if it were a rare jewel; her responding to each item with curiosity, questions and praise. The chefs were thrilled to meet her – preening like peacocks with her compliments. Her voice is legendary, of course, and she was very vocal as she wanted to know how this or that was done. Several times, she even rose from the table and went over to the stove tops to sip, taste and stir with the chefs. I remember we laughed a great deal; Julia was funny.
Photos were taken and printed, interviews were graciously granted, and we had our media story. And we also had one of the highlights of our long P.R. career, a never-to-be forgotten lunch with Julia Child.