JULIA CHILD | An appreciation She did things her way, and we loved her for it
A brief encounter with the famous chef had a lasting impact.
By LAURA S. MEYN
Who doesn't have an ache in their heart over the loss of Julia Child? Unlike some of the slick personalities on television today, Julia Child was universally loved both for her raw talent and for not taking herself too seriously.
Not only could she perfectly explain in layman's terms how to replicate flamboyant French fare such as Cherry Tart Flamb & eacute;e, she allowed that -- depending upon the season -- we might actually need to use canned or frozen cherries to complete the task.
During my tenure at Bon App & eacute;tit magazine in Los Angeles, I happened upon an old article about Child that had appeared in the magazine sometime in the early '80s. It was a particular photograph, taken in her home kitchen in Santa Barbara, that struck my interest: a large cat sat in one side of her double sink, watching Child work with great interest from only a few feet away.
I was charmed by the casual, homey nature of the scene, probably touched by how closely it resembled my own kitchen. But I soon learned that this photograph had been at the center of some controversy. Angry readers had written letters to the magazine, appalled that Julia Child would work with a cat sitting in her kitchen sink.
But that was part of who she was: She enjoyed the process of cooking and was undaunted by the reported dangers of eggs or cream (much less by a stray strand of kitty hair). It was these very idiosyncrasies and her infamous on-the-air foibles that made Child seem so accessible, and it was her unique personality that made her capable of introducing generations of American cooks to what had previously seemed out of our league: fine French cooking.
After leaving Bon App & eacute;tit and moving to Youngstown, I finally met Child -- albeit on the phone. In 2001, her publishers released a 40th anniversary edition of the cookbook that made her famous: "Mastering the Art of French Cooking." The Vindicator requested an interview, and I set out to track her down.
Celebrities usually have a full-time assistant: a stern gatekeeper whose sole purpose is to make sure the employer doesn't have to talk to journalists. Within a day or so of leaving her a phone message, Child returned my call herself. I'll never forget the surprise of answering the phone and hearing her unmistakable sing-song voice on the other end of the line, announcing, "Julia Child here!"
She then patiently answered all of my questions about her last 40 years of work, quipping about the boringness of eating broccoli without any butter and touting the time-tested wisdom of enjoying all things in moderation.
Coming from someone who lived well and ate well for more than 90 years, charming the world with her talent and her ability to laugh at herself, hers is advice worth remembering:
"Small helpings, no seconds and a little bit of everything!"