Happy 100th Julia Child

Julia Child and me in New York in the early 90’s
Apparently, we loved purple then. We had lunch that day at Union Square Cafe.
Julia told me she thought the waiter was good looking. 

“Bon appetit!” as the late culinary icon Julia Child would say at the end of each episode of her pioneering PBS cooking show series The French Chef.  This week her fans are saying “bon anniversaire!” to commemorate what would have been her 100th birthday on Wednesday, August 15th. Julia’s kitchen wisdoms continue to educate and inspire millions through her many cookbooks, biographies and documentaries about her and this month deliciously fun re-runs of The French Chef on PBS television.  A few minutes into an episode on onion soup I completely forgot I was watching Julia ladle soup and grate cheese in black and white! Her personality added the color. When she knocked over an open bottle of Cognac on the counter she quickly righted it and stated there would be plenty left for the recipe.

During my years as a CNN correspondent covering the food beat, I was lucky to interview and share memorable meals with Julia Child. She even came to my house one morning for coffee. She taught me a few things about food and nutrition, too.

While working on the manuscript for my book, The Dish on Eating Healthy and Being Fabulous!, I asked Julia who was then well into her 80’s and well known for her love of butter and cream what advice she might have for planning a healthy dinner party menu. She offered a stealth strategy, “If you serve a health-conscious meal to guests, don’t say so. Don’t mention it at all. Think taste first!”  Back to the onion soup episode – she ends the show with a table set for a meal with the soup as the entrée, a salad with green beans, a crunchy baguette and fresh fruit and small cookies for dessert. She suggests, “This would be a lovely light meal let’s say for after the movies.”

Gems from Julia

During an interview with me for a CNN profile in 1997 she shared that moderation was the key to eating a healthy diet but here’s her delicious twist on that, “Everything in moderation I say. Even excess! You can splurge every once in a while.” She continued with a stronger observation, “I think a lot of people have an immature attitude. They hear you shouldn’t eat a lot of butter or red meat and so they give up eating butter. They give up eating red meat. The key to healthful dieting is to eat small helpings and a great variety of everything. And above all have a good time!”  Julia Child was famous for telling it like it is. I remember her commenting during a food conference on the low fat diet trend in the early 90’s with this hilarious statement, “All these people eating fat free foods! They’re going to get dandruff!”

When I asked about the healthfulness of French cuisine she leapt to its defense, “When they speak of French cooking they say ‘Oh! All of those heavy sauces!’ I think people have a complete misconception of French cooking. I think they’re thinking of tourist cooking.”

Child’s cookbooks give loud applause to the appeal of produce. In her 1995 cookbook “They Way to Cook” over 100 pages are dedicated to cooking vegetables and salads with a chapter introduction in which she declares, “The truth has dawned that fresh vegetables are not only good for you, they can be the glory of any meal, when lovingly cooked.”

Starting August 15th, Julia’s birthday, the Julia Child Kitchen exhibit will be on display until September 3
Julia’s Cambridge Kitchen

During a recent trip to Washington, DC I was disappointed to find out that the exhibit in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History featuring Child’s kitchen from her home in Cambridge, Mass was closed for renovation. I wanted to get some photos of the section of the kitchen where a VHS tape of CNN On The Menu with Carolyn O’Neil was placed next to her television. (I’m in the Smithsonian!) Nanci Edwards, project manager for the Smithsonian Institution took me behind the scenes to see how the new exhibit was coming along. Out of the public eye on the other side of an unmarked door there it was. Julia’s kitchen with its shiny appliances, cookbooks, counter tops and copper pots hung on a blue pegboard wall wrapped up in protective sheets of clear plastic waiting for the surrounding exhibit to be completed, “It’s a better point of view for visitors now. They can walk around the outside of the kitchen in a complete circle,” says Edwards. Julia Child’s Kitchen will be on display for a limited time August 15- September 3 and will reopen in November, as the focal point of a new exhibit hall titled Food: Transforming the American Table, 1950-2000.

Not the stove from Julia’s kitchen, but I took the photo anyway at the Smithsonian
But don’t look for the CNN videotape, “ I don’t think that will make it into the new exhibit.”  Edwards informed me, “But we’re not going to throw it away.” I guess I’m still with Julia Child in the Smithsonian somewhere.

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