National Celebrations Honor Julia Child
Julia Child, the legendary chef who inspired millions of Americans to learn to cook and dine on French cuisine, through her cookbooks, columns and television shows, would have been 100 years old on Aug. 15.
Child died in 2004 at the age of 91. But her indomitable spirit lives on through nationwide fetes at upscale restaurants, a national museum, and symposiums honoring her extraordinary gastronomic legacy.
“We’re not doing classic. Our menu is based on her book, “The Way to Cook,” because we’re actually an American restaurant, and because it was written for Americans,” said Alex Young, a chef at Zingerman’s Roadhouse in Ann Arbor, Mich.
Alex Young, Zingerman's
Zingerman’s is one of more than 100 restaurants across the country observing Julia Child Restaurant Week with some of her favorite recipes. Vichyssoise, a cold potato-leek soup, was a favorite. So was Beef Bourguignon and Coq au vin (coq means “rooster” in French), but chicken is often used with the wine recipe.
The Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C. will also honor Child’s birthday on Aug. 15 with the reopening of a refurbished reproduction of Julia Child’s Kitchen exhibit.
Episodes of her first TV show, “The French Chef,” courtesy of Boston-based television WGBH, will run daily. Several authors who have written books on Child will also be on hand to autograph their books.
Child’s kitchen, designed by Child’s husband, Paul Cushing Child, in the couple’s French country- style home in Cambridge, Mass., served as a backdrop for Child’s PBS television cooking show. “The French Chef” began airing in February 1963, and evolved into a series of popular cooking programs.
A Smithsonian spokesperson said Child’s kitchen is a “travel destination” for some. So it will be on display through Sept. 3. The kitchen contains myriad kitchen tools, appliances and nostalgic items Child personally had hung in her kitchen. She donated it to the museum in 2001. In November, Child’s kitchen exhibit will reopen permanently.
"Bon Appetit! Julia Child's Kitchen at the Smithsonian" at the National Museum of American History. For information, please call the Office of Public Affairs at (202) 633-3129. Smithsonian photo by Richard Strauss.
Child’s culinary contributions included more than a dozen cookbooks. Her debut cookbook was titled “Mastering the Art of French Cooking,” co-authored with Simone Beck and Louisette Berthholle, was published in 1961 by Alfred A. Knopf.
While living in Paris as a new bride, Child attended the Le Cordon Bleu cooking school. She teamed with Beck and Berthholle to open L’Ecole des Trois Gourmands cooking school in Paris. The women followed up their successful collaboration on the first French cookbook with a second volume.
“It was her learning of French cooking, the technique and preparation, that she taught others. I think that’s the art of French cooking,” said Young, winner of the prestigious James Beard Award. Young is a five-time nominee who won the title of “Best Chef in the Great Lakes Region” in 2011.
Two of the main dishes Young prepared and served at the all-American restaurant this week, with help from a well-known historian and cookbook collector, were chicken Marengo and steak tartare.
“There are seven or eight dishes on the menu. Chicken Marengo is one of Julia’s favorites. The steak tartare, with locally-raised beef, was also hers and James Beard’s favorite. I chose them because I like them,” said Young.
Lavendou Bistro Provencal in Dallas, Texas, chose to prepare traditional classic French recipes for the observance. Chef and owner Pascal Cayet’s offered a three-course prix-fixe menu at the bargain price of only $39 per person.
Appetizers included: Bisque de Homard (lobster bisque); Salade Frisee aux Lardons et Roquefort, salad with bacon and blue cheese; Coquilles St. Jacques aux Poireau, pan-seared sea scallops on bed of leek sauce; and Terrine de Saison.
Beef Bourguignon, like a beef stew braised with red wine
Coq Au Vin which is chicken (traditionally the dark meat) braised in red wine, bacon and mushrooms
Onglet also known as Hanger Steak. It is grilled, served w/ a shallot reduction and pomme frites
One of Bistro Vatel's signature dishes, Duck Cassoulet. It's duck confit served with French white beans and smoky sausage. It is a hearty dish served mainly in the fall months.
Entrees ‘’Les Plats ‘’ included Filet de Sole Provençale, sautéed filet of sole with tomatoes, garlic and basil; and Magret de Canard au Poivre Vert, sautéed buck breast with green peppercorn sauce. A final course was Tournedos Grille au Beurre de Merlot, grilled beef tenderloin with merlot butter.
Napoleon aux Framboises, raspberry in a puff pastry with Chantilly cream topped the dessert menu, followed by ou Crème Caramel, caramel custard. But the dessert would not have been complete without Child’s favorite, ou Mousse au Chocolat, chocolate mousse.
“I never met Julia Child, but she was a pioneer in bringing French cooking to America. She will always be remembered for what she accomplished,” said Pascal Cayet, chef and owner of Lavendou, voted “Best of Big D in 2010 and 2012” by D city magazine.
“I have a traditional French restaurant. I don’t deviate much from French traditional. So our menu is Julia Child classic Escoffier,” said Cayet, referring to Georges Auguste Escoffier, a pre-eminent French chef (dubbed king of chefs and chef of kings), restaurateur and culinary writer.
In fact, Child translated Escoffier’s techniques and cooking methods to English in many of the more than a dozen cookbooks she wrote. Her first book, “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” was her seminal French cookbook.
Today, more than 50 years since Child burst on the scene, chefs revere Escoffier’s recipes and adhere to Classic French cooking. But even at Lavendou, a bastion of French cuisine, pleasing American palates may require occasional improvisation.
“I have a chef who debates with me when we serve escargot. He says it should be made only with Chablis and no cream, because Escoffier didn’t use cream. I usually do traditional garlic butter because that’s the way people like it. Still, he says Escoffier didn’t do it that way,” laughed Cayet.
Child’s influence was so extensive that she inspired second and third generation viewers to explore her cookbooks. One of them wrote a book, which led to a hit comedy titled “Julie & Julia,” starring Oscar-winning actress Meryl Streep in the title role.
Many chefs say Child preferred classic French traditional cooking. Historians point out that Child felt no guilt or angst about using generous amounts of cream and butter. “Everything in moderation is good,” she used to say.
“I remember she came to a restaurant owned by a friend of mine. She like traditional food, and we are traditional not trendy. She was instrumental in kicking off the acceptance of French food in the United States,” said Damien Watel, owner of Bistro Vatel in San Antonio, Texas.
Damien Watel, Bistro Vatel
“We’re a classic French restaurant doing a three-course menu. So I guess that’s why we’re a good match. We’re also doing a lunch for 150 members of the Gran Escoffier Group,” said Watel, who owned a French restaurant in Dallas before relocating to San Antonio, where food critics hail his Bistro Vatel as the city’s best.
Jean-Marie Cadot, chef and owner of Cadot Restaurant in Dallas, pointed out that sometimes he has to think twice before answering American patrons who ask if his menu offers classic French Julia Child dishes.
cassoulet from Chef Jean-Marie Cadot, owner and chef of Cadot Restaurant in Dallas
“The people really enjoy the menu. But I have to say ‘yes’ and ‘no’ when they ask about Julia Child dishes. They don’t realize these are recipes from Escoffier, which are all classic French recipes I grew up with,” said Cadot in his engaging French accent.
Cadot, executive chef at Lavendou for 11 years before opening his restaurant in 2009, quickly acknowledged Child is definitely the catalyst for an abiding love affair Americans have with French cuisine.
Jean-Marie Cadot, Cadot Restaurant
“She was like the ambassador of French cuisine. People saw her show and wanted to learn about French cooking. She knew how to communicate with the audience, so she made it very special,” said Cadot.
Among her many accomplishments, Child established the American Institute of Wine & Food (AIWF) with Robert Mondavi and Richard Graff in 1981. Today there are 22 chapters and some 3,000 members.
Child was more than a cookbook author, chef, teacher, and television personality. Child became part of popular culture lovingly imitated and mimicked. She was an American icon, capturing the hearts of those who read her books or saw her television show.
Pasadena, Calif., her birthplace, has the distinction of being the city with eight restaurants participating in the national tribute. Child’s longtime publisher, Knopf, launched the JC 100 restaurant salute in conjunction with a new biography it published. The new book on Child is titled “Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julia Child” by Bob Spitz.
Other cities observing Child with specially prepared menus include: New York and Boston with seven restaurants, Los Angeles and Houston with five and Chicago with four. Emeril’s in New Orleans, Marea in New York, and Bistro Niko in Atlanta all held tributes.
Nationwide tributes to Child don’t end with her birthday. On Aug. 24 at San Antonio’s Central Market, Sara Moulton will hold a free Chantal Copper Cookware cooking demonstration. Moulton is known for the PBS show, “Sara’s Weeknight Meals,” and will present Les Dames d’ Escoffier scholarships to current winners.
Moulton, also a chef and author, worked as a test kitchen staffer for the “Julia Child & More Company” television series in 1979. She is a former recipient of the LDDE international scholarship.
“She’s my number one role model and mentor….she taught me we must strive for excellence," Moulton told a local reporter on recalling her relationship with Child.
For restaurant information:
Some of the information and photos in this article were obtained from various sources, including: Schlesinger Library at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study Harvard University; The Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History; The Wall Street Journal; Wikipedia.org; Pasadena Restaurant Week.com; D magazine; the San Antonio Express-News; and the various restaurants interviewed.
Rosie Carbo is the Lifestyles Editor for Wandering Educators