Readers share memories of Julia Child to mark 100th birthday

From staff reportsAugust 14, 2012 

We asked you to share your memories of Julia Child, and your response overwhelmed us. Our apologies to any contributors for our editing or omission.

Carolyn Rawls Booth, a former food columnist for The Cary News

I cooked with Julia Child long before I met her. When I discovered “Mastering the Art of French Cooking,” I knew I had found a friend that would nourish my love of cooking for the rest of my days. I had seen Julia Child on television, laughed along with her and at her, but it was that first volume of recipes that shaped my approach to food preparation and entertaining.

The Professional Food Writers Symposium at the Greenbrier was introduced to me by friend and local food writer Elizabeth Wiegand. “You’ll get to meet Julia Child and all kinds of famous food writers,” she said. And that I did! Attending the symposium several years in a row, I became friends with this warm giant of a woman who was suffering from osteoarthritis, just like my mother who was exactly the same age. Often, I led Julia to a table or a seat on the sidelines where we both could just sit, something I would have done for my own mother.

At the time, LaVarenne at the Greenbrier, the cooking school run by another great cook and writer, Ann Willan, was in full operation. Participants were treated to “Cooking Lessons with Julia and Ann.” Each session was memorable and my scrapbook is full of photographs and notes taken with these incredible teachers. When she died, I was greatly saddened at the thought of losing her friendship, but I still have her books, inscribed to me in her own hand, and I’ll keep “cooking with Julia” as long as I live.

Gloria Wilkins of Fearrington Village

It was the 1960s. The Kennedys were in the White House and Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy made American housewives long for all things French – especially French food. It is no surprise that Julia Child’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” became an instant best-seller. I could hardly wait to get my copy. I read it like it was great literature hanging on every ingredient and direction. The first thing I made was her apple pie. I made it as a special treat for my husband. I labored over the recipe for four hours. My husband’s comment was, “It is not as good as your usual.” I could have strangled him. Since then we have enjoyed many of the recipes and the boeuf bourguignon is a staple in our home.

Joseph Fasy of Fuquay-Varina

I had a very interesting interaction with Julia Child during her 80th birthday tour. I was the executive sous chef at the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables, FL. The Coral Gables book club had arranged a luncheon to celebrate this iconic author and television star. The executive chef assigned me to the book club party and mentioned in passing, “Julia Child is the guest of honor and the menu will be all French.” No pressure, right? Well, this was all I focused on for the next two days: the best produce, the best poultry, fresh stocks and a blockbuster dessert. The day of the event I was a wreck. Things went very smoothly. I thought we had done an excellent job. Just when the desserts had gone out, I let out a breath of relief. That was short lived. The maitre d’ informed me that Julia requested my presence in the ballroom. Chefs are, by nature, insecure. I saw my culinary life flash before my eyes. When I arrived table-side, Julia handed me a glass of champagne and toasted me, as well as all chefs, as the true guest of honor. She insisted that I talk with her and enjoy the lovely dessert, which I did. A truly amazing interaction with one of the culinary world’s iconic figures.

Sarah Long of Raleigh

When the movie “Julie & Julia” came out, my husband and I went to see it. We found it to be delightful in every way, and so did the audience, because we all applauded at the end of the movie. As we walked out to the car, my husband remarked upon the kitchen pegboards Paul Child had made for his wife. He talked about a large wall in my kitchen addition, and thought a Julia Child pegboard would be just the thing for that wall. We made it a reality, and I just love it! It looks great, and I use the frying pans on it every single day.

Ellen Blair of Apex

I remember that “The French Chef” was the highlight of my Sunday evenings. I would go downstairs to our basement rec room after dinner and watch by myself. I especially liked the episodes where she baked something, as baking was my creative outlet as a child, and even today as an adult. I wasn’t good at art or music but Julia taught me that cooking also was an art form. It became my hobby, and that is how I met my husband – at a bread baking class.

Tom Warburton Jr. of Chapel Hill

When my wife and I were graduate students at the University of Michigan in the 1960s, we watched “The French Chef” regularly. You would say that Julia Child taught us how to cook. In 1968, we announced our engagement in an Ann Arbor News cooking column, including some of our favorite recipes and mentioning our debt to Julia Child. We sent a copy of the article to Child along with a fan letter. She replied very quickly, and the framed letter is an important treasure to us.

Felice Bogus of Raleigh

Back before cable or satellite TV, we had broadcast television. Three major networks, one or two independent stations if you were lucky, and PBS. Only I didn’t know it was a network called “PBS.” I thought it was just a station called “Channel 13.” Channel 13 aired a lot of incomprehensible shows with people just talking on and on about boring grown-up stuff, but they also showed “Sesame Street” and “Mister Rogers” so they must have been okay people. A bored city kid in those pre-video game days would watch anything on television, even it was old reruns on educational television.

One of those odd grown-ups was a tall lady with a funny voice who did things with pots and pans and food that didn’t come out of cans. She used French words that, over time, stopped being a foreign language and began to represent real concepts. She showed unusual things like how to debone a chicken, filet a fish and how to flip an omelet. She didn’t even lose her cool when that omelet missed the pan on the way down. She didn’t think it odd that people would eat duck, or sweetbreads, or cook vegetables that didn’t hit your counter in an icy rectangle. I doubt I understood a fraction of what I was hearing then, but something penetrated my media-sodden skull and took root.

In time I realized that I wanted to cook, and I needed to be able to do things for myself. Having had Julia Child as an early mentor meant that I knew I could learn to cook and cook well. An autographed Time magazine cover still hangs in my kitchen today, a reminder of how much I owe to dear, dear Julia.

Gene Montague of Wake Forest

In the mid-1960s, I was a student at the Episcopal Theological School and Harvard Divinity School, living with my wife and four children in Cambridge. Our round-the-corner neighbor was Julia Child. It happened that she shopped at the same small grocery as we did. She was very approachable. I used to follow her around and try to buy what she bought. She would stop and discuss almost any item. Most of all I remember her long conversations with the butcher; they obviously liked each other and considered the selection of a proper chop a major undertaking.

Wes Burt, culinary teacher, Athens Drive High School

I teach culinary arts at Athens Drive High School in Raleigh. One of the biggest thrills I get each year is when I introduce a new batch of aspiring chefs to Julia. The students love watching her videos. I guess the biggest compliment I can give Julia actually comes from my students, who say: “Julia keeps it real.”

Terri Kittrell of Sanford

Julia’s love and respect for cooking came through loud and clear. I tried to never miss a show. However, my comments center around the advice she gave that I try to follow, and have found to be true many years later. First, if the recipe says use butter, USE BUTTER! Second, if you are expecting dinner guests, and something goes wrong in the kitchen, DO NOT mention it. Try to salvage what you can, and be creative. Your guests will enjoy anything you serve.

Marylin Eddinger of Angier

When I lived in Florida, my daughter came home to live with her two children, Nikki, 3, and Nathan, 5. My granddaughter would be out back playing and she would keep coming to the door and holler, “Grandma, is it time for Julia?” She would want a bowl and whisk to pretend to make everything Julia made. Nikki is 32 now and we still laugh about this memory.

Andrea Ritter of Raleigh

I had the honor of meeting Julia and Paul Child in 1973 at a Bloomingdale’s in Long Island. I went to the store to buy my daughter a raincoat and got mixed up in a crowd of ladies attending a charity event at which Julia was demonstrating. I didn’t have a ticket and was told to just sit in the back at a table. Julia and Paul came in and sat with me shortly thereafter and proceeded to ask my name and just chat like we were old friends. What I remember so clearly was that the two of them laughed together, heads together, talking to me and to each other and they made me feel like I had known her forever.

Jennifer Lohmann of Durham

I have a very distinct memory of my mother and Julia Child’s influence on her. Probably around Easter, we were in a supermarket and my mom wanted to buy a leg of lamb. The butcher asked if my mom would like the leg deboned. My mother replied in a haughty voice: “No. I learned how to debone a leg of lamb from Julia Child.” It was clear to me, even as a child, that my mom felt Julia Child’s cooking show was personal instruction in cooking, not just something to watch, and that it meant something special to her.

Pat Gingrich of Carrboro

When I was going to college in the 1970s, my housemates and I watched Julia Child. One day, she started one of her recipes in that big, confident voice, “First, we take a leek!” And so, that phrase, said in that voice, became the beginning of every recipe we shared. It never got old!

Maureen Dolan Rosen of Chapel Hill

About 20 years ago, my husband and I moved into our current house in Chapel Hill. It was my habit to recycle our magazines at the drop-off center, and occasionally bring home ones that were still readable. In one, I found a photo of Julia Child that I had never seen and made me laugh out loud. It’s pure Julia: standing behind her worktable, wearing pearls and perfectly coiffed, and fearlessly brandishing an upside-down, raw, headless turkey by its legs. I instantly cut out the picture, framed it and hung it in my kitchen, right above the sink, where I see it every time I wash a dish or prepare a meal. About 15 years ago, we had a dear friend visiting for the weekend, and as we were getting our own turkey ready to roast under the watchful eye of Julia, we both had the same thought. She grabbed the camera and I grabbed the turkey in as close an approximation of Julia’s position as I could get. Ever since, my photo has hung right underneath Julia’s, both of us wielding our dead birds and our pearls.

Joann Hanley of Pinehurst

I received Julia’s cookbook in the early ’70s and loved it. One night I had nine guests for dinner and prepared Julia’s chicken grilled with mustard, herbs and bread crumbs. After preparing the chicken, you placed it in the oven under the broiler. Every six to 10 minutes you pulled it out and brushed butter on the top. Needless to say, it kept the cook very busy and glued to the oven for 50 minutes or so. After dinner, one of the female guests complimented me and asked if it was “Shake and Bake” chicken, which was very popular with busy mothers of that era. I was appalled. I replied, “No, it is Julia Child’s, blood, sweat and tears."

Holly Francis of Durham

In my teens, I started watching Julia Child’s television show. I’ve read several of her books and laughed at DVDs of her old shows, especially the one about preparing a chicken for roasting. And of course I saw “Julie & Julia,” where Meryl Streep “channeled” Julia Child. I’m such a fan that last September I tracked down the apartment building where Julia and Paul lived in Paris. Paul sounded like an unusual, wonderful man and the world misses them both.

Linda Wolfe of Goldsboro

I was introduced to Julia Child in the summer of 1962. I was working at Filene’s Department Store in Boston and looking forward to my senior year at the University of Massachusetts. In the spring, I’d be graduating, marrying a pilot in the Air Force and moving across the country. I’d never been away from New England and had no idea how to cook anything. My co-worker, an elderly gentleman from England named Evan, worried about my future as a “clueless bride.” Evan presented me with “Mastering the Art of French Cooking.” My book came complete with his personal words of encouragement and “side notes.” Fifty years later, I am still referring to Evan’s notes and Julia’s wonderful lessons on the care and feeding of my now retired Air Force husband.

Richard Wiggins of Apex

Even for folks like myself who aren’t cooks, Julia Child made irresistible TV viewing. I recall laughing out loud when she looked into the camera and proclaimed with great authority in her iconic voice, “Ohhh . . . a little butter never hurt anyone.” Then she used half a stick of butter.

Ralph Collins of Cary

In 1965, my parents presented me with “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” upon my graduation from Cornell’s hotel school. It was an important reference for me while I was a chef in New York City, especially since I was the only American in a French kitchen.

In 2001, I met Julia. We were at a fundraiser to benefit The Julia Child Endowment for Culinary Scholarships. She was charming, talkative with that sing-song lilt we are all familiar with and especially delighted that I had brought my copy of “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” for her to sign. She is the one who noticed it was a first edition copy and asked me how I came by it.

Anyone who has a love of food, its preparation, presentation and taste, has a connection with others who feel the same way. We live it. It excites us. Julia allowed all of us who were interested into her own culinary world. Maybe that’s why I felt I knew her before I ever met her.

Linda Carl of Chapel Hill

I learned how to cook with confidence faithfully watching Julia. There was no grand moment. There are great memories. Not following the instructions to avert face while lighting a match for cognac in coq au vin resulted in eau de burned bangs. Not having Julia with me when we were living in Paris one summer resulted in my going to an English-language bookstore to laboriously copy the recipe for veal Orloff. I wanted to entertain in style and needed my master.

Louise Talley of Raleigh

I lived in Cambridge, Mass., just before her heyday with “The French Chef” television program and one of my roommates was a volunteer at WGBH when she started doing the series. Later on, I was very fortunate to meet her at a famous French restaurant, La Cote Basque, in New York where we were both having lunch. I also enjoyed taking cooking lessons with her co-author, Simone Beck, when she was in New York to promote their cookbooks. The lessons were given in James Beard’s kitchen – what fun! Of course, I watched “The French Chef” avidly and my young children loved it too, especially my son. I loved learning to be relaxed about the exactitude of measuring ingredients and to just enjoy cooking.

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