My Brief Encounter with Julia Child

CAN WE ALL PAY HOMAGE TO JULIA CHILD THIS WEEK? On August 15 she would have turned 100 years old. Frankly, I can’t think of anyone who has had a larger influence on my own adventures in the kitchen. And fortunately I was lucky enough to tell her so. My story:

In October, 1999, Julia Child and Jacques Pepin were scheduled to attend a book fair in NYC, in order to promote their latest collaboration:  Julia and Jacques: Cooking At Home. I can still remember that Sunday morning. My apartment was only 15 blocks away, so I walked to the event, enjoying the crisp autumn air.

Arriving at the out-door event, I noticed Julia right away. She was seated on a make-shift stage, with Jacques beside her. I can tell you that this woman, at 87, was far more glamorous than she ever appeared on television. Her hair was colored chestnut-brown, and her face was beautifully made up. I still remember the mascara on her eye lashes.

Julia and Jacques gave a brief talk about their book. I can not recall their talk, but it was obvious from their interactions that they were not merely co-authors, but ace-buddies, too.

The two chefs then moved to a table where they could sign books. I promptly took my place in line, never taking my eyes off Julia. As you can imagine, my heart was pounding. I was about to meet my hero!  And guess what? Julia noticed me as I waited in line  (no doubt because I was staring). She smiled at me and nodded her head. Of course, she was probably thinking “Who is this excited kid?”

What happened next gives me goosebumps to this day. When I set the book before Julia, she did not sign it. Instead, she stood up and extended her hand. “Are you a home cook or a professional cook?” she asked. “A ha-ha-ha-home cook,” I replied. Then, trying not to pass out, I told her I’d studied her work since childhood, and that it was because of her that I actually care about food and way it’s prepared. She thanked me, and then sat down and signed my book. Jacques, seated beside her, signed it, too.

Feeling slightly emboldened, I told her I hadn’t been able to find the egg-poaching devices she once wrote about. “Why, you can find them at Williams-Sonoma,” she said. Then — get this — she stood up again and shouted “DOES ANYONE KNOW WHERE THE NEAREST WILLIAMS-SONOMA STORE IS?” Jacques responded “I think there’s one at 59th and Lex.”

With an autographed book under my arm and my head in the clouds, I headed over to Williams-Sonoma and promptly purchased two egg-poachers. I still cherish the gadgets today.  Of course, I will always cherish Mrs. Child — and my all-too-brief  encounter with her.

I wonder if Julia Child encouraged you to cook, too. Perhaps you can let me know by leaving a comment.

Meanwhile, can we all raise a glass to the lady who pioneered a food revolution?   Happy Birthday, Julia!

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  1. Hi Kevin, I loved the movie Julie and Julia and learned more about Julia from that movie. She was so daring and passionate and funny! Here’s to Julia!

  2. Linda Totten says:

    I loved Julia Child, also. I never met her, but watched for years on PBS. Thanks for sharing you story.

  3. What a wonderful story! I am a Smith College alumna, as was Julia. A great many remarkable women graduated from Smith, but she is by far the one I am most proud to share that distinction with.

    A few years ago my mom gave me her very well used copy of MTOFC for Christmas. I will have to crack it open on Wednesday and make something in honor of Julia!

  4. kate – I hope they have a statue of Julia erected somewhere on the Smith College campus. I visit that neighborhood of Northampton frequently — and can always sense of the spirit of Julia there.

    Regarding Mastering, I read it like a mystery novel every night for months. The details such as she provided in the book are something I strive to include in my own recipes. Ditto the importance of trials — making sure each recipe works, by making it over and over again — I learned from her. Recipe writing ain’t easy!

  5. She inspired you, you inspire us.
    And you write wonderful recipes!

  6. Erin – what a sweet, sweet comment. Thank you.

  7. Cary Bradley says:

    Hi Kevin! Just read this remembrance of Julia by Marlo on Huff and knew you’d enjoy!

    Bon appetit :)!!!

  8. I watched Julia religiously from the early days when I was young. In a sense, she was one of the first reality Still have my MTAOFC. I was a bit disappointed in the movie; just didn’t seem to be the Julia I remembered. Too silly. Oh I miss her…

  9. Erin – OMG!!! Julia would have LOVED that. Amazing what can be done with digital voice manipulation. And what a memorable beat! Thank you for finding — and sending.

  10. Hi Kevin,

    A great story to share… it’s so wonderful how we, as individual human beings, can touch one another. Sometimes we know it has happened, other times we don’t. Nevertheless, I find that the spirit that Julia embodied, and so many great people like her, has found yet another home on the internet. Thank you for sharing your heart space here with us… your blog is much more than simple directions for growing, decorating, or cooking… here you have nurtured a place that inspires your visitors, and cultivates enthusiasm and love for one’s passions… a healthy oasis in a crazy world. Love ya, brother! ❤

  11. Mary Bacilieri says:

    Tears lept from my eyes when she greeted you with “Are you a home cook or a professional”…
    My husband is a professional cook. A chef from Bologna. I am a home cook and have been all my life. I compare my mother to Julia. She taught me how to make cream sauces and popovers, how to bake the perfect standing rib roast and make any gravy. The baked Alaskas and cream puffs… we LOVED Julia! I’m a southern cook w/ a base in Julia… and I’m off to can fresh Tennessee tomatoes with Momma this morning! HOME COOKS RULE… Just ask my husband! Love spending my Sunday morns w/ you!

  12. Tracey Riley says:

    I got to meet Julia on her retirement tour. I was working in a restaurant that she was speaking in. What an amazing lady. She was so gracious and funny. Before she left she posed for a picture with us. I keep it in Baking with Julia,it always makes me smile. For anyone who hasn’t read My Life In France, I would highly recommend it.

  13. Your story made me smile. That was so sweet.

  14. Love the egg poachers and related story “the way to cook”by Julia iis my connection ❤❤❤my husband #xmas gift

  15. Lori Scheuer says:

    i got so excited when you said that you met Julia Child, how lucky you are. I have so much respect for her as a woman and a Chef.

  16. I have the DVD set of Jacques and Julia cooking together. It is so wonderful. I bought it as a gift to myself after a particularly hard period of physical labor in the gardens. I love to study favorite episodes over and over. I borrowed some other earlier disks of Julia’s PBS shows from the library and have made one of those recipes a winter standby…. Sausage and Potato Casserole (with cream, of course!) Incomparable. She allows her own mistakes to make it into the final broadcast, which instantly allows us to feel compassion for her, and to identify with her lack of perfection in the kitchen – akin to our own performances. She is the gift that keeps on giving.

  17. Having just finished reading ” My Life in France”, your experience gives me delight and envy. Lucky. lucky you. PLM

  18. betty troutman says:

    julia childs– there was a sign in the window of of the safeway store in ojai calif. saying watch the french chef on the weekend….and so there we were——really very surprised to find that the chef was A WOMAN! how sweet a time it was…betty

  19. Julia Dull says:

    I have also had a great admiration since childhood for this amazing woman. My mother and my aunt were the first people to introduce me to the joys of cooking and I have had a love affair with the culinary arts ever since. In my Lithuanian heritage food is one of the ways to say “I love you so much I worked all day to make this for you”. Julia Child was revered in our family as the vehicle that introduced preparing food as not just a duty or chore but something worth striving to perfect. A worthy occupation but also a science that has fascinated generations of my family. Thank you for honoring the ireplacable Julia Child. I wonder what she cooking up in heaven ? Also, I wanted to tell you how much I enjoy and look forward to checking in with your posts. Thank you for all you do !!

  20. Hi,
    I found your page through the picture of the Wms-Sonoma egg poaching cups, of which I have inherited two (the metal egg-shaped ones with the vertical wire handle). I am a little bit stymied as to how to use them effectively—how high to put the water, when and how to drop the eggs in, whether they require butter, how to cook. Can you tell me your techniques with them? Thanks.

  21. Hi Marnie – There’s no right or wrong way to use the poaching gadgets. Here’s my routine:

    1) spray the perforated cups with non-stick vegetable spray
    2) break eggs into the cups
    3) lower the cups into simmering (not boiling) water

    Be sure to use enough water so that the eggs will be covered by 1/2 an inch or so.

    Hope this was helpful to you!

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