Getting Ready to Celebrate the 100th birthday of Cuisine Queen Julia Child

Left: The real Julia Child hams it up with a chicken. Right: Meryl Streep in Julie and Julia.

“I was 32 when I started cook­ing; up until then, I just ate.” — Julia Child

I’ve been a busy mem­ber of Canada’s food media for many moons — more than 30 years of telling sto­ries about my con­sum­ing pas­sion, 18 of them as food editor/columnist for Canada’s largest news­pa­per, the Toronto Star.

My work sleuthing sto­ries has been excit­ing, eclec­tic and, I hope, both edu­ca­tional and entertaining.

I’ve talked to cooks and din­ers behind the scenes and at the tables of home­less shelters.

I enjoyed an inti­mate three-hour Ital­ian lunch for two while chat­ting about her cook­book with film leg­end Sophia Loren.

A few months after 9/11, I spoke with Michael Lomonaco, once the exec­u­tive chef of Win­dows on the World and the man who escaped the Twin Tow­ers dev­as­ta­tion by a for­tu­itous fluke.

I chewed the fat on sev­eral occa­sions with for­mer Mafia cook and cook­book author Joe “Dogs” Ian­nuzzi when he called me from parts unknown while under the wit­ness pro­tec­tion plan.

Early in their stel­lar careers, I inter­viewed British food icons Jamie Oliver and Nigella Law­son — in the flesh.

But per­haps my fond­est mem­o­ries are of talk­ing shop, chat­ting about life and break­ing bread with my inspir­ing men­tor and beloved friend: North America’s cui­sine queen Julia Child.

Here’s how that all began.

In late 1990, I called Julia Child at her home in Cam­bridge, Mass., where she cheer­fully answered the phone. I was writ­ing a piece for my news­pa­per about what famous food­ies cook for din­ner par­ties. Her answer to that was sweet and sim­ple: “Some oys­ters with cham­pagne to start, then prob­a­bly Boeuf Bour­guignonne with Pota­toes Anna maybe fol­lowed by some good cheese and a nice pear.”

Once busi­ness was over, it was her turn to ask me a ques­tion. In typ­i­cal Julia fash­ion, she was curi­ous. “What’s Toronto like?” she asked. “Haven’t you been here?” came my reply. “No,” said she. I asked why. “Well, nobody’s invited me.”

Min­utes later, I was in the publisher’s office. A few months after that, in April, 1991, she arrived in Toronto as a guest of the Toronto Star for a one-day whirl­wind visit to our city.

The friend­ship begun that day con­tin­ued until her death at age 91 on August 13, 2004, when I wrote a full-page obit­u­ary for my newspaper’s A section.

A cou­ple of weeks before she died, I received a touch­ing mis­sive: two recipes for Tarte Tatin — a dessert I was research­ing — clipped from local news­pa­pers in Santa Bar­bara where she was living.

Julia Child was born Julia McWilliams in Pasadena, Calif., on August 15, 1912.

She grad­u­ated from Smith Col­lege in Northamp­ton, Mass., in 1934 and thought “it would be fun to be a spy” when she joined the Office of Strate­gic Services.

What she became was “a lowly fil­ing clerk who at least got to travel to places like Cey­lon and China.” It was in China that she met Paul Child who was 10 years older and worked for the U.S. Infor­ma­tion Service.

The cou­ple went to live in Paris in the late 1940s. Here, Julia attended the Cor­don Bleu acad­emy and soon opened a cook­ing school with her two co-authors-to-be Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle.

A late bloomer, she found her call­ing as the woman who brought a love of good food, in par­tic­u­lar French cook­ing, to North Amer­ica. This hap­pened in her late 30s dur­ing the period spent in France with her hus­band Paul when she had an epiphany while eat­ing lunch of oys­ters and Sole Meu­niere at a restau­rant called La Couronne in Rouen.

From then on, she was unstoppable.

She was the orig­i­nal celebrity chef when, in 1961, she burst onto the culi­nary scene with her low-budget, one-woman tele­vi­sion show on PBS called The French Chef. Almost imme­di­ately, it gar­nered a huge and loyal fol­low­ing. Her sem­i­nal book, Mas­ter­ing the Art of French Cook­ing, pub­lished in the same year, was 10 years in the making.

More cook­books fol­lowed. She was a reg­u­lar on TV. Most impor­tant, she became a beloved men­tor to cooks of every age, shape and social sta­tus by shar­ing her infec­tious pas­sion for prepar­ing deli­cious food then cheer­fully shar­ing it with others.

In 2009, the movie Julie and Julia star­ring Meryl Streep launched a whole new gen­er­a­tion of fans.

What has made Julia Child such an icon? It all boils down to that intan­gi­ble attribute: charisma.

She was larger than life — lit­er­ally and fig­u­ra­tively. At 6 foot 3, she had a lovely moon face and an unmis­tak­able, sing-song, plummy voice that may have seemed affected on any­one else.

She was gen­uinely out­go­ing and always wanted to know about you, her sur­round­ings and, of course, all things culinary.

She didn’t fit any mould. She was a famous woman who didn’t act it. She was just plain lov­able and, as they say in Yid­dish, a real mensch.

Last but not least, she was a teacher who was seri­ous about her mis­sion: To impart the cru­cial ele­ments of tech­nique in cook­ing. Her humour and love of life made the other part effort­less: To share a love of good food cooked well.

Since resign­ing from the Toronto Star in 2007, I have been a free­lance food sleuth, writer, broad­caster and cook.

A col­lab­o­ra­tion with Toronto non-profit group Food­Share will yield a cook­book this fall. I have a mem­oir in the works. And this blog is ongoing.

But my first love these days is cre­at­ing documentary-style audio podcasts.

Watch this space and social media (Fol­low me on Face­book, Twit­ter, and Pin­ter­est)  for an excit­ing series of audio docs I’m work­ing on with pro­ducer Sean Ras­mussen and social media guru Melissa Lei­th­wood to cel­e­brate Julia Child’s 100th birth­day this August 15.

In fact, let’s con­sider this entire year a cel­e­bra­tion while we raise a toast to Julia Child. As she liked to say: “Bon Appetit!”

Cheese Souf­flé

There are ver­sions of this sweet and sim­ple dish – a Child trade­mark — in almost all of her many cook­books includ­ing my favourite: The Way To Cook (Knopf). With a tossed salad and hunks of crusty baguette, it makes a lovely light lunch or sup­per. I didn’t bother mak­ing a col­lar for the bak­ing dish, which makes for an ele­gant pre­sen­ta­tion as described by Child, but it looked and tasted great. You’ll need a 6-cup souf­flé dish or straight-sided bak­ing dish.

About 1 tbsp soft­ened but­ter
2 tbsp finely, freshly grated parme­san cheese
2½ tbsp but­ter
3 tbsp all-purpose flour
1 cup hot milk
¼ tsp paprika
A pinch of grated nut­meg
½ tsp salt
Pinch of ground white pep­per
4 egg yolks
5 egg whites
1 cup (about 4 oz/125 g) coarsely grated gruyere cheese

Pre­heat oven to 400F.

Grease bot­tom and sides of bak­ing dish with soft­ened but­ter. Sprin­kle on grated parme­san, turn­ing dish so cheese adheres to its sides and bot­tom.
In medium saucepan, melt 2½ tbsp but­ter over medium-low heat. Add flour and cook, whisk­ing, until mix­ture foams, about 2 min. Remove from heat. Whisk in hot milk. Return to heat, bring to boil, reduce heat and sim­mer 1 to 2 min. or until thick­ened. Remove from heat; stir in paprika, nut­meg, salt and pep­per, Stir in egg yolks, one at a time, until com­bined
Using man­ual or hand-held elec­tric mixer, in medium glass bowl, beat egg whites until stiff and glossy. Whisk about a quar­ter of them into sauce in saucepan, then del­i­cately fold in remain­der alter­nately with grated gruyere. Care­fully turn mix­ture into pre­pared bak­ing dish.
Reduce oven tem­per­a­ture to 375F. Bake souf­flé 25 to 30 min. or until puffed and nicely browned. It will fall slightly as it cools. To serve, hold serv­ing spoon and fork upright and back to back in mid­dle of souf­flé and pull it apart.

Makes 4 servings.

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8 Comments

  1. Linda
    Posted July 25, 2012 at 8:36 pm | Permalink

    Great arti­cle, Mar­ion. Julia’s cheese souf­flé is my only cheese souf­flé recipe that never fails to wow!

    L

  2. Marion
    Posted July 25, 2012 at 8:44 pm | Permalink

    Thanks a Lot Linda. Yes, Julia’s cheese souf­fle is a cinch to make and makes a really deli­cious lunch or sup­per with salad. I’m about to try her Reine de Saba cake (flour­less choco­late) as am plan­ning a din­ner for my JC100 radio pod­cast col­lab­o­ra­tors to be launched on her 100th birth­day August 15. Stay tuned!

  3. Posted July 29, 2012 at 12:10 am | Permalink

    I was Julia Child’s per­sonal travel agent for about 20 years until her death in 2004. She became a dear friend and we had many won– der­ful times together. She was just as much fun in per­son as she was on her TV shows. Her last big trip before she retired to Santa Bar­bara which we took with her, was a transAt­lantic trip on the QEII and a week in Lon­don. We were both spies in our younger days in the Ori­ent. Glad you will be cel­e­brat­ing Julia’s 100th birth­day next month, I think she would appre­ci­ate that.

  4. kathy connors
    Posted July 29, 2012 at 12:42 am | Permalink

    I did not try these recipes but I would like to com­ment on her book “My LIfe in France”. I was one of the best books I ever read. I felt like I was every part of that jour­ney. I have never had a book affect me like that. In essence, I trav­eled through France, ate the best food and enjoyed the great­est of com­pany. What a great per­son she was and I am thank­ful for the peek into her like. The best sum­mer read, ever!!!

  5. Marion
    Posted July 29, 2012 at 11:16 am | Permalink

    I agree. “My Life in France,” Julia’s mem­oir co-authored with her jour­nal­ist grand’nephew Alex’Prudhomme by means of taped con­ver­sa­tions dur­ing the last six months of her life spent in Santa Bar­bara, is a beau­ti­ful book. The two were close and that spirit comes out.

  6. Marion
    Posted July 29, 2012 at 11:20 am | Permalink

    Thank you so much for this com­ment. Won­der­ful to meet you! You must have enjoyed her friend­ship so much. Yes, we’re look­ing for­ward to August 15, Julia’s 100th birth­day. Stay tuned to this web­site. A series of pages devoted to that occa­sion are immi­nent. I miss her ter­ri­bly but there is joy in this cel­e­bra­tion of her and her won­drous legacy.

  7. judy creighton
    Posted August 13, 2012 at 11:42 am | Permalink

    Loved your tales of Julia, espe­cially the break­fast story. I did a piece on the anniver­sary which will run today Aug. 13 for The Cana­dian Press. I men­tioned your web­site. Keep up the good work Mar­ion. Judy

  8. Marion
    Posted August 13, 2012 at 11:50 am | Permalink

    Judy, it’s great to know you like the Julia sto­ries. It’s get­ting excit­ing — her 100th birth­day only two days away. Did you check the pod­cast inter­views on my site with Judith Jones, Alex Prud’homme and Bob Spitz? She was an amaz­ing woman — an inspi­ra­tion, men­tor and a real mensch.