Lovely human interest piece on Julia Child. | Bob Ross, New Jersey Email | 26-Jul-2001 15:18
From the New York Times; it's interesting that her kitchen will be moved to Copia.

July 26, 2001

AT HOME WITH
Julia Child: Change of Scene, if Not Cuisine
By JOHN LELAND

THE voice on the telephone rose and fell in its unmistakable warble, familiar from nearly four decades of television. It made me an offer I could not refuse. "I will make you a tuna sandwich," the voice said.

With that promise in mind, a few days later I met Julia Child in the kitchen of the grand Victorian house in Cambridge, Mass., where she has lived for 43 years, and where she taped several of her cooking series. In November, Mrs. Child plans to give up the home and move to a retirement community in Santa Barbara, Calif., where she has spent winters since 1980. I arrived shortly before noon. Wise is the reporter who schedules his interviews at lunchtime.

Mrs. Child, who will turn 89 on Aug. 15, uses a walker to get around, and her arrival in the kitchen was preceded by a series of rattling passages: from the elevator that she had installed for her husband, Paul, before his death in 1994; through the pantry; through the tiny pastry room; and finally into the spacious country kitchen.

Like the rest of the house, the kitchen was tidy and robustly unpretentious. Magnets shaped like fruits and vegetables clung to the black refrigerator door; the green pegboard walls were barely visible behind hanging pots and pans of all descriptions. "As you can tell," she said without apology, "I'm a frying pan freak."

She wore a light blue smock jacket, white T-shirt and tan slacks; her makeup was simple but precise. She pulled down her favorite frying pan, a 10-inch, nonstick Wearever, of the sort sold in hardware stores. The wall behind it bore a magic marker outline of the pan, and a scrawled reminder of which one belonged there.

At this point, perhaps, you will have some questions about Julia Child's kitchen.


Q. What's in the fridge?
A. "I'm an unabashed doggie-bagger," she said. Besides the usual staples, her refrigerator held leftovers from two recent nights out, one chicken, the other a pork chop. Plus: some diced onion, a couple of lemon halves wrapped in cellophane and a plastic container of cooked lobster meat (more on that later).

Q. What's the appliance fetish quotient?
A. Not a Traulsen or Sub-Zero in the place, though she does have a professional six- burner stove from Garland, which she bought for $410 in 1945. "Nothing complicated about the Garland," she said approvingly. The refrigerator and dishwasher are from KitchenAid. There's also an oven from Thermador, a source of vexation ever since the company redesigned it; on the new model, the designers removed the cleaning instructions previously printed on the door. "Once you get designers in, they ruin it for the regular people," Mrs. Child said. "I could kill them."

Q. Who does the dishes?
A. She does. "I don't mind doing anything in the kitchen, but I hate housework," she said.

Q. How was the tuna sandwich?
A. Patience, cowpoke. All in good time.


Julia and Paul Child were working in the diplomatic service in 1956 when a real estate agent told them about the five-bedroom house in Cambridge, a former home of the philosopher Josiah Royce. Mrs. Child was a file clerk; her husband, a painter and photographer, designed war rooms and charts. They were staying in Washington before a posting in Norway, and took the overnight train to Cambridge. They fell in love with the house.

According to "Appetite for Life," a rambling biography by Noel Riley Fitch, when Julia McWilliams first met Paul Child in the diplomatic service in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) in the latter part of World War II, she knew little about cooking. Her parents had left the kitchen to their cook; young Julia spent her childhood in Pasadena, Calif., in outdoor pursuits.

By 1956, though, Mrs. Child had undergone a transformation, graduating from the Cordon Bleu cooking school in Paris in 1949 and forming a cooking academy with two French chefs. The house in Cambridge had a big, open kitchen for her, and a basement studio where he could paint. For $35,000, it was theirs. Two years later, their service in Norway completed, they moved in.

At the wooden table in the kitchen, Mrs. Child settled into a big mug of coffee, neither her first of the day nor her last (she drinks Gevalia, the mail-order stuff advertised in magazines). For 43 years, she has done most of her entertaining in this room, seating as many as eight people around the table, most of whom have had a professional interest in the action at the Garland. She sat in a carved wooden chair from Norway, acquired during her diplomatic travels.

The home is in many ways a record of her life with Paul: the stove from their posting in Paris; a dining room table from Copenhagen; other antiques and rugs from diplomatic assignments in Marseille, China and Germany. Paul chose the pale green color of the kitchen and arranged the pans on the walls. When her cookbooks called for photographs or illustrations, he supplied the pictures. "I'd finish cooking a dish at midnight and say, `Yoo-hoo, time to do the photo,' " she said. She is now working on a memoir based on their years in Paris. The big house, she said, is not the same without him.

Mrs. Child has donated the house to Smith College, her alma mater "for a tax write- off," she said. The kitchen will be moved hook and pan to the soon-to-open Copia: the American Center for Wine, Food and the Arts in Napa, Calif., a culinary showplace where Mrs. Child is an honorary trustee. A nephew has dibs on the Garland stove. (Mrs. Child and her husband had no children.)

As for her cookbooks, she has offered all but a few to the Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America, at Harvard University. Here's what she can't live without: her own cookbooks ("because I know they work"); the original and revised "Joy of Cooking" books; "Larousse Gastronomique," a culinary encyclopedia; "James Beard's American Cookery"; and maybe a couple of French pastry books.

Her assisted living condo in Santa Barbara, which she describes as "a very nice pad," is on the small side, and the kitchen even smaller. With no space for a big range, she bought a new Advantium oven from General Electric, which cooks by a combination of halogen light and microwaves, and can roast a chicken in 20 minutes. She paid $800. "I bought it wholesale," she said.

Her first encounters with the machine have not impressed her. The manufacturer sent two people to show her how to use it, she said, and "they didn't know how it worked." Then the instruction book didn't say how to roast a chicken it had a recipe for Hawaiian chicken instead.

"It's as if it's all being done by advertising people," instead of food types, she said. When she taped a television segment with the chef Wolfgang Puck in the condo, they used only the stove, not the oven.

Mrs. Child, who first went on television in 1962, is often credited with bringing gourmet French cooking to a macaroni-and- cheese America, but this is an oversimplification the kind of celebrity mythologizing, I suspect, that she would both pooh-pooh and encourage. (She once told The Washington Post, "French women don't know a damn thing about French cooking, although they pretend to know everything.") In fact, the culinary revolution was already taking shape: Jacqueline Kennedy had a French chef in the White House, piquing middlebrow interest in Parisian cooking; postwar Americans were traveling to the Continent, tasting French food for themselves. What Mrs. Child brought were not so much French techniques as American bluster and self-confidence, a willingness to overlook one's own mistakes and forge ahead. "I did not have my glasses on when I was thinking," she'd say if she flubbed a line on live television.

She despairs that this directness is vanishing from the kitchen, yielding to the market slickness evident in her experience with the Advantium, or the fussiness she finds in too many restaurants. The virtues in the kitchen, she said, even the time-consuming ones, were simple.

She moved to the refrigerator. People are often afraid to cook for her, so she likes to extend the first invitation, she said, "so they can see we're a nest of simple folk." She announced a change of menu: instead of tuna sandwiches, we would be having lobster rolls.

Here's what she did: chop up about a quarter-pound of leftover lobster meat; throw in a couple tablespoons of mayonnaise (she happened to have some fancy boutique stuff, with a mustard bite, but at heart she's a Hellmann's gal); add a little diced onion, some fresh parsley and the juice from half a lemon; serve on a toasted hot dog bun slathered with butter. The butter is very important. "People are too afraid of a little butter these days," she said. She says this a lot.

The sandwiches were sprawling and unwieldy, an undignified mess. They were delicious.

I forgot all about the promise of tuna. Mrs. Child did not. She pressed a can of tuna on me before I left. It was from a cannery called Lazio, in Eureka, Calif. Most important, it was packed in oil, not water. Mrs. Child may no longer have a television show, but she is still dispensing lessons, one calorie at a time.
    
Wonderful article about a truly wonderful lady..... | Nick Email | 28-Jul-2001 16:56
Can't forget the first time I saw Julia on our second hand black and white TV.... I called to my wife and said, " You've GOT to come and see this !" Over the years , our admiration grew.... her recent pairing with Jacque Pepin brought together two all-time favorites! Thanks for sharing!
       
Wonderful article about a truly wonderful lady..... | Paul Winalski Email | 29-Jul-2001 18:32
My favorite parts of the original French Chef broadcasts were when things went wrong and she showed techniques for rescuing/covering up the problem.

--PSW
    
"I could kill them" | Jenise Email | 26-Jul-2001 16:31
That statement, and what she made it about, epitomizes the candor and earthiness that I so love about this wonderful woman. Thanks for posting.
    
The woman has such simple elegance | Becca Email | 26-Jul-2001 16:08
Lobster served on a toasted hot dog bun. You've got to love and admire that lady. Great article!
       
With respect for tradition, too: almost a classic lobster roll | Monika Ullian Email | 30-Jul-2001 19:13
Which is the quintessential Maine summer food -- toasted hotdog bun and all -- and is even simpler: no onion or parsley; lemon is optional. Bun MUST be split vertically, toasted and buttered.
    
Very nice. Thanks for sharing. (e) | jimmie Email | 26-Jul-2001 15:50
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