Friday, March 27, 2009
Famous Survivors...Part Three in a Series: Julia Child
“Everything in Moderation.... Including Moderation.” Julia Child
One of the greatest honors I ever have experienced in my life was meeting and having luncheon with my mentor and idol, Julia Child. Julia, who was first published at age 49.
Julia, who first appeared on television at age 50. Julia, who stood firm defending the dignity of real butter and heavy cream in the face of the food police. Julia, who made a mess in a kitchen and laughed all the way. Julia, who dried lettuce by swinging it about splashing cameraman and anyone else in her way . Julia, who pounded veal into submission with wild abandon. Julia, who stood over six feet tall. Julia, a 36 year breast cancer survivor.
Julia. She was my baby sitter. My mother parked me in front of The French Chef when I was a child and thus began my lifelong love affair with cooking and food. She taught me the value of butter and to never underestimate the power of a good quality wine in any dish, “If you won’t drink it, don’t cook with it.”
Julia did not attend the CIA (Culinary Institute of America) but she worked for the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) as a spy where she met her beloved husband Paul. It was Paul who put up that famous French Blue caulk board in her kitchen from where she could hang her pots and pans and keep them within easy reach. While living in France, she attended Le Cordon Bleu and studied with private chefs. In 1962, she wrote “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” known in my home as The Bible.
She believed in real food, real ingredients: Butter, Meat, Cream and Wine. I followed her guidance and when I was working as a chef, people always asked me how I made the food taste so good. “It is very simple." I would answer. "I use real food and butter and cream. The way Julia Child does.”
In 1968, at the age of 51, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She had a mastectomy. And the French Chef you saw on TV all those years was an active, living, breathing, thriving, survivor. Her secret to long life? “Meat and Gin.”
When I met her that spring day, I had a bustling catering business. In fact, that evening I had three parties booked. I brought with me my mother’s copy of Mastering The Art of French Cooking, that had become mine, for her to sign. I thought I would be composed. I have met many famous people in my life. But Julia was like a second mother to me. And here she was, sitting next to me for lunch. I started to cry. She put her arm around me and started to ask me questions about myself until I pulled myself together and we proceeded to have a lovely, unforgettable time.
Little did I know that only a couple of years later I would be diagnosed with breast cancer. I was feeling helpless. I was on line at the market and there was a magazine at the checkout that was listing “Celebrities with Breast Cancer.” I opened it, and there was Julia’s picture. A wave of relief and strength washed over me. Julia was a survivor. I didn't know that. I didn’t feel alone anymore. If she could survive this, so could I.
Julia Child was a magnificent, accomplished, kind hearted, innovative, funny, irreverent, loving woman, who also kicked the Beast to the curb like so much silver skin to be discarded from a filet in order to make the meat more beautiful and delicious. Just like she made her life.
I have followed her lead my whole life. I intend on doing so forever.