PBS chef and cookbook author Christy Rost isn't a French cook per se -- a resident of Texas, she tends to focus on simple, wholesome foods you can get on the table without too much fuss -- but she still readily admits to being influenced by the cooking of France. Little surprise, then, that she's also a devotee of Julia Child, whose two-volume "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" introduced most of America to the joys of Boeuf Bourguignon and Coq au Vin in the 1960s.
"Julia was so down to earth," says Ms. Rost, who first met the cooking legend in the mid 1990s during a culinary professional's conference in Oregon. "The way she came across to people on TV and certainly to the people who met her -- she was a real woman, and a real cook."
In celebration of what would have been Julia's 100th birthday on Aug. 15, Ms. Rost's latest appearance at Giant Eagle Market District will focus on three of her mentor's classic French recipes: French onion soup, authentic French puff pastry and Apple Pithivier, a buttery, flaky pastry typically served for dessert (but equally delicious with your morning coffee) .
"Everyone loves to end with something sweet," notes Ms. Rost, who spent some of her childhood in Pittsburgh and today splits her time between homes in Dallas and Breckenridge, Colorado.
Sweeter still is the collection of Julia's personal kitchen gadgets she'll bring along in her suitcase and show to the class. Purchased at an auction before her death at age 92 in 2004, they include metal icing cones the French cook used on some of her cakes, a well-used wooden spoon that has an unusual shape and two pastry brushes Ms. Rost had to go "tooth and nail" against another bidder to win.
Other items include the white kitchen scale that was pictured on the cover of the 1978 cookbook "Julia Child & Company," signed postcards and personal photographs, and a monster-sized metal spatula with an "incredible patina" that she used when making pastries. If you're in the audience, be sure to look closely: it has a piece of tape around the handle with "JC" written on it. Naturally, it was made in France.
Ms. Rost's newest cookbook "Celebrating Home: A Handbook for Gracious Living" (Big Sky Press, Sept. 1, 2012, $29.95) arrives on store shelves in just a few weeks, so the fact she's celebrating Julia's success in the kitchen instead of her own is a bit of a (happy) departure.
"I never cook other people's recipes when I'm doing a class," she admits.
But for Julia?
"I'd do anything," she says.
Ms. Rost will mark Julia Child's 100th birthday with four appearances at Giant Eagle Market District stores: 5 p.m. Aug. 23 at Pine; 4 p.m. Aug. 24 at Robinson; 11 a.m. Aug. 25 at Bethel Park; and 4 p.m. Aug. 25 at Shadyside. All appearances are free, but register in advance at marketdistrict.com. You also can watch her demonstrate some of Julia's favorite recipes on "Pittsburgh Today Live" on Aug. 23.