Julia Child loved to socialize almost as much as she loved to cook. So nobody would have enjoyed the big celebration fans are cooking up in honor of her centennial next week more than the Grand Dame of American Cookery herself.
Cities all across the U.S. are paying tribute with special Julia-themed dinners and cooking demos, and her longtime publisher, Alfred A. Knopf, who introduced the towering French cook (she was 6 feet, 2 inches tall) to the world in 1961 with the publication of the groundbreaking "Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Vol. 1," is whooping it up in a big way, too.
In May, the New York publishing house launched a 100-day celebration on various social media sites called JC100. Meant to provide something for every Julia lover out there, it includes themed events in bookstores along with written tributes and links to special recipes re-created by more than 100 food bloggers (one recent seasonal example we just had to try was Tomatoes Provencale; see recipe on page E-2). It also has released the first Julia Child app, from iTunes ($2.99). It brings to your fingertips 32 recipes from her seminal "Mastering the Art of French Cooking," plus clips from the DVD version of "The Way to Cook" video series, grocery lists, audio pronunciations of some of the difficult-to-pronounce French dishes, and rare photographs. It also comes in a Nook version.
Not wanting to be outdone, PBS, the network that established Julia as a local celebrity in 1963 with "The French Chef" TV series, also has created a big Julia Child birthday site. At pbs.org/juliachild, you'll find nearly 100 exclusive limited-time full episodes from her cooking series and specials, along with favorite recipes and tributes from big-name chefs and food bloggers -- voices as varied as Emeril Lagasse, who cooked with Julia on PBS in his pre-Bam! days, to Paula Deen, who wishes she had. In deference to her quick wit and colorful vocabulary, the website also includes Julia's "words of wisdom" and a sprinkling of Julia trivia. (For instance, she wore size 12 shoes, was an avid supporter of Planned Parenthood and was a breast cancer survivor.)
Born on Aug. 15 to a wealthy family in Pasadena, Calif., Julia died two days shy of her 92nd birthday in 2004, leaving behind a tasty legacy of more than a dozen cookbooks and hundreds of episodes from her 13 television series. In the process, she changed the way Americans thought about cooking and eating -- and not just the fancy-pants French cuisine she mastered while living in Paris with her husband, Paul Child, whom she met during World War II while working in Ceylon for the government.
What most of us remember first about Julia is "The Voice," which warbled and trilled like some kind of strange bird. But we also adored her sense of humor, and unbridled enthusiasm for cooking and eating, calories and fat content be damned. ("If you're afraid of butter," she famously quipped, "use cream!) Most of all we loved her wacky self-confidence. Julia not only inspired a heck of a lot of home chefs to stretch themselves in the kitchen, but also an entire generation of "real" chefs, including Jacques Pepin and Wolfgang Puck. When she arrived on the scene in the early 1960s, cooking from scratch for many Americans had become almost passe, with housewives instead seeking out convenience foods: frozen fish sticks, packaged cake mixes, canned vegetables, TV dinners. She made it hip again, or at least something worth trying, in part because she made cooking fun.
"She took this very intimidating idea of cooking, and translated it into something people could actually do," says PBS chef and cookbook author Christy Rost, who grew up in Pittsburgh and is heading back here later this month to do cooking demos in honor of Julia's centennial at local Market Districts stores (see box). A large part of that involved showing people that not only was it OK to make mistakes when cooking, but also necessary: Only through failure do you finally learn.
"And there is something very endearing and freeing about that," says Ms. Rost.
Julia always insisted she wasn't a true chef, despite having trained at Paris' esteemed Le Cordon Bleu. Maybe that's why despite her celebrity, she never got too full of herself. Accessible almost to a fault, she loved giving her fans advice -- she was listed in the local phone book, and home cooks often would call with questions. She happily guided them through whatever cooking crisis was at hand before wishing them, "Bon appetit!"
"She was a mentor to everyone who was getting started, no matter what you were doing," says Ms. Rost, who met her several times over the years and will be bringing a collection of Julia artifacts to her demos in Pittsburgh. The treasured pieces, which she purchased at an auction before Julia's death to benefit the American Institute of Wine and Food, include the white kitchen scale "with the big beautiful round face" pictured on the cover of 1978's "Julia Child & Company," and a large metal spatula Julia used for making pastry.
The online headquarters for all things Julia can be found at facebook.com/JuliaChild. You also can follow along on Twitter at @JC100; on Pinterest at pinterest.com/knopfbooks/jc100; and on Tumblr at jc100.tumblr.com.
Not all Julia fans cook, but they all must eat. One of the marque events being touted by JC100, then, is Julia Child Restaurant Week. One hundred restaurants in more than 30 cities will rework their menus to include some of the cook's signature dishes from Aug. 7 up to her birthday on the 15th.
Alas, only one Pennsylvania eatery is participating, and it's all the way across the state in Philadelphia, at Center City's famed Le Bec Fin. Yet it may be well worth the six-hour drive on the turnpike: In addition to such classics as French onion soup and ratatouille, chef Walter Abrams will be whipping up lobster Americaine and crepes suzette. Info: www.lebecfin.com or 1-215-567-1000.
Some other Julia birthday events on the front burner:
• Les Dames d'Escoffier (LDEI), a women's professional culinary association to which Julia belonged, is honoring the special day with "Julia" celebrations in 25 of its chapter cities around the country this month and next. The closest to Pittsburgh is in Cleveland on Aug. 15, where members -- who will dress up as Julia, right down to her pearls -- will host a light summer supper featuring her recipes.
• The Julia Child Kitchen at the National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C., has been closed to the public since January to allow for renovations to the museum's west wing. To celebrate her centennial, it will be back on display for a limited time, Aug. 15 through Sept. 3, in the east wing. Designed by her husband, Paul, for their home in Cambridge, Mass., it was the setting for three of her TV shows and the testing ground for many of her recipes. It features 1,200 tools, appliances and furnishings, all arranged exactly as they were when she donated the kitchen to the museum at age 89 in 2001. Entrance is free.
Julia-inspired events in the museum's Warner Bros. Theater (Flag Hall) include book signings by Alex Prud'homme of "My Life in France," which the New York-based writer co-wrote with Julia during the last eight months of her life; Jessie Harland, who wrote the children's picture book "Bon Appetite! The Delicious Life of Julia Child"; and Bob Spitz, whose new biography, "Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julia Child" (Knopf, 2012, $29.95), will arrive on store shelves Aug. 15. It weighs in at 557 pages and includes 30 photographs.
• Want to learn how to make cheese souffle or asparagus with hollandaise? Sur La Table will offer cooking classes in many cities on Aug. 15 ($69, with a limited number of spots) during which instructors will walk participants through several of her most famous dishes.
• From 6 p.m. to midnight on Aug. 18, Create TV will air back-to-back episodes of "Baking With Julia" and "Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home."
Don't worry if the first couple of batches don't turn out exactly right -- mayonnaise eluded Julia for the longest time, too, according to author Bob Spitz in his upcoming biography, "Dearie," which arrives on shelves Aug. 15. (The key is to add the oil SLOWLY.) Once you get the hang of it, though, you'll never buy commercial mayo again. Lately, we've been slathering it on tomato sandwiches.
3 egg yolks
1 tablespoon wine vinegar or lemon juice, plus more as needed
1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more for seasoning
1/4 teaspoon dry or prepared mustard, plus more for seasoning
1 1/2 to 2 1/4 cups olive oil, salad oil or a mixture of each
Freshly ground pepper
Warm a round-bottomed, 2 1/2- to 3-quart glazed pottery, glass or stainless steel mixing bowl in hot water. Dry it. Add egg yolks and beat for 1 to 2 minutes until they are thick and sticky.
Add vinegar or lemon juice, salt and mustard. Beat for 30 seconds more.
The egg yolks are now ready to receive the oil, and while it goes in, drop by drop, you must not stop beating until the sauce has thickened. A speed of 2 strokes per second is fast enough. You can switch hands or switch directions, it makes no difference so long as you beat constantly. (I cheated and used a KitchenAid mixer.) Add the drops of oil with a teaspoon, or rest the lip of the bottle on the edge of the bowl. Keep youR eye on the oil rather than on the sauce. Stop pouring and continue beating every 10 seconds or so, to be sure the egg yolks are absorbing the oil. After 1/3 to 1/2 cup of oil has been incorporated, the sauce will thicken into a very heavy cream and the crisis is over. The beating arm may rest a moment. Then beat in the remaining oil by 1 to 2 tablespoon dollops, blending it thoroughly after each addition.
When the sauce becomes too thick and stiff, beat in drops of vinegar or lemon juice to thin out. Then continue with oil.
Season to taste using vinegar, lemon juice, salt, pepper and mustard.
If sauce is not used immediately, scrape it into a small bowl and cover it closely so a skin will not form on the surface.
Makes 2 1/2 cups.
-- "Mastering the Art of French Cooking: Vol. 1" by Julia Child and Simone Beck (Knopf, 1961)
Tomates a la provencale (Tomatoes stuffed with Bread crumbs, herbs and garlic)
This is turning out to be a banner year for tomatoes, the star attraction of this savory baked side dish. It couldn't be less fussy, but the simple preparation allows the flavor of the fruit to really shine. Serve with grilled meat or fish, or alongside a quiche or omelet.
- 6 firm, ripe, red tomatoes about 3 inches in diameter
- Salt and pepper
- 1 to 2 cloves mashed garlic
- 3 tablespoons minced shallots or green onions
- 4 tablespoons minced fresh basil and parsley, or parsley only
- 1/8 teaspoon thyme
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1/2 cup crumbs from fresh white bread with body
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Remove stems from tomatoes, and cut in half crosswise. Gently press out the juice and seeds. Sprinkle the halves lightly with salt and pepper.
Blend remaining ingredients plus 1/2 teaspoon salt and a big pinch of pepper in a mixing bowl. Correct seasoning. Fill each tomato half with a spoonful or two of the mixture. Sprinkle with a few drops of olive oil. Arrange tomatoes in the roasting pan; do not crowd them. (Recipe may be prepared ahead to this point.)
Shortly before you are ready to serve, place tomato halves in the upper third of the preheated oven and bake for 10 to 15 minutes, or until the tomatoes are tender but still hold their shape, and the bread crumb filling has browned lightly.
-- "Mastering the Art of French Cooking: Selected Recipes" available for $2.99 for iPad (itunes.com) or Nook (barnesandnoble.com)
French Potato Salad
I first had this classic salad as a newlywed -- my mother-in-law was a huge Julia fan, and this was her favorite way to serve potatoes. It has a wonderful tanginess you don't find in mayonnaise-based potato salads.
- 2 pounds boiling potatoes (8 to 10 medium)
- 4 tablespoons dry white wine, or 2 tablespoons dry white vermouth and 2 tablespoons stock or canned bouillon
- 2 tablespoons wine vinegar, or 1 tablespoon vinegar and 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon prepared mustard
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 6 tablespoons olive or salad oil
- Optional: 1 to 2 tablespoons minced shallots or green onions, and 2 to 3 tablespoons mixed green herbs or parsley
Scrub potatoes. Drop them in boiling salted water to cover, and boil until potatoes are just tender when pierced with a small knife. Drain. As soon as they are cool enough to handle, peel and cut them into slices about 1/8 inch thick. Place them in a mixing bowl.
Pour wine or vermouth and stock or bouillon over the warm potato slices and toss very gently. Set aside for a few minutes until the potatoes have absorbed the liquids.
Beat vinegar or vinegar and lemon juice, mustard and salt in a small bowl until the salt has dissolved. Then beat in the oil by droplets. Season to taste, and stir in the optional shallots or onions. Pour the dressing over the potatoes and toss gently to blend.
Serve them while still warm, or chill. Decorate with herbs before serving.
Makes about 6 cups.
-- "Mastering the Art of French Cooking: Selected Recipes" available for $2.99 for iPad (itunes.com) or NOOK (barnesandnoble.com)
Gretchen McKay: email@example.com, 412-263-1419 or on Twitter @gtmckay. First Published August 9, 2012 4:00 AM