My Communal Table

The three days I spent with Julia Child.
August 9, 2009, 11:24 pm
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When I used to say that Julia Child was my hero, I would always hear an audible laugh. No one knew her story. All that they remembered is Dan Akroyd’s skit on Saturday Night Live. None of them had opened one of her many many cookbooks, let alone cooked from one. If they had, they would understand. It was how she became my hero. Every single recipe in her cookbooks have been tested and tested. They always come out. I can not say that about other cookbooks. You know what I am talking about, Martha!

It was 1997 and the call came in… Julia Child would be in town for the International Association of Culinary Professionals ceremony and would need her hair and makeup done on two specific days in her hotel room. Oh… my…God… I was going to meet my hero. Julia would be giving an award for one of the best cookbooks of the year. Jacques Pepin, Martin Yang, and Rick Bayless were some of the other talents that were going to be there. I was already had planned to go to the event with my mother. It was her birthday present from me. You see, my mother, Nancy, is the one that taught me good food. She cooked beautiful meals for our family everynight, exposing us to a wide variety of cuisines. My mother is not afraid to try new things just like Julia. Our dinner table was the source of much joy in our home, I can only hope to pass that along to my sons.

I was on time and very organized when I knocked on the door of Julia’s suite. I was not nervous,  just really excited. I had brought my copy of Baking with Julia, her latest book that she was winning an award for,  and was hoping for an autograph. Right at that moment, I was regretting that I had not baked something from the book to give to her and her people while I fussed with her hair. Nothing more bonding than some good food and making someone feel pretty.

I was setting up my equipment, when she walked into the room. She was 84 years old and still quite a presence.  Hutched over a bit and still so tall. Impressive. I wish I remember the first words that  she spoke to me, but all I remember is that it was just easy from that moment on.

We talked about what outfit she was wearing and how she would like her hair and makeup, about our families and our shared passion for food and travel.  I had told her that I had wanted to make a terrine, but was a bit intimated by it and she responded, “It is just like meatloaf. You have made a meatloaf haven’t you?” I realize that I still have not made a terrine.

autograph, julia

The second  day’s hair appointament was even more relaxed. The people around Julia were lovely and sincere, like her. I was just finishing with Julia when Jacques Pepin walked in. Wow. I love him as well. I was struck by how truly handsome he was in person and the look he had in his eye when he was greeting his old friend. Julia introduce me and Jacques shock my hand and said something polite and then the two friends sat down on the near by chairs and immediately started speaking in French. I packed up my bag slowly, wishing I spoke French, but loving the scene before me. When I turned to leave, Julia said that even though the conference is over soon, she would like to come to my shop tomorrow and get her hair done for the trip home, plus, she added, “It would also be nice to have one more fabulous conservation with you, Delightful Elizabeth.”

What can I say? Oh my.

The next day I was saying goodbye to my mother in the lobby of the hotel, when we ran into Julia. She said, “This must be your mother. Elizabeth has told me all about you. Your daughter is a wonderful at her profession. I felt great the entire time I was here.”  How perfect is that? It was so exciting to share Julia with my mother.

 Julia got her hair done one last time. We had another great conversation. I got her some tuna salad on a croissant to eat for lunch while her hair dried under the dryer and after we finished she asked me to walk her to the escalator that would lead to the lobby. We walked arm and arm to the base of the escalator and Julia told me, ” You have it, Elizabeth. You have it. Use it.” , then she went up the escalator as if she was my angel ascending to the heavens.

Twelve years later,  I realize that I still do not know what Julia meant by “having it” . How am I suppose to use it? Am I simply suppose to make the terrine? Or change the world?  I wrote Julia a Christmas card that year and included the picture of the two of us and told her thanks. I actually got a letter back from her. She thanked me for the picture and the thoughts. It was the start of annual Christmas cards for a few years, then they stopped after she moved into a senior facility in California.

In conclusion, next time you reach for lettece other then iceberg, it is because of Julia.  Next time you think that you are too old or you do not have the right look to change your career or pursue your passion, think of Julia. Remember she was in her fifties when she started filming on  PBS. She changed an entire industry after that by simply being herself and being a student of life.

Bon Appetit, Julia!