Julia Child was born on August 15, 1912, and died two days before her 92nd birthday. Today would have been her hundredth. Google has celebrated it with an icon:
and the New York Times has several article, including a summary of her contributions by Julia Moskin and a nice remembrance by friend and co-chef Jacques Pepin. She was without question an icon, and had an enormous influence on American cooking and dining. And of course she was hilarious in an unintentional way: gangly, awkward, and with that voice. (She was also deliberately funny.) She inspired several imitations, including Meryl Streep’s wonderful portrayal in Julie and Julia (I loved the Julia parts, didn’t like the Julie ones), and of course Dan Ackroyd’s sanguinary satire on Saturday Night Live (screenshot below, but click the link to watch the video):
A few memories I have:
- She and her husband Paul lived very close to the Museum of Comparative Zoology, where I did my Ph.D. I sometimes saw her walking through Harvard Yard, or in Savinor’s, the gourmet grocery store she frequented in Cambridge. I remember that she was very tall—she must have been six-foot-one or so, and I was always too shy to say hello.
- If you’re in the Smithsonian’s Museum of History and Technology in Washington, D.C., go see her kitchen: it was moved from Cambridge after she died and reconstructed in the Museum exactly as it had been in her home.
- I was given her two volumes of The French Chef as Christmas presents by my parents, and several times cooked from them. But the labor was immense, and I was eventually defeated. I remember spending many hours making her mushroom soup for a Thanksgiving dinner (it was splendid).
- My favorite Julia anecdote is this one (I watched her cooking shows avidly). In her later show with Jacques Pepin, they would often make similar dishes starting out with the same ingredients. In one they each faced an entire salmon. Jacques proceeded to flay the skin off his fish, informing the viewers in his thick French accent that removing the skin was healthy since it contained the fat. Julia then fixed him with a withering glare and exhorted: “Jacques, salmon is not medicine!” Every time some health nut tells me that I am about to eat something bad for me (which I don’t do that often), I remember her imprecation.
And Julia et Paul en déshabillé!: