Memories and Musings

Julia and Me

With Julia Child
With Julia Child

I didn’t grow up watching Julia Child on television the way many chefs of my generation did. My television hours were not inclined toward any aspects of cooking though we did cook in our home. My mother was a Girl Scout leader and part of the ‘arts and crafts’ of being one spilled over into our childhood activities. I was a lucky young boy to be able to make homemade strawberry, cherry and blueberry jam with her scout troop. It, along with many other cooking chores we did in farm country Illinois, gave me a background that, though unplanned, prepared me for the life of a Chef.

Cooking in America was dramatically affected by Ms. Child. But no one person does that alone and though she was in the vanguard there was a kind of renaissance that swept through the 60’s and 70’s in all manner of cooking. By the ‘Centennial Celebration’ in 1976 the pride in American cooking was in full flower. Julia herself became less intensely French and embraced the new wave of regional cooking and produce with her sunny predilection for all things comestible. The woman known across the nation as “The French Chef” was close friends with French born Jacques Pepin and perhaps it was Jacques who helped her find her California roots as she made her important voice include American cooking as well as the French she would never leave.

It was about at this time that I first had the pleasure of meeting the tall, engaging, famous woman and hearing her high voice in person. I can recall the day as if it were yesterday yet it was 24 years ago come late September. I was with my wife, Janet, at a small restaurant outside of Boston proper. We were on the very first book tour of our lives. I had done “Good Morning Boston” that morning and before we were to fly off to Detroit the next morning to do more to promote the book I’d titled, “Feast of Sunlight” we had the luxury of choosing a restaurant to dine in. I selected a place called “Hamersly’s Bistro”. I had won a contest that the chef of that restaurant had also won for her region of the U.S. Her name was Jody Adams. I had brought in a book to give Jody that night. But fate stepped in between. It was as we were being seated. Janet was suddenly pulling me by the sleeve, she hissed, “Be careful! You almost knocked that sweet-looking little old man over!” I stood as still as a bird dog and carefully looked about me and the tightly packed tables of the dining room. It was at that moment I looked past that man to his companion. It was unmistakably, magically and most clearly Julia Child. And she was sitting at the table immediately next to us! We had come from Key West where I had been cooking at “Louie’s Backyard” and “MIRA” most recently. Julia’s voice ended my momentary panic over having nearly knocked her husband off his feet. She said, “MY! Don’t you two have the most m-a-r-v-e-l-o-u-s sun tans!!” Janet beamed a smile of forgiveness at me.

And then, “What brings you two young people to Boston?!” Throughout the dinner we shared our mutual enthusiasm for the food and service. At the end of the meal I handed Ms. Child a copy of my first book. She was incredibly gracious, asked me to inscribe it to her and insisted from now on I must address her “as Julia!”. And with that she moved from a television personality to a friend I came to share time and stove space over another score of years.

© 2023 Norman Van Aken. All rights Reserved.