Cooking Dinner for Julia Child

What do you make when one of the country's most famous chefs comes over for a meal?

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AP Images

In the late 1960s and 1970s I was living in Boston, a young art dealer with a collection of current and historical cookbooks. My friends Dorothy and Norman Zinberg had introduced us to Julia and Paul Child on several occasions, and through my art dealings, I had met and become friendly with John McKendry, then curator of prints and photographs at the Metropolitan Museum, and his wife, Maxime de la Falaise, who was cookbook editor for Vogue magazine. Maxime, who was English, had previously married a French aristocrat, had also lived in France, and was extremely knowledgeable about historical dining and ancient recipes.

Another connection to the Childs was Michael Rice, my good friend and neighbor on Beacon Hill, who was appointed General Manager of WGBH-TV at age 24. It was Michael who planned and arranged for Julia to create the series of TV shows broadcast by WGBH, which would bring her national renown and also change the way America felt and thought about cuisine. Michael also came up with the original ideas for Crockett's Victory Garden and Upstairs, Downstairs and oversaw their production, as well.

Julia walked into the kitchen even before taking off her coat, saying: "Everything smells delicious" and lifting lids off all the pots on the stovetop to sniff the contents.

Paul Child telephoned me one day in Boston, requesting that I help him find an appropriate print or drawing to offer Julia in honor of their 25th wedding anniversary. I asked him for a few days to do some research. I came up with a splendid Daumier lithograph, on white paper, portraying two French chefs in a kitchen holding large knives, gazing down at a small animal on a cutting board. In the caption, the older of the two is explaining to the younger that (roughly translated): "...you skin an old alley cat, simmer it in a nice rich sauce, and serve it up as rabbit..." Needless to say, Julia was charmed with the gift, and both Paul and I were delighted.

Shortly after that, John McKendry telephoned me from downtown Boston. He explained that he and Maxime had just arrived in town to promote her new book, The Seven Centuries Cookbook: From Richard II to Elizabeth II and, because of several simultaneous large conventions, there were no hotel rooms available anywhere. What could they do?

I told him to bring their bags, stay in our guest room, and that we'd plan a party for the following night. John said they didn't know anyone in Boston, and I replied that surely Maxime had to know Julia Child. It turned out they had never met, so I telephoned Julia and Paul, apologizing for a last-minute invitation, and asked them if they could come the following night to meet Maxime and John. They happened to be free and were pleased to accept.

Presented by

Angus Whyte

Angus Whyte is executive director of Art for Healing, a San Francisco-based philanthropic organization which places original works of art, all acquired through donation, in hospitals and healthcare facilities. In 1959 he was awarded a Fulbright scholarship to France and consequently has happily been going there for 50 years.

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