Photo by Regina Charboneau
Given the wonderful attention around Julia Child, this seems the appropriate time to share the one recipe I created especially for her.
I can't claim that we were the best of friends, but on several occasions I did have one-on-one time with her I'll always treasure, as well as several other occasions when we were part of a group. We first met when we were working together to raise money for a wonderful filmmaker, Barbara Wornum, who was making a documentary on MFK Fisher.
If you were in the food world, you could not help but want her approval. Julia was like the school principal who was both feared and loved by all. And she was real. There was nothing fake about Julia, and she did not hold back if she did not enjoy something on her plate. But if she gave criticism it was constructive and not mean-spirited. She was joyful and genuinely fun to be around. The only time I saw her start to lose her joie de vivre was when she had to put her husband Paul in an assisted living facility. I could visibly see a broken heart.
Julia no doubt had talent in the kitchen. But what a talent she had to make people feel good about being less than perfect in the kitchen. Me included.
One of my favorite memories was Julia's coming to Natchez. A trip to my hometown! Of course I came back from San Francisco, where I was at the time, to help entertain her. I learned a valuable lesson when trying to be a consummate hostess the night she arrived, as I drank Southern cocktails and bourbon with someone who was way more than a foot taller and had many pounds over me. I was so happy when she decided to stop, because she said she would have preferred gin over bourbon....Unfortunately, we'd already had several sazeracs and then bourbon and waters before this was decided. I cooked in a slight fog the next day.
Julia approved of my biscuits and said so every time I saw her. On her trip to Natchez she ate a dessert I made specially for her: a beignet filled with vanilla bean ice cream with a praline sauce (I added buttermilk to the sauce, which I think made the difference) and the small native pecans of Natchez. She told me, "This is a piece of heaven." Because I'd seen her give constructive criticism to chefs, I felt she really meant what she said. Before you think I'm bragging, let me add that I'm sure that if I cooked enough things for her, I would have received some of that constructive criticism too.
What I loved most about her, I think, is that she made you relate to her and know that we are all pretty good at what we do but not always perfect. Julia no doubt had talent in the kitchen. But what a talent she had to make people feel good about being less than perfect in the kitchen. Me included.
Here is one of my favorite desserts of all time, because I made it with love for Julia and a little bit of fear too.