Happy 100th Birthday Julia and a recipe for Reine de Saba (Chocolate and Almond Cake)
I don’t think about whether people will remember me or not. I’ve been an okay person. I’ve learned a lot. I’ve taught people a thing or two. That’s what’s important. Sooner or later the public will forget you, the memory of you will fade. What’s important are the individuals you’ve influenced along the way. – Julia Child
This is a celebration of what would be Julia Child’s 100th birthday as shared through the recollections and intimate stories of a few of her close friends and several members of Les Dames d’Escoffier International, of which Julia Child was a member. Les Dames d’Escoffier (LDEI) is a culinary organization that has helped transform the role of women in the culinary arts. I have also asked Melanie Young, current President of Les Dames d’Escoffier New York (LDNY) to share her thoughts on the future of LDEI in this evolving culinary world.
It has been many years since Julia Child awakened our culinary senses with her book Mastering the Art of French Cooking and her television show The French Chef. To think that Julia’s first lunch in France with her husband Paul could alter the course of America’s relationship with food and cooking is dramatic. Oysters on the half-shell, Sole Meunière, salad after the meal and all served with a bottle of Pouilly-Fumé. Not all that unusual in France, but that meal was life changing for Julia Child and for so many of us who have been inspired by her. I would not be sitting here writing about Julia’s 100th birthday if she had not had such a great influence on my own life.
Contributing to this article, in addition to Melanie Young are: Carol Brock, the founder of Les Dames d’Escoffier International (LDEI), Dorie Greenspan (member LDNY and author of Baking with Julia and Around My French Table), and Margaret Happel Perry (Chair of the LDNY Scholarship committee). I also spoke with Nancy Verde Barr who was executive chef to Julia Child for eight years (1990 – 1998). In addition, she is the author of Backstage with Julia: My Years with Julia Child and was the culinary producer for PBS’s Baking with Julia and ABC’s Good Morning America. These women have graciously shared their poignant memories of Julia.
Julia Child moved to France in 1948 when her husband Paul was offered a position with the United States Information Service (USIS). Her fascination with French food and cooking began after experiencing that first lunch in the town of Rouen in France at La Couronne. She was so inspired by French cooking that on October 4, 1949 (at age thirty-seven) she began classes at the École du Cordon Bleu to pursue culinary studies.
Mastering the Art of French Cooking was published in 1961 after some early difficulties with the initial publisher. Nancy Barr said, “She was thrilled when it was published. What made it really special was when Judith Jones at Knopf (Alfred A. Knopf) bought the book. She (Judith) had just returned from France and understood what Julia was trying to do. Julia was trying to change the way Americans wrote recipes and followed them. She wanted people to know how to really cook and with instruction. Julia was on a mission.” Approximately a year later, in 1963, The French Chef debuted on WGBH television in Boston. Julia was affectionately bestowed the title “Our Lady of the Ladle” by Time magazine in 1966.
In 1977, Carol Brock created Les Dames d’Escoffier to provide opportunities for women to advance in the culinary arts. Historically a male-dominated industry, LDE sought to break through this barrier with mentoring, education and networking opportunities for women. The organization also provides scholarships and is involved with philanthropic pursuits. If you are not familiar with Les Dames d’Escoffier, you may read more about the history of the group here.
Each year the organization recognizes and honors those women who have made extraordinary contributions to “the culinary, fine beverage, arts of the table or related field.” As one might expect, Julia Child was their first honoree. Carol Brock recalled, “On March 27, 1977 at the Carlyle (Hotel), the premier black tie dinner for the installation of new members to Les Dames d’Escoffier, Julia Child was made our first Grande Dame. And Jim Beard attended.”
Julia Child’s life was a robust one. She saw the humor in most everything. She was a great communicator, author, educator and she was a passionate lover. She was fun loving and a big flirt. Her style and grace where incomparable.
Margaret Happel Perry: “It seems as a student, Julia was from a different mold than the traditional eastern “Smithy” (Smith College). Her easy, energetic approach to life was a needed breathe of fresh air to the college in the 1930’s. This all embracing “it-can-be-done” attitude was something that carried her into the success of her TV programs and took the intimidation out of French cooking for her audience.”
That youthful can-do attitude and flirtatious style stayed with Julia her entire life.
Dorie Greenspan: “My husband Michael, our then college-aged son, Joshua, and I drove to Cambridge to take Julia to lunch right before she was to move to Santa Barbara. As we were about to leave the house, Stephanie Hersh, her long-time and wonderful assistant, pulled me aside and said, ‘You’ve got to take Julia’s walker. She hates using it, but you wouldn’t want her to fall while you’re in charge, would you?’ She said it with her signature twinkle and smile, but I knew that she was worried about Julia being wobbly. I grabbed the walker, got a quick lesson on how to fold it up and went out to present it to Julia. Too late – she was headed for the door. ‘Julia, I’ve got your walker,’ I called out. Julia linked her arm through Joshua’s, turned and said, ‘I don’t need a walker when I’ve got a handsome young man at my side.’ She leaned her head toward Joshua’s, smiled and didn’t touch the walker all afternoon. She did, however, pat my husband’s knee affectionately whenever she wanted to make a point. And even when she didn’t. Julia loved men and my men loved her back – and flirted back. ”
What a wonderful way to celebrate Julia Child’s spirit! Thanks for sharing these stories.
What a beautiful tribute! I’ve been cooking Julia Child’s recipes since Aug 5 as part of PBS’s “Cook for Julia” challenge and it’s actually been an eye-opening experience because the cooking is dramatically different from the way many people cook today. I also think I bought out the cans of beef consommé from our local Publix, plus plenty of butter haha. Hoping I will get a chance to pull together a grand finale of sorts for her actual b-day tomorrow. Thanks for such a wonderful post! Feels like there’s no end what fun things one can learn about her….
Oh, Gwen, I read every word.
I loved it!
She was like no other.
Freshness is essential! That makes all the difference!
Here’s to Julia: Bon appetit!!!
This was so nice to read. I love Julia and remember her show from when I was a kid. Now my kids know who she is and I bake and cook her recipes. A lady that was full of spunk and still inspires today. The Letterman story is a funny one!Oh, the cake is gorgeous:)couldn’t forget to mention the cake:)
The ultimate tribute to Julia. You’ve outdone yourself with this post and this fabulous cake. I’m sure she would have loved this.
Wonderful, wonderful post, Gwen! What memories you have gathered here – and I particularly love Dorie’s story how Julia loved the men! Your post has brought Julia back to life. And I have been meaning to make the Reine de Saba and now your photos have pushed me over the edge. Yay! Looks stunningly good! Happy Birthday, Julia!!
Nonnapetit madame Julia!
Wonderful post – and wonderful cake. A real labor of love, but so worthwhile!
We are going to make this cake! Thank you!
Thank you Dames for this lovely piece. Julia sure left her unique imprint on multiple lives. I was lucky to know her and have the fondest memories of this gracious and talented Dame!
What a beautiful post! Look forward to trying the cake 🙂
This is one of the best tributes to Julia I have read, Gwen..ALL TIME..not just today. She was truly a pioneer and will continue to be as long as people are cooking! I need to make this cake again. The last time I made it..we shared it straight from the pan with spoons 🙂 Bon Appetit, indeed!
What a lovely and heartfelt post, and a standout among all the wonderful things written and said over the past few days.
Les Dames D’Escoffier Philadelphia
oh julia, what a lady! your post was such a joy to read. perfect job on the recipe – looks flawless!
A great tribute and a heartfelt writing about Julia’s life and inspirational culinary journey 🙂
What a beautiful tribute to an amazing woman!! 😀