Many years ago, long before Julie and Julia hit the scene, from my own tiny apartment in New York, I began working my way, methodically, through Julia Child’s classic Mastering the Art of French Cooking. On my days off from the bakery, I tried my hand at her pastries, French confections full of yolks and yeast that were the antithesis of the cupcakes and banana pudding that put Magnolia on the map. Heading down Bleecker Street after work, I would stop by Ottomanelli’s, where the ancient butchers behind the counter gave me advice on cooking whatever cuts of meat Julia had prescribed: boned lamb shoulder; beef, rolled in a net of string, for roasting; the occasional steak. Next to each recipe I’d mastered, I penciled a tiny x. For my birthday, my dad sent me a set of dvds of The French Chef, and I watched, taking notes, as she cooked potatoes and lobster. “You must have the courage of your conviction,” she commanded. A card tacked to my fridge showed a cartoon of Julia with a flaming turkey and a fire extinguisher above the caption “What Would Julia Do?”
Ten years later, I’m still a Julia junkie, and I’ve passed it along to the next generation. If I let them, my daughters would live on a steady diet of bouillabaisse (page 52), spinach quiche (page 153), soufflé aux blancs d’oeufs (page 622), and greens with vinaigrette (page 94). The other day, at her initiative, Charlotte and I spent an afternoon together making the custard, wine-steeped berries, and pie crust for a cherry tart flambée (page 643). She beamed a loose-toothed smile as I brought it to the table after dinner, blue flames dancing over the filling.
I turn to Julia Child frequently because on a homestead like ours, her recipes are not only delicious, they’re particularly helpful. Classic French cooking is seasonal; the ingredients for ratatouille (page 503) and potiron tout rond (pumpkin soup served in a pumpkin, page 361, Volume II), for example, are all ripe in the garden at the same time. Classic French cooking is also resourceful. As our freezer fills for winter, I now consult Julia for advice not only on roasts and steaks, but on lamb’s kidneys, chicken livers, and beef tongue. On what would have been her 100th birthday, I am grateful to Julia Child for sharing her immense talent, curiosity and good humor. As she would say, “Bon appetit!”