In memoriam Julia

Julia Child

Julia Child is dead at the age of 91, just a couple days shy of her 92nd birthday. Few people (other than movie stars) can lay as much claim to being icons and legends in their own time as Julia. The New York Times has a fine series of articles in tribute.

I still have my first memories of Julia Child, not through her TV series, which I didn’t see when I was growing up, but through one of my college roommates, who had a copy of The French Chef Cookbook. I remember that we made a dinner and entertained my organ professor and his wife with recipes from Julia, the first of many memorable meals I have made with her help. Her book From Julia Child’s Kitchen (which transcribed and expanded upon the recipes from her first color TV “French Chef” series) continues to be my most consulted cookbook. I bought it in 1975, and it’s getting pretty tattered. I’ve given the more recent reprint to several people. But it’s still my favorite. The magical thing about Julia’s recipes is that they are so detailed that if you follow them to the letter, it is highly unlikely that you will have a flop. At the same time, Julia is teaching basic cooking techniques, so that once you are comfortable with the techniques described in such minute detail, you can comfortably branch out. Reading Julia’s books can be as entertaining as making the food described therein.

Julia was not a fan of some latter day food fads (for example, the cliché of “six green bean arranged on a plate in the shape of a fan.”) She quite famously stated “Food should look ‘foody'” and she espoused the idea of moderation in eating. Better to have a small helping of something fabulous than a mountain of some repugnant “diet” food.

For some, Julia will be most remembered as the subject of a wicked Saturday Night Live parody by Bill Murray, in drag as Julia, bleeding to death, but at the same time proclaiming, “Save the liver.”

As she grew older, she became more frail, and it was clear in the last few years that this tall California party girl was coming to the end of her fabulous life. She had apparently planned a memoir. (By most accounts Julia was not pleased with her biography, Appetite for Life, by Noel Riley Fitch.) I’m sad that we’ll be deprived of Julia’s own account of her life.

Thanks for the great meals, Julia. Bon appetit!