What do Julia Child and the Manse have in common?

“My invariable advice to people: Learn how to cook – try new recipes, learn from your mistakes, be fearless, and above all have fun.”

To get the most out of that quote from Julia Child (from the book she co-wrote very late in life with her great-nephew, Alex Prud’Homme, called My Life in France), you have to (at least in your mind) read it in her inimitable voice: “My inVARiable adVICE to people: LEARN how to COOKTRY NEW RECIPES, LEARN from your misTAKES, be FEARless, and ABOVE ALL have FUN.”

I adore Julia Child. She is easily among my Top 10 heroes of all time; it’s very probable that she’s in the Top 5. I admire her for so many things: the fact that she taught America how to cook, and to appreciate good food; the fact that she created something – a tradition of great cookery and interest in good ingredients and good food, not to mention the TV cooking show as we know it – out of nothing (America in the early 1960s); the fact that she created a career for herself – cookbook writer, TV chef, personality, star – by sheer hard work and force of will in middle age; but most of all, for her enormous zest for life and the best things that come with it: good food, good wine, good company.

I’ve been thinking about Julia Child a lot in recent days, because what would have been her 100th birthday is coming up on Aug. 15 (she died Aug. 13, 2004, just shy of her 92nd birthday – not bad for someone who spent much of her life espousing the benefits of butter, and cooking with it in generous quantities), and all kinds of special events are being planned to celebrate the occasion. Just one instance: the splendid Boston restaurant Menton, where Raymond and I have had the great pleasure of dining and which is run by the astounding chef Barbara Lynch (whom we were thrilled to meet when she cooked in Montreal at the Montréal en lumière festival in 2011) is holding a Julia Child Birthday Celebration, featuring some of Julia’s favourite recipes, on Aug. 15. Here’s the four-course menu; each course has its own wine pairings:

Heirloom Tomato Provençal
Sourdough, Herbs de Provence, Anchovy
Monkfish, Saffron, Rouille
Saddle of Lamb
Ratatouille, l’Anglaise, Parsley
Baked Alaska

To which I can only say: Yum!

Restaurants across the U.S. are holding similar events; and PBS, which is where Julia got her start on TV, with The French Chef on WGBH in Boston, is, as you can imagine, going nuts. You can check it all out at pbs.org/food.

So what do Julia Child and the Manse in Queensborough, Ont., have in common?

Well, having given it a great deal of thought, and tried mightily to come up with a connection, I have to say: nothing.

Let me clarify: nothing if we’re talking about the Manse when I was growing up there. Not only were neither my mother nor anyone else we knew trying to master the art of French cooking – they were just trying to get some wieners and beans on the table for their hungry kids – but we didn’t get any PBS channels, so knew nothing about Julia’s gloriously exuberant (and frequently comic) lessons in how to cook. Like this excerpt from a classic episode, on roast chicken:

My childhood was a very happy one indeed, but it would have been so much better had I been able to watch Julia doing her thing on TV every week.

But then, if I think about what the Manse now and Julia have in common, well – it’s quite a lot. Because the Manse’s people, Raymond and me, both love to cook, and love good food, and love – and have been hugely influenced by – Julia. We have almost all her cookbooks, we have read biographies of her and autobiographies by her, and we harbour the utmost respect and affection for her. There will be lots of good cooking – not necessarily fancy, but properly and carefully done, using great local ingredients – at the Manse, and Julia has a part in that.

Have you seen the wonderful movie – sadly, the late great Nora Ephron‘s last film project – Julie and Julia? If not, do so immediately! It’s wonderfully entertaining. Meryl Streep does a fantastic job as Julia; and it just makes you want to get cooking and eating, which is exactly what Julia would have wanted.

Here’s a lovely excerpt, when the Julie of the movie’s title and her husband are watching as Julia (Meryl Streep) talks about having “the courage of your convictions!” when flipping something in a pan, and how she reacts when it doesn’t go all that well:

I love that scene. Who among us hasn’t had a similar disaster in the kitchen? And Julia had it on live TV! But she taught us that it was okay to pick up the pieces and just carry on.

Anyway, I feel like this evening, in between bouts of writing this post, I have honoured Julia, because I have made Jasper White’s Corn Chowder. Jasper is a very well-known New England chef; Raymond and I have enjoyed eating in several of his restaurants, most recently his Summer Shack outlets in Boston. He also produces great cookbooks: the corn chowder recipe comes from his 50 Chowders, my copy of which is absolutely spattered with foodstuffs from all the use it’s had in our kitchen. Jasper and Julia collaborated frequently and were friends. She’d be pleased, I think, that I made his chowder using the freshest in-season locally grown corn.

Julia also taught me how to make a perfect omelette (my ultimate culinary claim to fame; watch the video here and it can be yours too!), and that making a soufflé is neither difficult nor scary.

I hope and trust that her spirit of happy, hungry exuberance, and delight in the company of fellow eaters, will reign in the Manse’s kitchen whenever Raymond and I are there.

Happy 100th, Julia!

6 thoughts on “What do Julia Child and the Manse have in common?

  1. Delightful! Delicious! Odd, just yesterday I was imitating Julia’s inimitable voice as I puttered in the kitchen, talking to myself! Didn’t realize an important anniversary was coming up. I really connected with your ‘dinners at home when we were kids’ comment – 3 squares, farm-fresh everything, not a truffle in sight! And butter!!!

    • Oh yes – lots of butter in those days. For us, always Stirling butter. (Local flavours!) Remember when there used to be both whey and creamery butter? (My mother always bought the creamery version.) What was whey butter, anyway?

  2. I had the pleasure of meeting Julia on three different occasions. She was signing her books (various trips), and I went to three of the visits. I have seven books signed, and one tattered book cover (trimmed, matted and framed in a copper frame), and it is autographed, too — with some of my copper pieces around it. I loved watching her on Saturday, 3.00pm on PBS, and I sure miss her and her style these days. Reality TV shows? No thanks.

    • YOU HAVE MET JULIA? OMG, may I touch the hem of your garment? Actually I jest (a bit); Raymond has met Julia at foodie things once or twice too. It will always be a regret to me that I was not as lucky. But I WILL see her kitchen at the Smithsonian! (The last time I was there they were just setting it up, but I peeked through the cracks.)

  3. Yep, I’ve met Julia, and she shook my hand during one of the book-signings. At another, I thanked her all that she’s given to us, and I said that she is my constant inspiration when I’m attempting a recipe. Would you believe she actually teared up (just a bit) and she reached up to touch me and she said, “oh, that is so kind of you to say!” Really. 100% being honest here, no guffing. I was so taken with her in the day, and I started buying copper pots, gadgets, Kitchenaid stand mixer, the whole bit, so to actually have met her was quite a thrill, and now I have the signed books and autographed photo in my kitchen. I don’t do much cooking these days, but I still think of her, and always think of her technique and practical advice whenever I do try a recipe. I’ve seen the photos of her kitchen at Smithsonian, so I know you’ll enjoy the experience.

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