Happy Birthday, Julia

At the 1997 James Beard Awards

Even though her official birthday was August 15th, the food community continues to celebrate the life of Julia Child all month long with tributes and stories from her past. The legendary cookbook author would have celebrated her 100th last week. I had a few opportunities to meet her in the late 90s, while she continued – well into her 80s – touring on behalf of cookbooks and other events she believed in, such as the Food Writer’s Symposium at the Greenbrier.


Julia (always on a first-name basis with everyone, it seems) couldn’t have been more kind, especially to a greenhorn producer like me, who had just taken over the reigns at the “Good Eating” show in 1995. I had been a fan for years, of course, but never really expected to be working with her in the same room – in this case, the Test Kitchen at the Chicago Tribune – for the better part of an hour. She treated everyone like an equal, always the consummate pro, and when our Test Kitchen Director at the time, JeanMarie Brownson (as nervous as any of us, since she was the one on camera with the towering figure) barely blurted out her name at the end of the segment, Julia asked if we could stop, and tape that last part one more time.


Talking strategy for her “Good Eating” demo, 4/24/95 (photo: Nelson Howard)


“You need to say your name with conviction!” she gently chided Brownson. “…and I’m JeanMarie Brownson!” she cried, in her trademark, high octave pitch. Needless to say, when we shot the second take, JeanMarie was so much more relaxed and confident in her delivery, with Julia by her side. I guess that’s what we all loved about her. No matter how complex the recipe seemed, or how arcane the technique may have initially appeared, it was her unique way of communicating to us all that it was just food, afterall, and it should bring pleasure, not consternation. We shouldn’t take things too seriously, and neither did she.


I came across this video yesterday, thanks to Melissa Ritter, and it’s both amusing and poignant. First of all, it’s a super-clever mash-up with a little bit of auto-tuning; this Julia re-mix says it all. Also, pay close attention at 2:58 for Rick Bayless, sporting a tad more hair and glasses than normal; then at 3:23 for Emeril about 50 pounds ago. As only she could say, Bon Appétit!

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