Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Julia Child founded 'cult of the kitchen,' her friend recalls -

Ariane Daguin is a French culinary expert and the founder of D’Artagnan, a purveyor of specialty meats and delicacies. Here, she writes about her relationship with Julia Child, whom she met and befriended almost three decades ago

By Ariane Daguin

Julia Child was the initiator of the good-food crusade. In our world of gastronomy, there are definitely two Americas: the one before Julia, and the one after.

She was the pioneer who elevated good food to a higher priority in this country. Without her, legions of dedicated artisanal suppliers, passionate chefs, and prolific writers would not be here today, arguing about the true meaning of organic or local and seasonal boundaries or the proper age of a Berkshire pig to achieve ideal belly fat.

It’s wonderful to see the world celebrating Julia on the 100th anniversary of her birth. But I’m not surprised, because there is no other “food celebrity” who inspires more affection and devotion. She was the beginning of our modern concept of a food celebrity.

Julia's personality was so huge and so generous that it came through the TV. Whether she was tossing a limp, American-style baguette over her shoulder in disgust or burning her eyebrows off making bananas flambé, Julia embodied the spirit of adventure in cooking. She was always learning, even as she taught. She made cooking entertaining, took it from drudgery to artistry and beyond that, to fun. And she did it in very approachable way, making mistakes, dropping things on the floor, the way you do in real life. Suddenly, French food wasn’t so fancy; it was food you could make at home.

Courtesy of Ariane Daguin

French culinary expert Ariane Daguin, right, is pictured here with Julia Child, the iconic home cooking advocate who made French food accessible to Americans.

I met Julia, who would end up helping me promote D’Artagnan, while her influence was at its height. She could not participate in a cooking seminar, enter a restaurant, or even cross the street without creating a mob scene. So I learned quickly that once we entered a public place, whether intimate or not, there would be no more one-on-one conversation.

Story: Bon appetit! Restaurants celebrate Julia Child's 100th birthday

At the time, 28 years ago (when D'Artagnan started), she was actively working to organize the gastronomes of the country, and constantly invited us to participate in her events and gatherings. When we were together, she would take me under her wing, like a second mother this side of the Atlantic Ocean. As we giggled in French between ourselves, she would make a point to introduce me to everybody in sight who was “somebody.”

I remember one of the first conferences of the American Institute of Wine and Food, which Julia helped create. We had an extremely animated discussion with author Calvin Trillin about cooking spare ribs, and another with chef Alice Waters, about which kind of thyme can grow where. At every food show we would walk the aisles together, creating an instant mob scene wherever we decided to stop and taste the goods.

The last time I saw Julia was in Boston, just before she left to retire in Santa Barbara, Calif. We went to a cocktail event where, as usual, all the guests flocked around her the minute we entered the room. That evening, for the first time, she had to ask for a chair and continue her greetings while seated.

The next day, she asked me to meet her for lunch at Biba, Lydia Shire's restaurant, which was then THE place to be in Boston. When I got there, Julia was already at the table, seated in front of a tall drink that appeared to be tomato juice. Going with what I assumed was the flow, I asked the waiter for a Bloody Mary. To which Julia added, in her unmistakable multi-tone voice: "Oh, what a good idea! Could you make mine one, too?"

Lydia arrived on the double, with a bottle of vodka in hand. Glasses were filled (constantly), and I remember nothing but that sentence, which I try, very badly, to imitate once in a while.

You can’t overestimate the importance of a cultural phenomenon like Julia. Without her, would we even have multiple TV channels dedicated to cooking shows? Or so many food blogs?  I think that the cult of the kitchen started with Julia. She made people want to cook, talk about food and challenge themselves in the kitchen. 

And even now, years after her death, her fame grows with biographical books and movies. This month, to celebrate the 100th anniversary, restaurants around the country are offering special menus of her recipes.

But most of all, there are people cooking her recipes at home. That’s her true legacy. She got people to embrace French cuisine in their kitchens, with her confident voice ringing in their ears and her inspired (and tested!) recipes as a guide. Her joie de vivre and passion for food were infectious, and sharing them on her TV show made French food accessible to Americans. It made her a star, and she even created a catchphrase -- that sing-song trademark signoff, “Bon appétit!”  

Do you have a favorite Julia Child recipe or memory? Share it int he comments below!

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