One thing's for certain, the late, great Julia Child remains a culinary lodestone in kitchens across America.
"She was one of our most influential teachers and was among the first Americans to bring the spotlight to traditional French cooking methods and show that food is something more than the sum of its parts," notes Thomas Keller, chef of the acclaimed The French Laundry and Per Se restaurants in the Napa Valley and New York.
To mark the century since Child's birth, we asked chefs and others in the food world to toast the moment by suggesting a wine pairing for a favourite Child recipe. What we got back were a lot of tasty contributions — and a flood of memories.
— Gigot a la moutarde (herbal mustard coating for roast leg of lamb) and Chateauneuf du Pape, Les Cedres, Paul Jaboulet Aine 2007, from Marc Murphy, chef/owner of Landmarc, Ditch Plains, N.Y., and judge on Food Network's "Chopped."
"My biggest influence was Julia Child's highly successful TV show and her ability to make even the most complicated dishes seem simple and effortless. Her passion for food was what I admired most. It really spoke to her audience and especially to myself as a French-influenced and inspired chef."
— Salmon en croute (pastry wrapped salmon) with Chappellet Chenin Blanc, from Jan Birnbaum, chef, EPIC Roasthouse, San Francisco.
As a young cook, Birnbaum worked his way through "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" with some efforts more successful than others. One he remembers in particular was salmon en croute, a pastry-wrapped salmon, that was his first attempt at a simple butter crust.
"I studied the cookbook until the pages were worn and sticky," he recalls. It turned out well, a golden, flaky crust encasing a succulent side of salmon steaming along with spinach and shallots. "It was as if Julia was there with me!"
A decade later in 1993, Birnbaum had the chance to meet Child in person when he worked with her on a segment of "Cooking with Master Chefs," and the accompanying video. For five days they filmed and detailed recipes, "the experience of a lifetime." Birnbaum also accompanied Child on a promotional tour for the series in California. People stood in long lines, many with stacks of eight or 10 books for her to sign. "When Julia walked into a room, it was clear that she was not only a celebrity, but a gem of a human being with a genuine, down-to-earth point of view. She was endlessly curious and taught me that any real cook is."
— Roast duck with cracklings with Domaine Parent Premier Cru Les Epenots 2005, from Mike DeSimone and Jeff Jenssen, authors of the recently published "The Fire Island Cookbook" and entertaining and lifestyle editors for Wine Enthusiast Magazine.
DeSimone and Jenssen watched re-runs of Child's cooking show as children. They have a battered copy of "Julia Child's Menu Cookbook," which drove home the idea of "theme" dinners and eating meals over several courses, an influence that shines through in "The Fire Island Cookbook," a collection of summer dinner party menus. For a pairing, they picked a duck dish from the menu cookbook's birthday dinner chapter. "If you live in an apartment and make this dish and don't set off your own smoke alarm and the one in the hall, you are not trying hard enough!" they joke. Child recommends a pinot noir from Burgundy with the duck, they go further and recommend a particular pinot noir from Burgundy winemaker Anne Parent.
— Coq au vin with cru Beaujolais, from Ken Oringer, James Beard Award-winning chef with seven restaurants in the Boston area, including Clio.
"I grew up watching Julia Child and was lucky enough to get to know her well when I became a chef. She used to dine at Clio all the time and I have so many fond memories of her coming back to the kitchen to hang out. Back then in Boston, it was hard to find restaurants with bone marrow, foie gras and caviar, and she used to say she loved coming here because she could indulge in her favourites. I was invited to attend her 90th birthday party and they auctioned off items from her television set. I won the turkey baster — the one she was often seen using on camera! — and I still have it in my kitchen today."
— Beef bourguignon with 2009 Domaine Mongeard-Mugneret Echezeaux Ville Vignes, from Jason Berthold, executive chef, RN74, San Francisco.
Berthold remembers watching Child's cooking shows on television as a child and young cook and remains impressed with her show on making beef bourguignon. "Browning meat, braising onions, cooking with wine, simmering stock and skimming fat, slow cooking, using buerre manie, etc. It is classic, important and serious."
RN74 is named for Route National 74, the main highway running through the Burgundy wine region of France, and Berthold picked a wine he discovered on a trip to Burgundy last fall. It has "great balance with layers of power and elegance, just like a perfectly made beef bourguignon should."
— Bouillabaisse with French rose, E. Michael Reidt, executive chef, Area 31 Restaurant, Miami.
Inspired by Child's classic bouillabaisse recipe, Area 31 serves a dish called "A to the 3 to the 1," which is a fish stew with white water clams, local fish and tiger shrimp, highlighting South American flavours by using onions, garlic, tomatoes and cilantro. For Reidt, Child's writings and philosophy of cooking are things that "helped me keep things in perspective. When the whole modernist cuisine trend took off in the late '90s, it was Julia and Jacques Pepin who influenced me to stay the course, to stick with the basics I had studied and continue to focus on the product and its execution — to make sure no matter what the trend might be that my cooking always needed to have soul and substance."
— Feuilletes aux poires (puff pastry with pastry cream and caramelized pears) with moscato d'Asti, from Katherine Thompson, executive pastry chef at L'Artusi and dell'anima restaurants, New York.
Thompson first made this dessert from Child's "The Way to Cook" as a 13-year-old and it's still her favourite. She brought a version of this to the L'Artusi menu about a year and a half ago, using crepes instead of puff pastry and gelato instead of whipped cream. She pairs it with a moscato d'Asti because the wine has hints of pear in it, and a little acidity and freshness that balances well with the rich caramel flavour of the dessert. To Thompson, the great thing about Child was the way she made French cuisine approachable and she tries to follow suit, making dishes that guests can replicate at home and providing the recipe on request.
As the anniversary of Child's birth on Aug. 15, 1912, approaches, the food world will celebrate in various ways.
Keller's got his game plan in place for his team.
"We will all raise a glass of Champagne in celebration and thanks for her many achievements," he says. "I'm sure she would approve."