When I was little, my family and I would watch a lot of PBS. Of course this meant many sessions of watching Julia Child cook in her Cambridge, MA kitchen. We enjoyed watching her cook with other master chefs, and in particular I liked her series with Jacques Pépin. Fun fact: I thought Jacques was Julia’s husband until I learned about Paul Child many years later.
When I went to Smith, I learned that Julia was a Smithie too. She was rumored to have been on campus my first fall in Northampton, but I didn’t get a chance to meet her. Which is sad, because on August 13, 2004 (two days before her 92nd birthday) Julia passed away in California. I was at a family reunion at the time. That evening, my sisters and I prepared dinner for our extended family, and held a toast to our fellow jovial Smithie.
Three years later, I would be accepted into the Gastronomy Master’s degree that she and Jacques Pépin helped found, and in Fall 2007 I enrolled in the culinary program at Boston University that Julia developed. In November of that year, I spent three magical days cooking food with Jacques Pépin and his best friend, Jean-Claude Szurdak. It felt like a dream, a wonderful, delicious dream. We deboned whole chickens, prepared sweetbreads, oysters Rockefeller, omelets, candied citrus, caramels, and so much more. We put the huge, 8-station lab kitchen to the test, and all 12 of us students were pushed to the edge of our culinary abilities. We cooked with so much butter Julia would have been proud.
Next Wednesday, August 15, would be Julia’s 100th birthday. I’m thankful that almost fifty years after her first TV show launched, her accomplishments and her enthusiasm for food are still being celebrated. I’ve been drafting a multi-course meal for the occasion. Because that’s what Julia did on her 80th birthday (she had multiple such celebrations across the country). And what better way to celebrate birthdays than with food, family, and friends? We’ll be celebrating a bit late, so check back here at the end of the month for a round-up of my culinary attempts.
In the meantime, if you feel inclined, pick up one of her cookbooks and prepare one of her dishes next week. Counter to popular belief, not all her recipes are complicated. In fact, many of them are quite simple. I highly suggest her easy-to-use cookbook Julia’s Kitchen Wisdom. If you have an iPad or Nook, and want to be a bit more adventurous, download the Mastering the Art of French Cooking app. Or, simply give a toast in her honor when you eat your regular dinner. After all, Julia’s mission was to help us all celebrate good food and good friends.