5 Surprising Things about Julia Child

23 Aug

On Wednesday August 15, I celebrated what would have been the 100th birthday of Julia Child at a party hosted by Canadian food writer and broadcaster Marion Kane.

At the Cookbook Store, in Toronto, a gathering of devotees honoured Julia by consuming copious amounts of pâté-slathered baguette and other such full-fat, full-flavour canapés, while listening to anecdotes from locals who welcomed North America’s first celeb chef to the city 21 years ago.

On April 3, 1991, Marion, who was the Toronto Star food editor at the time, hosted a then-78-year-old Julia. Marion took the Cordon bleu-trained TV chef to her Kensington Market home for Asian hors d’oeuvres and Alsace Riesling, before driving her to the Four Seasons Hotel, where Julia took the Penthouse Suite and Marion slept a few floors below. The following day there was breakfast in Julia’s room, a book signing, a demo at George Brown College (marred slightly by the guest chef’s disapproval of the blunt knives) and a four-course lunch prepared by a group of fresh-faced chefs that included Mark McEwan, Jamie Kennedy and Susur Lee.

Chef Jamie Kennedy, who cooked for Julia 21 years ago at the Four Seasons Hotel

This trip marked the start of a mother-daughter kind of relationship, continued over the years through visits, letters, cards and e-mails. After closing her notebook at the end of one interview a few years later, the journalist–a single mother at the time–recalls her subject turning to her and demanding in her famous sing-song voice, “So, Marion, how’s your love life?” One of the famous foodie’s most endearing qualities was that she genuinely cared about others.

Last year, Marion tracked down some of the people dear to Julia and visited them with her microphone and recorder. In the first episode of the resulting Bon Appetit podcast series, Julia’s biographer, Bob Spitz; editor, Judith Jones; and grand-nephew, Alex Prud’homme share some of their fondest memories of the TV chef, who died in August 2004.

Marion played an excerpt at Wednesday’s party to celebrate her late friend, who had only learned to cook in her mid-30s before going on to author 17 bestselling cookbooks, including Mastering the Art of French Cooking–the 524-recipe tome credited with saving North America from the TV dinner.

Here are five things I learned that made me smile:

1. Even after becoming famous, Julia kept her phone number listed in the book. Guests to her home on Thanksgiving said that the phone rang off the hook between 1 and 8 pm, as people called for advice on saving at-risk turkeys.

2. Julia liked to invent words. She referred to people lacking substance as “flimsies”–blogger Julie Powell of Julia and Julia fame fell into that category–and she described her husband Paul, in his old age, as suffering from “the dwindles.”

3. It is impossible to quote Julia Child aloud without imitating her voice: Marion does it, as does everybody in her podcast and all those who took the mic at Wednesday’s launch party.

4. The author of Mastering the Art of French Cooking sometimes got a craving for fast food. Her favourite treats: McDonalds fries and Costco hotdogs.

5. Julia called low-fat and no-fat dieters “the food police” and argued that butter, cream and the likes help the body absorb vitamins, thus supporting good health. On a book tour in 1999, she spoke to audiences with glee about an interviewer she’d just met who was following a strict regime: “He was covered in dandruff,” she said, “that’s what happens when you don’t eat enough fat.”

The one thing that came as no surprise was that people still care deeply about Julia. “I asked everybody I interviewed if they missed her,” said Marion, “and the answer was always: ‘Yes, I miss her every day’–and I feel that way too.”

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Are you a Julia Child fan? If so, what are your favourite TV–or in-person–memories of the icon and which of her dishes to you love to cook? Please share in the comments section below.

7 Responses to “5 Surprising Things about Julia Child”

  1. Milena August 24th, 2012 at 10:25 AM #

    What a lovely post! I’m a huge Julia fan and must confess, I watch the Julie & Julia flick religiously, only for a glimpse into her interesting and envious life.

    • Cecile Young August 24th, 2012 at 1:24 PM #

      where would I got to see or purchase Julia and Julia?

      • Valerie Howes August 25th, 2012 at 4:41 PM #

        You could rent or buy it from the iTunes store or Amazon.ca.

  2. Huguette de Martigny August 24th, 2012 at 10:05 PM #

    My mother was a great cook and a fan of Julia’s and therefore had her famous book which I inherited.
    I too love to cook and in the French manor as my Mom did. My grand daughter as well loves to cook and bake as well as her Mother my daughter in law, so I thought it was only fitting that I should give my grand daughter my Mother’s ” Mastering the Art Of French Cooking “. for her to keep and cherish.
    Fourth generations using Julia Childs marvelous book. What better tribute to a Grand Lady

    • Valerie Howes August 25th, 2012 at 4:42 PM #

      That’s so special. Thanks for sharing, Huguette.

  3. Davison Dentist August 28th, 2012 at 10:47 AM #

    Thanks for the post! I remember my mother, cooking out of her books. Always delicious.

  4. John Dowsett September 2nd, 2012 at 9:30 AM #

    My mother passed on her passion of cooking to me and Julia child played a large role in both our lives.

    This year I had the opportunity to meet one of our Canadian treasures Marion Kane. Not only did this provide great tales previously unheard, it has me glued to the Food Sleuth’s content rich website.

    Thank you Julia Child, thank you Food Sleuth Marion Kane for enriching so many lives.

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