If she were still alive, famed French chef Julia Child would be 100 years old Wednesday. And as chefs and restaurants around the world (including Cavey’s in Manchester) remember her with special menus and memories, Connecticut resident, celebrity Jacques Pepin, also remembers his close friend and fellow chef.
Pepin and Child shared the spotlight on the Emmy award-winning PBS show “Julia and Jacques Cooking At Home,” that spawned a cookbook by the two, as well. Founder of The American Institute of Wine and Food, a member of the International Association of Cooking Professionals, and a member of the board of trustees of James Beard Foundation, Pepin fondly remembered his cooking compatriot as he Spilled the Beans with Java.
Q: When did you first meet Julia?
A: In 1960 in New York at Helen McCullough’s house. She was the food editor for House Beautiful. She said to me ‘Jacques, I have this manuscript for a cookbook here.’ It was Julia’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking.” It was a nice book. The kind of food I want to cook. Helen said ‘the author is in California and is coming here.’ And that is where I met her. Julia was a large woman with a terrible voice, kind of overwhelming. Her presence, it could swallow you up because of her size and her presence.
Q: I know you have a wooden spoon in your kitchen signed by her. Special?
A: I have a couple of things from her. I have a garlic press she gave me when I was at her house. I loved having dinner at her house although I only ate in her dining room once, for some kind of charity dinner that people paid a fortune to attend. Usually we ate in the kitchen. I can’t remember where the spoon came from. When we were on the road together we would sign a lot of stuff, spoons, posters. I probably took one of her spoons.
Q: What do you think her legacy was?
A: She democratized French cooking in many ways and made it fun for people. She also showed people how to eat properly, eat what you want, butter, cream. she was for all of this. Nothing was taboo.
Q; How would you describe her cooking style?
A: She was not impressed too much by decorating the food to make it look pretty. She was beyond that. She always focused on the soul of the cooking, the way it tasted. When the new cuisine started and everyone started grading everything and the way it was plated, especially vegetables, she said ‘they are ruining them.’
Q: You did your show together for a while and there is that saying about “too many cooks in the kitchen.” Did you ever disagree?
A: Oh yes. We would argue when we were cooking together. I liked to use kosher salt in cooking. She didn’t like it. She used white pepper and I didn’t like it, I liked black pepper. They were always small differences. She knew how to push my buttons. But even when we argued we always finished by sitting at the table over food and wine.
Q: What are your favorite Child dishes?
A: Her classic French dishes, the beef burgundy to the turkey.
Q: Why do you think she was so popular?
A: She said it herself that one of the reasons was she was the first one, a woman in the 1960s who became a well-known chef. She was a trailblazer for women. She was very secure in who she was.
Q:How will you remember her Wednesday?
A: I am doing a couple of interviews about her on television. Later I will probably have a glass of champagne and toast to her.
(photos courtesy of Jacques Pepin)
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