Most of my colleagues have at least one Julia story. That’s because Julia was arguably the most universally loved food personality in our profession and most of all because she was so present and supportive to all of us. Here is my top personal Julia story, which I offer up on the day of the launch of the movie Julie and Julia.I was 19, newly married, and living in Washington Crossing, Pa. I had a deadly dull job as a clerk in a brake-lining factory in Trenton, NJ (an industrial town where the bridge crossing the Delaware has an unmissable sign “Trenton Makes, The World Takes.” To my young aspiring eyes the very antithesis of poetry. My husband was an English teacher at Pennsbury High School, getting his master’s at Temple U. in Philadelphia. When I complained how bored I was he asked if I would prefer the nerve-racking experience of having students practically his age and only one step behind him in knowledge. (I’ve since deemed this to be a life-defining question. Guess which road I took!) We were too poor to afford a television but on Tuesday nights, when he drove to Philly, I went with him to watch “The French Chef” on PBS in one of the dorm’s TV’s. My cousin, who lived in Bryn Mawr, told me she met Julia at a cooking demo and actually won the door prize that was some sort of casserole. I was awed that she had met her in person.
Julia made me (and everyone else!) feel they could do whatever she was doing. She explained everything one needed to know to succeed at the recipe at hand. One night after work I whipped up her “no-fail” cheese soufflé with a coulis de tomates (a simple little tomato sauce) for dinner. When my young, hungry, New England husband inhaled his serving in two bites and asked what else was for dinner I was shocked that he wasn’t impressed enough to recognize that that WAS dinner. “I need meat and potatoes!” he cried out. Years later, after going to night school to get my BS and MA in food studies at NYU, I wrote a book called The Cake Bible. To kick off its launch I was invited to appear on the Today Show followed by a demo the next day in Philadelphia. It was to be my first return to the city since those “French Chef” days. On my return from the Today Show the phone rang and to my utter amazement and delight is was the unmistakable voice of Julia Child warbling: “Dearie; I’m so proud of you!” I will always remember this moment. The seemingly impossible had happened: I was about to return to Philly, the scene of my day-time despair and evening inspiration, and with the blessings of the very person I so admired congratulating me for doing what I had watched her do so many years before. That was 21 years ago. (The Cake Bible was born on 8-8-88!) Julia always performed with spellbinding joy and humor. She made it look like so much fun. And guess what: She was absolutely right. And she paved the way for all of us would be food professionals, while raising the food consciousness of the entire country. There will never be another Julia. There doesn’t need to be. She was one of a kind. Meryl Streep may come close (temporarily)—I’ll find out tonight at the movies!