|American cook, author, and tv icon (Aug 15, 1912–Aug 13, 2004)|
|Julia Child's kitchen on display at the National Museum of American History|
I wonder what Julia Child would request for her birthday supper if she were around to celebrate her centennial. Her 80th birthday was a huge bash, celebrated in four cities—Washington DC, Boston, New York and LA—by dozens of the world’s most renowned chefs, each outdoing themselves, for $200 to $350 a plate dinners for a couple of thousand of Julia’s closest friends.
The DC repast sported three cakes, with sugary versions of Julia’s five books, the seal of L’Ecole des Trois Gourmandes, a wire whisk, and a replica of her Cambridge house, months in the creation. The LA extravaganza began with 60 different hors d’oeuvres. “This was no feed for amateurs, the faint of heart or those watching their cholesterol,” quipped Merrill Shindler. In New York, Julia was given a four-foot wire whisk covered in roses and pearls. (p. 469 Appetite for Life: The Biography of Julia Child, Noel Riley Fitch)
On second thought, she might like to revisit the dinner she hosted for her husband Paul’s 50th:
“Paul chose the wines from our cave to match an elaborate menu that Chef Bugnard and I composed: amuse-gueules au fromage (hot pates feuilletees topped with cheese, served in the living room with Krug champagne); rissolettes de foie gras Carisse; filet de boeuf Matignon (served with a nearly perfect Bordeaux, Chateau Chauvin 1929); les fromages (Camembert, Brie de Melun, Epoisses, Roquefort, Chevre); fruits rafraichis; gateau de demi-siecle; liqueurs, hundred-year-old Cognac; Havana cigars and Turkish cigarettes.” (p. 129-130, My Life in France, Julia Child)
The romantic in me thinks she would request a meal more simple and more profound, the one that began her love affair with French cuisine, her first lunch with Paul at La Couronne: portugaises (oysters), sole meuniere, salade verte, fromage blanc, a bottle of Pouilly-Fumé, and café filter.
We began our lunch with a half-dozen oysters on the half-shell. I was used to bland oysters from Washington and Massachusetts, which I never cared much for, but this planner of portugaises had a sensational briny flavor and a smooth texture that was entirely new and surprising. The oysters were served with rounds of…a pale rye bread, with a spread of unsalted butter.
Paul had decided on the sole meuniere. It arrived whole: a large, flat Dover sole that was perfectly browned in a sputtering butter sauce with a sprinkling of chopped parsley on top. The waiter carefully placed the platter in front of us, stepped back and said, “Bon appétit!”
I closed my eyes and inhaled the rising perfume. Then I lifted a forkful of fish to my mouth....The flesh of the sole was delicate, with a light but distinctive taste of the ocean that blended marvelously with the browned butter. I chewed slowly and swallowed. It was a morsel of perfection....Along with our meal, we happily downed a whole bottle of Pouilly-Fumé. (p. 18-19, My Life in France, Julia Child)
Wherever you are, Julia, and whatever your request—surely there is a heavenly meal with friends awaiting—Happy Birthday and “Bon appétit!”
If you could share this birthday meal with Julia Child, what would you choose?
Linda Thornburg is a writer and film director with a broken oven and dreams of fine cuisine.