Thursday, August 6, 2009

Liz & Julia

Julia Child lives! Well, sort of, anyway, thanks to Meryl Streep's brilliant portrayal of her in the movie "Julie & Julia" which opens in theaters tomorrow. If you haven't yet read the book by Julie Powell upon which this film is based, run, don't walk to get yourself a copy. It's hysterical. You will laugh your toukas off!

So Julia is everywhere these days. PBS is even running old episodes of her TV series "The French Chef." Wow, maybe this really is the second coming or something!

And so amid all of this hoopla, here's the thing: I met Julia Child. Hell, it's better than that. I COOKED FOR JULIA CHILD! And no, I'm not making this up. Here's how it happened.....

It was March 13, 1990. The IACP (International Association of Culinary Professionals) was holding its annual meeting in Atlanta. A series of dinners to be held in private homes throughout the city was planned. Conference particpants could choose which dinner they wanted to attend. I had volunteered to plan, create and execute one of those dinners with my friend Kay Goldstein (who owned the catering firm Proof of the Pudding at the time). The event was to take place at a magnificent home in Buckhead, perched high upon a steep hill (keep this in mind for later). We decided it would be an informal, seated dinner featuring contemporary regional foods.

I arrived early that morning, my crappy minivan (the kids were young in those days, need I say more about the condition of the thing?) loaded with food, supplies and catering equipment. I parked next to the house at the top of the hill. All the better for unloading. Once inside, we started prepping, setting up and cooking.

4:00 pm. The phone rings. Kay answers and chats briefly with the caller. She then hangs the phone up and screams "JULIA IS COMING TO DINNER!!!!!!!" Holy shit!

6:00 pm. A shuttle bus arrives with our 30 dinner guests. It stops at the base of the hill. The guests have to schlep all the way up the hill - and that includes Julia who was in her 80's at the time. She gamely headed up with the other guests, barely breaking a sweat. (We, of course, were horrified, kicking ourselves for not providing her with an alternative). I'll tell you though, if she was bothered at all by it, she never let it show.

7:00pm. The guests are seated and the first course is served. By now, I am out on the adjacent terrace, grilling duck breasts for the next course and sweating profusely. I'm a little concerned about grilling them to the proper doneness and getting it all done in a timely fashion. Please, oh please, let them linger over their first course so I can manage to pull this off!

I'm bent over the grill, turning the damn things when suddenly I'm aware of a looming presence next to me. It's holding a cocktail, too. And then that trill......"Soooooooooo, what are we cooking?"

OMG. It was Julia. She had calmly left her seat at the table and wandered over to see what I was doing. OMG. SHE WAS WATCHING ME COOK! OMG. And then she asked me where I had gone to culinary school. OMG. Because of course, I hadn't and I couldn't think of a good response so I just came out with it. "Oh," she said. "Well, I have never thought one has to go to culinary school to be a good cook." Thank you, Julia.

After a few more pleasantries, she returned to the table and dinner commenced. The evening progressed nicely, we were quite pleased with our food and all went well. Before we knew it, it was time for our guests to depart.

We accompanied everyone to the front door. By some amazing stroke of luck, I ended up walking out next to Julia. She complimented me on the dinner and I walked out the front door with her to see the shuttle bus waiting down the hill at the base of the driveway. I saw her hesitate ever so slightly.

I looked at her. I looked at my crappy minivan that was parked right next to us since I had forgotten to move it down the driveway. I looked at her again. "Julia," I said, "can I give you a lift down the hill?"

Folks, she didn't hesitate. She was in that van like a flash! And so, I drove her slowly down the hill, never wanting that moment to end........

But of course, it did. I didn't ever want to sell than van, though. And we found out later that the reason she selected our dinner was because it was the only one that was seated. Oh well. I think she had a good time anyway. We sure did!

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