Milk Street Special: Memories of Julia Child | Christopher Kimball’s Milk Street

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Episode E101
July 5, 2022

Milk Street Special: Memories of Julia Child

Milk Street Special: Memories of Julia Child

We look back with Julia Child’s friends, protégés and fans at their favorite moments and the legacy of the French Chef.

Julia on auction 1

O:02 – 0:27 (CPK) You know Julia Child may be a legend today but for many of us like my co-hosts Sara Moulton. She was also a mentor and a friend. A few weeks ago, Sara sat down with our social media team and Milk Street. She spoke with Whitney Kimball who moderated the conversation, and also Sydney Manning for whom Julia was a true inspiration. Here's Whitney Kimball was Sydney Manning and Sara Moulton.

0:28 – 2:21 (Sara) How I first met Julie is is the question? Yeah. I met her over some hard-boiled eggs. I was the chef manager of a catering operation in Cambridge called ___ Caterer’s, and one of my workers and I were appealing a million hard boiled eggs for something. And we talked about how Julia did her eggs, which was to not boil them. And my worker her name was Barrett Pratt said, you know, I'm a volunteer on Julia Child’s show. And I was like, really? So, she introduced me to Julia. And I went down to the corner payphone because there were no cell phones back then. And called Julia, and she picked up she was listed. So, all these people would call her on, I mean, Thanksgiving, you know, and she'd have to talk them off a ledge because they, you know, can I cook my turkey that's been in the heated garage for five days, and she’d tell them to order pizza. But any rate, she got right on the phone, and she says, oh, hello dear, you've heard all about you. Do you want to food style? And so, I did a lot of quick thinking in my head. I had not done any professional food styling at that point. It wasn't the codified art that it is now. So, I what did I say? What would you have said? Yes, I'm very good. And so, I got the job. So that's how I met Julia. And then because of that, it was a lifetime relationship. She opened a million doors; she became a good friend. I got to do the last interview with her the year she died for special for the food network. So, it was hands down besides my husband, the most important relationship I think I had. I mean, she had a lot of other children like me, who she mentored. And she just if you had excitement, she wanted to be with you. And I think she understood you know, that young people are the next wave and you have to embrace them. Yeah,

2:22 – 2:56 (Whitney) Yeah, that's actually sort of related to why I wanted to prepare you to. Obviously, Julia Child continues to attract young fans even 50 years after the French Chef stopped filming. And Sydney my coworker who's in her early 30s has just this incredible wealth of Julia Child knowledge she can answer practically any Julia Child trivia question on a dime. And she attributes Julia Child to the reason she got into food in the first place. Sydney, how did you first get acquainted with Julia Child?

2:57 – 3:55 (Sydney) I think my first teeny tiny mini-introduction was my mother and I were watching an episode of The Cosby Show in like the mid 90s. And there is an episode where Cliff and Theo are like, going to make dinner for the family. And as Cliff is explaining the cooking instructions to Theo, he starts doing Julia's voice, which was like a huge like, it was a huge crowd pleaser. And I said, like, mom that’s silly. Why are they doing this voice? And she's like, oh, well, it's you know, to TV host on PBS, Julia Child, but that was kind of it. It wasn't until I watched Julie and Julia when I was in college, and I could not cook for myself at all. And literally, by the end as the credits were rolling, I was like, I'm going to teach myself how to cook. And then I went to Brooklyn Booksmith, and I bought Mastering the Art of French Cooking and I bought My life in France, and it went from there.

3:56 – 4:20 (Sara) That book My Life in France, which is based was the she did the year she died with her nephew are her words and it's it's so wonderful to read it. You can just tear her and that's what that movie was based on. Julie and Julia, the Julia half of it anyway. And I think that's why it resonates so much with all of us because it was true Julia,

4:21 – 4:37 (Whitney) A follow up to that is every time I hear you or Sydney or anybody who's really enthusiastic about Julia Child describe her it's almost never about the recipes. Sara, you've described them as almost unrealistically complicated, like that lobster bisque.

4:38 - 5:51 (Sara) Eleven pages long that lobster bisque. I know because my son wanted to have a dinner party. And unbeknownst to me, he suddenly said this when he was 13. And he said, I want to have a choice of soups either matzah ball soup, my husband's Jewish or lobster bisque and I was like hell I haven't made lobster bisque since I was in cooking school. So, I went from Mastering the Art of French Cooking 11 pages later, I was like, forget about it, I ain't doing that. So, I made it my own thing. But you're right. When I was working on the show in 1979, it was the Julia Child and More Company was the specific season that I worked on. And our job was we developed the recipes as we did the show, which is unheard of you don't do that. And I remember a couple of recipes gateau la crepe, you know, which was layers of crepes with stuff in between, and ____. They took us more than 10 tries, the___ in particular took us 13. And so, and there were so many different parts of it. Yeah, there was nothing simple about them I mean, it was crazy, because she really did get people cooking. But it wasn't because the recipes were simple.

5:52 – (Whitney) Sydney, was it the recipes for you or …

5:54 - 6:27 (Sydney) No because I think those would have been so far beyond like my level of comprehension at the time, I think it was just that I had felt really hopeless, like I had bought some kind of like bargain bin cookbooks before that, and that were probably not tested at all. And so, every time I would try to cook something, they did not taste good. And after that and seeing that she kind of developed this passion later in life. I was like, well, if she can do it, then I can do it. And I can do it.

6:28 – 6:37 (Whitney) Yeah, that reminds me you've, you've said that Julia Child is an inspiration to late bloomers everywhere. Is that part of your fascination with her personally?

6:38 – 7:14 7:15 (Sydney) In a lot of ways. I mean, I feel like like, personally, I don't think I've achieved everything that society says that I'm supposed to have at my age. And she got all of the major things so much later in life and beautiful, like their relationship just seemed with Paul so exactly what you want exactly what you're what you're taught to look for somebody who respects you, somebody who adores you and a true partner. And I think that's so amazing, but also that she found her real career later in life as well, which is really inspiring.

7:15 - 7:35 (Sara) Whitney, I was going to say to your comment before about if it wasn't about the food, what was it about her that kept us going? She was such a character. She was really one of the funniest people I've ever met. She just saw things for exactly what they were, but she had lovely manners. So, she would never be rude. But she would call it for what it was.

7:36 – 7:37 (Whitney) Can you give us an example?

7:38 – 7:44(Sara) Well, there's a famous one, but it's somewhat X rated. And this is this is you can't say bad words on radio, can you?

7:45 – 7:46 (Whitney) No it's fine. This is going on YouTube.

7:47 – 9:44 (Sara) Okay. Well, it's actually been, it's in the documentary about her. And so, people have heard this, but the context was, there was a mutual friend of all of ours who sort of had the perfect life and the perfect husband and the perfect world. But she was so busy with her career that her husband ran off with some young chippy, right, so her world fell apart. And so, Julia called me up and said, let's call her Susie, I don't, I'm not going to tell you her real name. And Julia said, Oh, dearie. did you hear about what happened to poor old Susie? And I was like, oh, yeah, Julia it’s really sad, you know, I'm so sorry. Because she, you know, she, this was her world. And Julia said, well, you know, something dearie, she forgot the three F's. And I was like, what are those? And she said, well, you got to feed them, f*** them, and flatter them. And I went home and told my husband, and he said, she's so right. So, I mean, she was just smart about life. Although one would say that is also a very old fashioned, sort of, even though she had this enormous career, she was still somewhat traditional. You know, another one is she was doing something, and I don't know, Finland, and the sponsor of the show was aluminum foil of some kind. And so, they had heard, so the chef who was doing the demo, wrapped the fish and like 500 layers of foil, and she kept standing. And of course, this is the sponsor, and she's like, oh, I'm confused. I mean, that's an awful lot of foil. I mean, really, do we need so much foil? I mean, are we going to have another layer? And you know, she just kept going, and it was hysterical. I mean, you had to see it, but what I mean is she's calling it for what it is.

9:45 – 9:56 (Whitney) Sara, kind of relatedly you've said that one of the indispensable pieces of advice that Julia gave you was to not be afraid to make mistakes on camera. I was wondering why that's so important.

9:57 – 11:49 (Sara) It was extremely important because if she was willing and she went out of her way after a while, by the time I'd met her, I mean, a lot of those things happened. Let I mean, honestly, she was quite klutzy. So, she dropped, and she did cut herself, you know that Dan Akroyd piece was based on something that actually happened. You know what, by the time I met her, so she's moved on from just the French Chef. She went out of her way to make mistakes, so she could show you how to fix them. And stuff would happen. And they’d never reshoot anything because her feeling was this is a good thing. And my feeling is that was part of her empowerment. Part of the reason that Sydney enjoyed her, and I enjoyed her, because if she was willing to make a mistake on national TV, why should we worry about what we do in the privacy of our own kitchens? Another thing she said, which I have plastered in my kitchen is never apologize. Never explain. So, people have a habit when they have people over for dinner, particularly if you're a bit of a perfectionist, and you really want to do a good job to tell everything. To tell everyone, all the things you did wrong with dinner. And I'm no different. And my family has to remind me constantly, you know, so you'll say, I'll say, oh, it needed to be reduced more Oh, it needed some acid. Oh, I should have added some chilies. Oh, the sugars overbearing, whatever. And Julia said, no, you know, people are having a good time don't ruin their evening, they don't know any better. And if something there's really very few things you can't fix. So, if something goes wrong, just reposition it. You know, your souffle falls call it a pudding cake. And and believe it, you know, now as somebody who lied to get the job and said I was good at food styling, I really should have learned that, you know, it worked.

11:50 – 11:59 (Whitney) Sara, since you met Julie Child, she's obviously morphed into this kind of pop culture, figure. And I was wondering whether you think that's a good thing ultimately

12:0013:17 (Sara) You know, I think it's, I'm fine with all this celebrity. I mean, some people are just saying enough already. But you know what? It like Sydney said, she's really an inspiration for women. She didn't look, she didn't have cleavage, you know, which a lot of celebrity chefs have these days, she didn't have a normal voice. She didn't behave normally. You know, she slapped the food around. She was a champion for women, even though not sort of an obvious feminist, but I remember going out to dinner with her. And inevitably, she’d get invited in the kitchen. And a lot of times I'd tag along, and she'd go in and she get the lay of the land. And then she'd say to the chef, inevitably a man, where are all the women, you know, so she did her thing to promote women. But I have to say, even seeing this new one, and by the way, I got over myself now I'm really enjoying it (um) she's just good energy. You know, it's really horrible times we're in right now. It's so many levels, so many things. So that to watch something that just makes you feel good. I just get happy watching her. You know,

13:18 – 13:42 (Kimball) I think that's something that was a big deal during the height of the pandemic as well is that it's not about being perfect. Like it literally just leveled the playing field. And I think we just want to go back to when it was more authentic, when it does feel more relatable when you're really just watching a person cooking something and not trying to sell you more than a recipe.

13:43 – 13:53 (Whitney) Yeah, sort of on that topic of making cooking fun and accessible. Do you think that there was a limit to the expected ability of home cooks before Julia?

13:54 – 14:50 (SM) God, yes. I mean, what had happened was after World War Two, you know, when there was rationing and everything, people got into convenience foods, and it was considered cool to have a frozen dinner, you know, it was like, why should women spend so much and it unfortunately was women, you know, except when you got professionals and then they were all men. But why should women spend so much time in the kitchen let's use all these convenience foods. And it was pretty dreary, I was pretty bad food lets you know, high sodium, high sugar highly processed, you know, away from real food. And Julia, you know, came on the scene and just said no this will not do because she spent time in France. You know, and she made try to make the home cook be a real advocate. So, if you go to your supermarket and they don't have leeks and shallots, don't accept that. Tell the produce guy you want leeks and shallots.

14:51 – 14:58 (Whitney) Sara, you've also mentioned that Julia advised you to always smile. I was wondering whether that cheerfulness was part of a disarming strategy?

14:59 – 7:26 (SM) I think it was more that she wanted to show it was fun and it's not just about cooking and dining it's about dining as well. It's a lifestyle. You know, it's interesting about the smiling thing. She did smile all the time. You're absolutely right. And when I started on the Food Network, which was in April of 1996, about three months in, I had her on as a guest. You can imagine I was pretty nervous. We did. Did we do hard boiled eggs. So afterwards, they sent in a professional photographer to take pictures of the two of us. And Julia put her big arm around me and said, come on, during now, smile, say champagne. So, I did. And I thought, you know, she's telling me something here, you got to smile. And actually, that became something that a I got very good at. And I did, I made sure everybody else was too. So, I did over 1500 shows for the Food Network, probably about 500 of those I had a guest. So among other things, I'd say, smile constantly. And for no particular reason. Just do it. And my feeling about that is it really helps to get your message across. I mean, you don't want to look like a stupid idiot just smiling, but you smile frequently. It helps to convince people that you mean what you're saying. And among other people that I taught that to was Rachael Ray, and to this day, she says that she said Sara taught me how to smile. Well, Julia taught me how to smile. And I'd so in that says, I think she was 100% right that your message is just better if you do smile. But in terms of the rest of it and the goofiness. I think that was just it's fun. Let's have fun. Let's stop taking ourselves so seriously.

17:00 – 17:27 (CPK) That was Whitney Kimball with Sydney Manning and Sara Moulton. Coming up, we'll hear more Julia stories from Stanley Tucci, Dorie Greenspan, and Alice Randall. We'll be right back. I'm Christopher Kimball. This is a special episode of Milk Street Radio. Over the Air Sara and I as well as our guests have had a lot to say about Julia Child. Here are a few moments now starting with this clip from January 2022.

17:28 – 18:08 (SM) So, Chris, recently, I saw the Julia Child documentary called Julia that was done by the same people who did the RBG one. It's a great documentary, mainly just because Julia was so great, and it's so much fun to watch. But I saw an interview with the two directors to women. And the food in this is amazing Susan Spungen did all the food she's the same person who did the food for Julie and Julia and you just are so hungry by the time the thing is over. And so, the two directors were interviewed, and they were asked what was their favorite dish? And they both said the same thing, which is Julia apparently made roast beef a lot. I did not know that. But just good old-fashioned roast

18:09 – 18:10 (CPK) I had roasts at her house roast leg of lamb she liked that a lot

18:11 – 18:34 (SM) Well lamb makes sense. I just didn't know about the roast beast, as we call it in my house. I remember salad niçoise was you know, every time we had lunch, it was salad niçoise was but when she made the roast beef, she would cook up some boiling potatoes and then peel them and then scrape them with the side of a fork and throw them back into the roasting pan while the roast rested.

18:35 – 18:36 (CPK) So they get a grating,

18:37 – (18:45 SM) so that grating on the outside of the potatoes made them get a crust and absorb the fat in a way they wouldn't have. And I thought to myself, wow,

18:46 (CPK) I missed that.

18:47 – 18:58 (SM) Yeah. Did you see the documentary? (CPK: No, I did not). Yeah, well, I never knew about that. But both of these directors who they're not cooks first and foremost said that was something they just started doing. I thought that was fascinating. W

18:59 – 20:49 (CPK) Well, the few times I did go over there for dinner, the food was, you know, basic. We had boiled new potatoes and caviar and wine one night, or a leg of lamb, you know, roast leg of lamb and some potatoes or whatever. It was very straightforward. (SM: yeah, it wasn’t fancy) I remember once she had a book party for a friend of hers who had written a gardening book. And she had, you know, Swedish meatballs and like melted grape jelly with toothpicks. Swedish meatballs. Yeah. And I was going like, this is so 1956 (yeah) but it was, you know, that was kind of her milieu, right? Yeah. She grew up, you know, outside of LA. And so that was part of who she was. She did have that American thing too. And we forget we always think about fancy French food. (Yeah) But I liked the simplicity of it. The kitchen was never a mess. That's what I love about a great cook is just there's not too much. It's just right. Everything's, you know, done and simple. And you can sit there don't enjoy the alcohol and the conversation, which is why you're there. Right? Absolutely. (For the conversation. Yeah.) So that's one of the reasons I still love Julian. Yes. That was Sara Moulton. Next up its actor and author Stanley Tucci from our interview in November 2021. Going back to the movie world for a moment in Julia and Julia, you played Paul child. I knew him a little bit in his later years, and he was very, very quiet guy by that time because Julie obviously was such a superstar and yeah, but I gather, based upon reading a little bit about him and your role. He was quite an impressive person in his own right.

20:50 – 21:37 (Stanley Tucci) Yeah, he was quite interesting. I mean, he was he was a he was kind of a renaissance man. He was a photographer; he was a painter. He was an expert in in judo, he was the cultural and diplomatic liaison he was a real gourmand, and you know that was probably maybe like the most perfect marriage ever .. so there we were in China just friends having dinner and and it turned out to be Julia turned out to be Julia all along. Julia you are the butter to my bread and the breath to my life. I love you darling girl.

21:38 – 21:48 (CPK) Before you started production, you called Marilyn said let's we need to cook together. Was that just for fun? Or you thought that was helpful training for the movie

21:49 – 22:18 (Stanley) It was just helpful. I mean, I think just doing some activity that is akin to what you're going to be doing in the film or whatever it is. It can be very helpful. And she agreed and we cooked from Julia Child's cookbook, Mastering the French Cooking and we cooked ___ Meryl made a Tarte Tatin and I tried to make some sort of some artichoke thing but I kind of messed it up. It wasn't very good.

22:19 – 22:38 (CPK) That was Stanley Tucci in February 2021. I spoke with writer Alice Randall about her connection to Julia. Alice, you studied with Julia Child in the 70s I didn't know that. Could you just talk about that?

22:39 – 23:48 (Alice) That was one of my greatest life experiences. The opposite of Caroline I grew up in a house with only three cookbooks. Only one that I got from the family which was a Joy of Cooking. And somehow another from a library I got a Craig Claiborne Menu cookbook. And actually, from a friend's mother, I got Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking. And as a little girl from about fifth grade up, I cooked my way through those cookbooks. I first met Julia Child, also in Detroit on the television. I was I parents were very busy people. I was often left in front of the television, and I found my way to Julia Child. So, when I arrived at Harvard, I knew that she lived in Cambridge, and I think my sophomore year back in those days when he had telephone books, I cold called Julia Child. And I said, I had loved all of her books and cook through one or two of them fully. And I wanted to work with her. She invited me over to the house and she was so compassionate. And we I worked one on one with her for an entire semester for a grade at Harvard, in her home.

23:49 – 24;12 (CPK) That was Alice Randall. And finally, here's author Dorie Greenspan, in February 2017. Just going back to something Julia tells you quote, Julia told me to always wear lipstick. And I do. So that was your that was your, your takeaway from all those years of working with Julia? Great,

24:13 -- 24:48 (Dorie) Actually, not only did Julia tell me always to wear lipstick, but she took me to Walgreens, and I bought me the lipstick that she wore, which was 99 cents at the time. And it was like it was the lipstick version of a mood ring. You put it on, I think I can't remember maybe it was green in the tube. And you put it on, and it turned whatever color it felt it should turn on your lips. Mine turned a hideous orange and lasted for 24 hours.

24:49 – 24:52 (CPK) Do you have any stories about working with Julia and about some of the recipes?

24:53 - 26:10 (Dorie) It was such a remarkable experience for me. So, this was the book that was to accompany Julia Child's PBS series Baking with Julia. And so, there were 26 bread bakers and pastry chefs who came to Julia's house on Irving Street in Cambridge. And we shot there. And so, we would have was this great rotation of chefs. We would shoot in the morning and while we were shooting somebody would be down in the basement prepping for the following morning shoot and we would all meet for lunch and on a nice day we shot during the summer, we would be outdoors and the lunches were catered. And Julia would always say, you can do whatever you want just no pasta salad. And we went through three caterers because pasta salad kept turning up. And Julia was serious about that. When I first met Julia, the very first time, it was at an event at BU, and we all everybody who had been part of the event was having dinner together. And Julia said, sit with me and I said, of course, and during dinner, she said, have you ever seen the Dan Ackroyd Saturday Night Live skit, you know where Dan Ackroyd imitates me?

26:11 – 26:12 (CPK) I remember that. Yeah.

26:13 – 26:30 (Dorie) Well, I said, Julia, I think I'm probably the only person in America who's never seen it. And she stood up and did the entire routine. So, I got to watch Julia, imitating Dan Ackroyd imitating Julia. It was she had just the best sense of humor.

26:31 – 26:44 (CPK) She had a spectacular sense of humor, but she was also very serious about teaching. I mean, she took the teaching very seriously. I remember Jeff Drummond was her producer on this and many other shows. And he told me that when she took a bite of the remember that brioche tart in that book

26:45 – 26:50 (Dorie) Oh, I remember that white sauce, the secret sauce, it was Nancy Silverton’s recipe

26:51 – 27:11 (CPK) and and Jeff said to me, when she bit into it, she started tearing up. And at first, he thought it was because it was too hot. And she burned her mouth. But then she he realized that it was a taste memory. And it was so good that Julia, you know, we just went back in time. And that's, I guess, food at its best, right?

27:12 – 28:10 (Dorie) That just touched her so and it brought back all of France for her. I remember one day she called me. And she said, do you have a bread machine? And I said, nope. She said, I think you should have one. I said Julia, I'm never going to use a bread machine. And she said, that's the wrong attitude. She said, you should get a bread machine because you have to be curious about what it's like and what you can do with it. I'm getting a bread machine this morning, and you will too. And I did. Julia just wanted to know everything. She was curious about the world. Julia said to me one day when we were working, aren't we lucky? And I thought, well, I'm pretty lucky I'm here working with you. And she said we're lucky because we work in food. And that means that we'll always be learning something new for the rest of our lives we'll learn. That was Julia.

28:15 – 29:02 (CPK) That was Dorie Greenspan, baker and cookbook author most recently Dorie’s Cookies, chatting with Dorie Greenspan, reminding me that famous people are rarely what you imagine. Julia Child imitating Dan Ackroyd imitating Julia is now what the casual viewer of Julia's TV shows might expect. Or Julia buying 99 cent lipstick from Walgreens. What is not hard to imagine is Julia saying, aren't we lucky? Yes, Julia we are. All of us who work in food who cook for a living and get to argue about recipes all day. We are in fact the lucky ones. And as a Buddhist monk, I once met said quote, enjoy your luck. Nothing lasts forever. That's it for today. Thanks for listening to this special episode of Milk Street Radio.