The only time I met Julia Child was at the Front Row Theatre's Dialogues in suburban Cleveland in 1991. As one of the few reporters present for her chatty culinary program on a revolving stage in front of a morning audience, I was ushered backstage before the program where I was impressed by two things:
Her stature, not only physically (she was 6-foot-2), but also her professional stature. Then 78, she was a culinary icon, yet she reminded me of one of my college nutrition instructors, if not my mother.
I introduced myself by sharing my nutrition training and soon learned that nutritionists had gone too far afield in search of healthy cooking by giving up eggs and butter. She ate no substitute foods.
"I eat real food," she said. "I am suspicious of those other things. I don't buy prepared foods."
Later, on stage, she spoke about the public's "fear of food," referring to what she called the "silly season of nutrition." She lamented the 1980s impact of low fat and increased oat bran on the American diet. "I would much rather take a small helping of a chocolate dessert with butter and eggs in it," she declared.
She believed in moderation in the diet, variety of foods, exercise, and a little wine with dinner. "The pleasures of the table, the simple pleasures of getting friends and family together abound at the table," she said.
Julia Child withstood the test of time. Not only did she weather the silly season of nouvelle cuisine in the late 1970s when elaborate presentations first made an impact on traditional French cooking, she also survived the low fat and oat bran craze of the 1980s, and the comfort food era of the 1990s. She demystified French cooking for the American table via her cookbooks and television shows by explaining classic techniques and showing us how to have fun in the kitchen. First with Mastering the Art of French Cooking in 1961, written with Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle, and later with the contemporary cookbook, The Way to Cook, published in 1989, she made classic recipes doable for the home cook.
The latter is still on my home cookbook shelf along with Julia & Jacques Cooking At Home (1999).
In 2001, I was at the Symposium of Professional Food Writers where she was expected to be on the program, but she was unable to attend. I listened to cookbook authors and food journalists talk with affection about her. They adored her.
Amid the current generation of celebrity cooks, chefs, and cookbook authors, there may not be another Julia Child. Different people may take bits of her place, but she is irreplaceable.
"[Julia] brought food to people who wouldn't have cooked otherwise," cookbook author Pam Anderson told me at that time. She influenced a multitude of home cooks, chefs, and wannabes.
In the world of culinary stars, devotion counts, and Julia Child will always be a revered icon among foodies.