The insider's scoop on food, travel & southern culture
It was 1991, and I was about to launch the first cookbook I’d ever help promote, Simply Elegant: The Cuisine of the Windsor Court Hotel. It was a revolutionary collection of the finest, European-influenced recipes with a contemporary twist, which would soon become a fast-tracking trend in the culinary world. Cookbook author Kevin Graham was the renowned chef at the hotel’s five-star Grill Room in the heart of New Orleans. That evening, we were holding a fundraising dinner and banking on the appearance of a special guest chef to make it a success. Go ahead, guess who came to dinner…
If you reckoned Julia Child, then you ventured the right guess. She was there, live in living color, and on her birthday at that! Her good friend Robert Mondavi and his wife Margarit were in attendance as well. This would be my first glimpse of the wry humor, distinctive voice and great cooking mind I had always heard so much about.
I remember her behavior that night said everything. Even though the evening was in her honor, it was clear that Julia hated being highlighted or praised. Despite the evening’s events and grand decor, she spent most of her time in the kitchen. She would sneak away from the table, engaging and talking with the chef as he prepared the evening meal. She was most interested in Chef Graham’s ingredients—where they came from and how they were prepared in a way that honored their whole, natural form and flavors. I was able to see her passion for food first-hand. It was never about adornment, but about ingredients and allowing the spirit of the chef to let those ingredients speak for themselves. It was the air of Julia Child I’d always heard about, brought to life.
When we finally got her to the table, there was a great energy to the mood and conversation. Robert, Margarit and I all sat around the table with Julia, conversing like old friends. Julia and I talked about my father, who had come to America from France. There was a genuine interest in the questions she asked me, and together we practiced her French with much laughter. People often spoke of how she embraced those she was with like family, and I can attest to the warm reputation that preceded her. She was also quite the showman! I was fortunate enough to witness her famous slice of the champagne bottle top, which she did on the first try without spilling a drop.
Last week, I was able to grab a glass of wine with Bob Spitz, a New York Times best seller and author of the newly released Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julia Child. In Julia’s spirit, we had many good laughs about family, cooking and remembering the lady that gave us all the will and faith to cook. I felt with Bob as I had felt with Julia — in the presence of someone with a true sense of being and conviction — and I could see why he was chosen to write the honorable tribute to her life.
In celebration of Julia Child’s 100th birthday, Spitz will be at Café Dupont this evening (from 6-8 p.m.) to sign books and answer questions about her life. Chef David Fritsche of Café Dupont will also be honoring Julia Child with a special 100th Birthday Menu, which reflects many of Julia’s favorite dishes. It should be a special night, celebrating the life of Julia, her warm personality and her brilliant cooking mind.
I’m Simone. And this is what simone sez…