Forgot your password?

We just sent you an email, containing instructions for how to reset your password.

Sign in

  • I considered her a friend, even though we never spoke to say more than "hello." When I first saw her TV show in the earlier seventies, I marveled at the studied insouciance with which she threw together ingredients to create hollandaise sauce, soupe à l'oignon, haricot vert, Coquilles St. Jacques, and so on. I admit to collecting many of those episodes. Watching the reruns still impels me to go cook up things like duck liver pâté with minced shallots and shaved truffles.

    Years later, during her late retirement, I toured the television station in Boston where her show was produced. The guide pointed out some dilapidated kitchen equipment crowded against a wall with a recognizable fake window. The station just couldn't bring itself to throw it all out, nor had it bothered to turn it into a proper shrine. At last they found the good sense to send the set to the Smithsonian.

    For almost half her life Julia Child lived in Cambridge (Mass.) in a gabled home in a leafy Professors' ghetto on Irving Street. When I started watching The French Chef on public TV, I lived two blocks away from her. Soon I started to see her on the street or walking through Harvard Yard. We always smiled and said hello. Of course she did not know who I was, but by then she was used to being recognized (and at 6' 2" she was not easy to overlook). I was temped to stop her and ask, "What's for lunch?" but never had the nerve.

    Someone told me that Julia shopped at a small upscale grocery three blocks away that I went to when I could afford it. The store was known for having excellent but pricey meats, with many unusual items: venison, buffalo, lion, rattlesnake, duck tongues and much more, all done up in butcher paper so as not to betray their freshness. One day as I wandered in, I noticed Julia's car was parked outside. (One immediately knew the beat-up lime green VW Golf was hers from the slotted spoon that served as a radio antenna.) Sure enough, there she was hovering over a meat bin, talking to the owner, Jack (whose butcher's apron was always clean but slightly bloody; curiously, the stains never seemed to change). I overheard Jack say, "Julia, this is a really fine shoulder of beef. I think you will like it." Her reply was simply, "Oh, Jack, all pot roasts are the same!" This was decades before foodie-led fervor for grass-fed beef.

    The last time I bumped into Julia was shortly before she debarked for a California retirement home, and she wasn't walking. As I hurried through one of three Whole Foods supermarkets in Cambridge, there she was near the fish counter sitting on a three-wheeled scooter with a large basket in front. A young man, either a friend or a helper, was conversing with her and then ran off to fetch something. Although now stooped, she looked alert, and smiled when I said hello.

    So I grinned and blurted out "It's so nice to see you again after so many years. What's for supper?"

    Neither fazed nor put off by my insouciance, she replied, "Striped bass, if it's good today."

    I hope she's eating well wherever she is, and should I run into her again in some heavenly bistro I'll ask to share some soupe à l'oignon with a crusty baguette and beurre à la bourguignonne.

    @image: Collage by the author. Julia Child's kitchen as recreated at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, by Matthew G. Bisanz. Julia Child Standing, by Elsa Dorfman [GFDL CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

Better browser, please.

To view Cowbird, please use the latest version of Chrome, Safari, Firefox, Opera, or Internet Explorer.