August 15 is Julia Child’s birthday, and August 13 is the fifth anniversary of her death, just before her 92nd birthday. I became a fan during my high school days when she first came to national prominence. I was lucky to live near her in Cambridge MA in the late 60s and follow her around our local market. How I wish I’d had the nerve back then to introduce myself and, if she were willing, maybe apprentice myself to her (hey, a girl can dream!).
Today is the release of the movie Julie & Julia, and after so much hype (so very, very much), I’m almost loathe to see it. But I know I will eventually, just as I’ve read nearly every book about Julia Child that’s been published. And Julie Powell’s book about her “year of cooking dangerously,” was pretty entertaining, too.
In 2004, before Julia Child’s 90th birthday, I entered a “Dear Julia” essay contest that was held in honor of that milestone. I didn’t win, but here’s my entry, and I will raise a glass to you Julia, in your honor on your birthday. Dear Julia,
After your Public Television show debuted in 1963, my parents and I in New Jersey watched it with great delight. We were a family who loved good food, and my mother, normally a fastidious and reserved woman but a nervous cook, especially seemed to respond with glee to your uninhibited antics and mishaps.
Then, in 1966 I moved to Cambridge, and was ecstatic to discover that you lived just blocks from me and that we both frequented Savenor’s Market. I had come to the culinary “mountain,” and this was to a large extent responsible for my lifelong appreciation of food and cooking.
During my frequent visits to Savenor’s, I would shadow you as you worked your way through the produce department (your husband often hovering nearby with the grocery cart) and back to the butcher department where owner Jack Savenor reigned. I was learning to cook, and trying to work my way through Mastering the Art of French Cooking on a student’s budget.
I would lurk nearby and listen to you and Jack discuss the cut of meat you were interested in that day, and sometimes purchase a small amount of the same thing for myself. If it was an expensive cut, Jack would usually give me 25 or 50 cents off in exchange for a giggling kiss on his cheek. You had made him a celebrity in his own right, with several appearances on your show.
I eventually moved to Aspen, Colorado, then back to New Jersey, continuing to develop my love of cooking as a serious hobby. In 1997, I visited friends in Aspen during the annual Aspen Food & Wine Classic. I patiently stood in line to have you sign copies of your cookbooks, which you kindly personalized. When I found myself before you, I summoned the courage to mention that we used to frequent the same market in Cambridge, and how much I learned from you during those years.
Your eyes lit up, and you exclaimed “Oh yes, Savenor’s market! Did you know the place burned to the ground?” I hadn’t known that, and was sad to hear it. We briefly reminisced about what a great market it was, and what a colorful character Jack was. Your recollection was so sharp that I was instantly transported back to those days in Savenor’s market, and the excitement of learning to cook with you as my guide. You changed my life, and the culinary face of America. Thank you and Happy birthday Julia!