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Remembering Julia

Ariane Daguin and Julia Child had many things in common – height, boldness, creativity, humor and a healthy dose of irreverence. But the thing that bonded them was their passion for sharing the pleasures of French food with America. While Julia had TV audiences eating out of her hand, she took time to encourage Ariane in the early years of D’Artagnan to help the fledgling business grow.

August 15, 2012 would have been Julia’s 100th birthday and it’s a time to celebrate her life. Here, Ariane reflects on how much Julia meant to her, sharing memories of the culinary icon that inspired a generation, and who continues to do so.

D’Artagnan exists today in part thanks to Julia Child.

First, because she was the initiator of the good food crusade; in our world of gastronomy, there are definitely two Americas: the one before, and the one after Julia!

Certainly, she was the pioneer who elevated good food to a higher priority in this country. Without her, legions of dedicated artisanal suppliers like us, passionate chefs, and prolific writers would not be here today, arguing about the true meaning of organic, what constitutes local and seasonal boundaries, or the proper age of a Berkshire pig to achieve ideal belly fat.

Second, because not only did she help advance the “good food” cause in general, but she also helped me promote D’Artagnan’s mission, in the early days of the company. 

I met Julia while her influence was at its height. She could not participate in a cooking seminar, enter a restaurant, or even cross the street without creating a mob scene. So I learned quickly that once we entered a public place, whether intimate or not, there would be no more one-on-one conversation.

At the time, 28 years ago (when D’Artagnan started), she was actively working to organize the gastronomes of the country, and constantly invited us to participate in her events and gatherings.

When we were together at those gatherings, she would take me under her wing, like a second mother this side of the Atlantic Ocean.

While giggling in French between us, she would make a point to introduce me to everybody in sight who was “somebody.”

I remember, in particular, one of the first conferences of the A.I.W.F. (American Institute of Wine and Food), that she helped create. We had, after she introduced us to each other, extremely animated discussions: one with Calvin Trillin on cooking spare ribs, and the other with Alice Waters, on which kind of thyme can grow where.

At every food show where she knew we were participating, she would come and get me at D’Artagnan’s booth. We would then walk the aisles together, creating an instant mob scene wherever we decided to stop and taste the goods.

The last time I saw Julia was in Boston, just before she left to retire for good in Santa Barbara, CA. She had invited me to do a talk about foie gras, in the afternoon, then brought me to a Les Dames D’Escoffier cocktail event where, as usual, all the guests flocked around her the minute we entered the room. That evening, for the first time, she had to ask for a chair and continued her greetings while seated.

The next day for lunch, she asked me to meet her at Biba, Lydia Shire’s restaurant which was then THE place to be in Boston. I arrived slightly late (visiting chef clients and getting lost in Boston in the morning). When I got there, Julia was already at the table, seated in front of a tall drink that appeared to be tomato juice. Going with what I assumed was the flow, I asked the waiter for a Bloody Mary. To which Julia added, in her unmistakable multi-tone voice: “Oh, what a good idea! Could you make mine one, too?”  At which, Lydia arrived on the double, with a bottle of vodka in hand. Glasses were filled (constantly) and I remember nothing but that sentence that I try, very badly, to imitate once in a while.

It’s wonderful to see the world celebrating her life on the 100th anniversary of her birth this month. But I’m not surprised, because there is no other “food celebrity” that inspires more affection and devotion than Julia. Actually, she was the beginning of our modern concept of a food celebrity. Her personality was so huge and so generous that it came through the TV. Whether she was tossing a limp, American-style baguette over her shoulder in disgust or burning her eyebrows off making bananas flambé, Julia embodied the spirit of adventure in cooking. She was always learning, even as she taught. She made cooking entertaining, took it from drudgery to artistry—and beyond, to fun. And she did it in a very approachable way, making mistakes, dropping things on the floor, the way you do in real life. Suddenly, French food wasn’t so fancy; it was food you could make at home.

It seems to me that you can’t overestimate the importance of a cultural phenomenon like Julia. Without her, would we even have multiple TV channels dedicated to cooking shows? Or so many food blogs?  I think that the cult of the kitchen started with Julia. She made people want to cook, talk about food and challenge themselves in the kitchen. 

And even now, years after her death, her fame grows with biographical books and movies. This month, to celebrate the 100th anniversary, there are restaurants around the country offering special menus of her recipes. But most of all, there are people cooking her recipes at home. That’s her true legacy. She got people to embrace French cuisine in their kitchens, with her confident voice ringing in their ears and her inspired (and tested!) recipes as a guide. Her joie de vivre and passion for food were infectious. Sharing that on her TV show made French food accessible to Americans. It made her a star, and she even created a catchphrase–that sing-song trademark sign off, “bon appétit!”  - Ariane

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