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California, Here She Comes / America�s favorite French chef says her move west is a downsizing, not a retirement

WE BRAVED baking our own croissants because of her. We

risked French cooking because of her. We even lined our kitchen walls with

pegboard because of her.

Julia Child made it all seem possible. She did not, bless her, make it seem

easy; we saw on her television shows the nitty-gritty work of making exquisite


She never lied to us; this was honest work, but joyous work, too. Child

explained everything so that we could do what she did. She belonged to us, and

all America called her by her first name.

This fall, Child's life begins a new chapter as she leaves the East Coast

to live year-round in Santa Barbara, Calif. This is not retiring, she makes

clear, merely downsizing.

Child, now 89, is giving her gray-clapboard, tall- ceilinged Victorian

house in Cambridge, Mass., with its thicket of a yard, to Smith College (she

graduated in 1934), and most of her kitchen to the Smithsonian Institution. The

oft-filmed, signature wall of that kitchen, a pegboard hung with her treasured

copper pots and skillets, will go to COPIA, the American Center for Wine, Food

and the Arts now under construction in Napa.

Child, resolutely unsentimental about the move, sipped Gevalia coffee from

a white mug with black piglets marching around the rim one sunny late summer

morning in her cookbook-lined upstairs office in Cambridge. Most of her

cookbooks and papers are going to the fine culinary collection at the

Schlesinger Library, or to the library's History of Women in America at

Radcliffe at Harvard, or to relatives. She can, she claims, take only two or

three books and a very few pictures. The California "pad" is furnished, because

she has been spending winters there for years.

She is taking a treasured "cow creamer," but no furniture. If she misses

any of her things, she says, the glorious weather will make up for it. In Santa

Barbara, "I have two figs and an apricot tree," and lemons and tangerines,

"and next February, when it's sear and brown, I'll be thinking of you - and

I'll be sitting in my little garden having lunch, with the flowers."

That cool morning, Child was banished from her downstairs kitchen while

three Smithsonian workers commandeered the commodious kitchen table, acquired

when Julia and her husband, Paul, were posted to Norway for his foreign service

job, to catalog every whisk and knife in the room.

She still cooks in that kitchen, though "I don't cook as loudly as I used


Such a statement is vintage "Julia."

In "The French Chef Cookbook" (Knopf, 1968), she wrote that on the TV show,

"I would far prefer to have things happen as they naturally do, such as the

mousse refusing to leave the mold, the potatoes sticking to the skillet, the

apple charlotte slowly collapsing. One of the secrets of cooking is to learn to

correct something if you can, and bear with it if you cannot."

Accordingly, she told us how to save the Hollandaise sauce when it curdled.

In that same book, Child wrote that she knew nothing about television

before appearing on her first show. She didn't even know what other people did

on television, as she and Paul, who died in 1994, had hardly watched any

programs on their television and had concealed the ugly object in a fireplace.

When her first program, which was to have been a series of three for New

England public television, was aired in the summer of 1962, the Childs served a

big steak dinner at their house, pulled the television set out of its hiding

place and, Julia Child wrote:

"There was this woman tossing French omelettes, splashing eggs about the

place, brandishing big knives, panting heavily as she careened around the


Oh, how we loved her for that lusty physicality.

A star was born.

The three programs quickly became a series of 26. In all, Child did 119

black-and-white shows under the title "The French Chef" between 1963 and 1966,

and another 90 in color between 1970 and 1973. These were followed by "Julia

Child & Company," "Dinner at Julia's" and two series that featured master

chefs, "Baking With Julia" and "Julia & Jacques." She is proud to say that in

the baking series, more than 700 pounds of butter were used.

The California kitchen is much smaller than the one in her sun-dappled

Cambridge digs. It was in the kitchen there that Paul Child's lens - he loved

to photograph her - once caught her hiking up her skirt to adjust a stocking

before the TV cameras bore in upon her. The show was "cold turkey galantine,"

and he labeled the photograph "cold thigh Julie."

In Cambridge there was room for the vast collection of a self-described

"frying pan freak" and copper lids of every size from Dehilleran, a famed

kitchen wares store in Paris. There is, besides, a pastry room complete with a

marble slab and its own fridge, a pantry and a sizable dining room.

"My whole kitchen there is the size of this room," Child said as she gave a

tour of yet another room, her glassware and china closet. Child says that in

her apartment, to save space, she will have only one type of glass - stemmed.

"Some people may object." Let them. "They'll just have to have Scotch in

stemmed glasses," she says in her characteristic sensible manner.

One of Child's favorite skillets is a humble Duranel from Wearever, and

those kitchen floors in Cambridge are linoleum, not fancy tile.

Predictably, there isn't a bone of pretension in Child's now-stooped

6-foot-2-inch body. Even stooped, she is still taller than most people in the


Child's own voice is on her message machine, she is intensely interested in

what others think, and she doesn't mince words.

For example, she described Craig Claiborne, the late longtime food editor

of The New York Times, as "a difficult man."

And she thinks the worst thing a cookbook author can do is "putting in a

recipe that doesn't work. Your book is only as good as its worst recipe, so it

had better be good."

But she has kind words for cookbook author Paula Wolfert - "she's very

careful" - and for Martha Stewart, who "gives an idea of how to do things


James Beard (the foundation named for him was the source of the

pig-festooned coffee mugs) "was lots of fun. He used to stay with us in France

and come and stay here. He was a very generous person."

Years ago, Judith Jones, her editor at Knopf, asked the late Simone (Simca)

Beck, Child's one-time French collaborator, whom they would like to meet in

New York. Child said James Beard.

"We took the subway down to where he lived, and there he was with his hands

covered with egg white, and he was illustrating how to fold egg whites into a

souffle with his hands. He was so nice. He immediately introduced us to

everybody. He introduced us to Joe Baum [whose Restaurant Associates owned such

posh New York spots as the Four Seasons and the Rainbow Room; later, Baum was

a partner in Windows on the World], and to everybody. He just couldn't have

been nicer. We went to the Four Seasons. When we went over to England, he

introduced us to Elizabeth David," the late English cookbook author.

Child is direct, but ever gracious. Sometimes her good manners lead to

printed untruths about her. No doubt she said something in polite assent when

the idea of a ripe pear and a cup of green tea was broached to her as a

possible dessert for someone's last meal on Earth. Twisted, this emerged as

what she would want.

"Who told you that?" she said. "I don't drink green tea at all."

Similarly, Child has been reported to love jelly doughnuts.

"Well, I don't," she said, "I like the plain ones."

Child remembers with fondness the doughnuts and crullers made by her

Illinois grandmother, who came from a farm, and "she made a wonderful kind of

crispy broiled chicken."

Her own last dessert, she said, might be vanilla ice cream with chocolate

sauce, a carefully made creme caramel, not overcooked, "so it trembles a

little, with plenty of caramel," or perhaps a strawberry shortcake, "very fresh

and with lots of juice."

Now she is off and running.

"Some people, you know, are afraid of sugar and they won't macerate the

strawberries enough, so they haven't exuded their juice, and they haven't

absorbed the sweetness they should. You have these people who are afraid of

sugar," which, she points out, contains only 15 calories per teaspoon. "I hate

fresh fruit that hasn't been macerated properly," she concludes firmly.

Child's mother did not cook, though "she knew how to order good food," and

Child did not learn to cook until she married Paul Child in 1946. In the

wedding picture, they both look thrilled, but Julia sports a bandage above one

eye and Paul has a cane; the couple had just survived a car smashup the day


"My Paul had been brought up on good food, so I had to try and cook well

for him," she said. "And then when I got over to France," when Paul was working

for the U.S. Information Service there, "that food was just so good. I decided

that was for me."

She studied cooking at the famed Cordon Bleu, and "that started me off,

seeing the tremendous care and interest that the chefs took in their work.

Nothing was too much trouble to make something absolutely delicious."

She cooked dishes again, and again, and again, to get them right, and

sometimes dinner was finally served at 10 p.m.

Paul, in a letter to his brother, wrote: "The sight of Julia in front of

her stove-full of boiling, frying & simmering foods has the same fascination

for me as watching a kettle drummer at the symphony. Imagine ... Julie, with a

blue denim apron on, a dish towel stuck under her belt, a spoon in each hand,

stirring 2 pots at the same time. Warning bells are sounding-off like signals

from the podium, and a garlic-flavored steam fills the air. ... She stands

there surrounded by a battery of instruments with an air of authority and


Even French cats learned of her cooking, it seemed, via a feline grapevine,

and stopped by Chez Child.

When the Childs lived in the countryside in Provence, she recalled, "One

cat would die, and another would come the next morning. They seem to know" when

another cat is needed, "and they sit on the ledge," and here she made an

appealing meow, perfectly mimicking the way cats audition in front of potential


"I love the way cats just get into anything," she said. "I love how they

sit in things. We had a dear one who always sat in our salad bowl." All French

cats, she said, are named Minou or Minette or Mimi or some such name.

Child recalls the cats, Paris, Provence and life with Paul with enormous

affection, but she remembers just as vividly the worst meal she ever ate. The

Childs stopped at an English inn by a river with a garden and a grandly

costumed maitre d'.

"It was a very English menu, and I decided I would order the boiled fowl,"

she says with that inimitable Julia warble on the word boiled. "And we started

out with a soup" - there's that fulsome, loopy "o" of hers - "one of those kind

of watery soups. The boiled fowl came, and it was a large piece of leg, and

there was a hair sticking right through it, and a white sauce which was

literally just about flour and water. It was ghastly. It confirmed all your

feeling about English cooking. The hair sticking through this white sauce is

something I shall never forget."

Child delights in shooting down myths, too.

"It turns out that we've been buffaloed by the bottled-water people who say

that coffee and tea don't count" as part of the recommended eight glasses of

water a day, "but they do count," she said gleefully, producing a copy of the

Tufts University Health and Nutrition Letter published in July. You can count

coffee, cola, cocoa, orange juice, vodka - "if you can drink it, you can count

it," according to this study.

"Isn't that dirty of them?" she said.

She is in full agreement with the study, and drinks three or four cups of

coffee a day.

On the other hand, this woman of huge appetites became convinced that

smoking was "a filthy habit" and gave it up in 1965. Still, she is not above

reminiscing. "We would have had about eight by now," she said cozily, as second

cups of coffee cooled. "Easily. I never found that it affected my taste. Did

it yours? No, not a bit."

Paul Child photographed his wife smoking in an alley in Paris, sunbathing

with her even taller sister Dorothy (known as Dort) on a Paris rooftop, cooking

at a too-short stove.

He wrote poems to her, too. Perhaps the most quoted is a sonnet penned for

her 49th birthday:

O, Julia, Julia, cook and nifty wench,

Whose unsurpassed quenelles and hot souffles,

Whose English, Norse and German, and whose French,

Are all beyond my piteous powers to praise -

Whose sweetly-rounded bottom and whose legs,

Whose gracious face, whose nature temperate,

Are only equaled by her scrambled eggs:

Accept from me, your ever-loving mate,

This acclamation shaped in fourteen lines

Whose inner truth belies its outer sight;

For never were there food, nor were there wines,

Whose flavor equals yours for sheer delight.

O luscious dish! O gustatory pleasure!

You satisfy my taste- buds beyond measure.

Last summer at Chefs & Champagne, an event sponsored by Taittinger at

W"lffer Estate Winery in Child's honor, she gave herself over to satisfying her

fans and did not partake of the luxuries presented by dozens of top Manhattan

and Long Island chefs - caviar, foie gras, smoked salmon, rich pastries. She

sat in a corner of a tent and patiently signed books for chefs and admirers for


Suzanne Tobias, pastry chef at Cite in Manhattan, said Child "has been my

inspiration my entire life," and she told her role model how her 11-year- old

brother had made perfect profiteroles - cream puffs filled with ice cream -

using Julia's recipe.

Sara Moulton's daughter Ruthy, 15, brought a picture of herself as a baby

with Child to give to her and said, "She's sharp still. She remembered me, and

that I have a brother, and everything." (Her mom, of Gourmet and the Food

Network, has worked with Child.)

Restaurateur Shari Alexander of Sag Harbor, who also is co-editor of the

Wine Gazette, recalled that the show on tarte tatin in the early '70s "changed

my life. I wrote down every little thing." Then, Alexander did not know how to

cook. But, inspired by Child, she threw a dinner party and made boeuf

bourgignon and tarte tatin. Child's precise instructions saw her through.

"It was one of the great accomplishments of my life," said Alexander. "I

never knew such immediate gratification."

Stephanie Hersh, Child's assistant, confided, "Very often, we get people

saying, 'You saved my marriage.'"

And one woman, speaking for almost anyone who has ever watched Child,

said: "I hear your voice in my mind. And I always peel my asparagus."

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