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Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Write With Me: A Letter to Julia

Dear Julia,

It’s taken me far too long to write this letter. Can you accept my apology?

You were born in 1912, and would be 100 years old today.  Wow, what would you want to eat? I’d happily prepare you a good French meal. Not just good, but excellent! Most likely not Boeuf Bourguignonne, that’s been so overdone. But a delicious Piperade or even a nice old fashioned Chaud Froid Ham. I never thought Julie Powell really got the whole aspic thing and I just wanted to let you know that even though my birthday is the same day as hers I do understand and even like aspic. Or better yet, something from your days in Santa Barbara. I recently traveled there, and thought I even saw your ghost down at the wharf, haggling over Sea Urchins.

And even before I met you, I felt kind of like I was following in your footsteps, such was my devotion, though I don’t really speak about it openly. I lived in Boston (alright it was Boxborough) when you did. Then I went to the Culinary Institute of America, not the Cordon Bleu. You inspired me in so many ways. I spent about 8 years on a book too, about a women bread apprentice in long ago France. I hope to tell you good news on that soon. And what you felt, I felt about France. Yes, that. I too simply Must. Be. French.

Julia with the Cordon Bleu President 

Julia with Ellie Ferguson

I’ve tucked some photos in here I took in Paris for the IACP Conference in 1995. But you may not remember things exactly as  I do. I was starstruck for sure. I have a letter from you somewhere that has the header of Baking With Julia, and wouldn’t you know it a friend of mine even knew Stephanie who was your assistant then. I sent you the letter after  we chatted nonchalantly (as nonchalantly as I possibly could) in line for coffee at the FoodWriter’s Symposium at the Greenbrier in 1995. I spotted you the day before in Draper’s Café having lunch with your assistant from “And They Called it Macaroni.”

You were completely gracious and real, guffawing and chortling, and asking hard questions. I don’t remember if  I had any answers.  Maybe I actually didn't say anything. You see, I may be a better writer than speaker. 

Julia with Anne Willan 

Julia, About To Speak

Believe you me, I loved you (if that’s ok to say) from all parts of my being and my life, even as a girl when I would watch you on TV with my Nana. Well, you weren’t on TV with my Nana, but you knew I didn’t mean that. She was an admirer of yours and we talked about and made your recipes.

You made me laugh, and later I would find this method of teaching irresistible. In the movie Julie and Julia when you said to Paul, “But what should I do?” you (of course you were Meryl Streep then, just so you know I know) asked with such anguish and longing. I am so glad you decided to fall headlong into French cuisine. Julia, you were perfect in so many ways. That brings me around to the reason why I am writing. Other than to wish you a Happy Birthday. Of course.
 Gracious, Gracious Julia

But Julia, I don’t know how to tell you this, the food world is in a bit of a mess.

It’s no longer enough just to enjoy cooking – people want it to mean status or more than mere food and cuisine. Between you and me I don’t really think they enjoy it. They feel pressured to like it. Do it. Accomplish it. You see food has become a business, and once that happens well, the apple cart has toppled over. The cookie has crumbled. You know?

Listen I am the last person to argue with my students. If they want to learn the best Provencale dishes; I want them to know how! I love teaching, only I want them to relax and have fun. Forget their life for a little while. People come into my kitchen because they are afraid to touch chicken, or because they want to make food that their entire family will eat. They are afraid of fat and afraid of tofu. People are afraid of food. I wonder if you can do something about this predicament from where you are. They would appreciate it, I know they would. 

And Julia, maybe it still sounds silly but my faith in you is so strong that your  photo (you towered over me) with the President of The Cordon Bleu in Paris will always stand at the helm, the sink, where we do dishes,  look out over the garden and dream. And I am always listening to you, oh Queen of Quenelles!

At the Helm in C'est si Bon!

Merci, Julia! Merci for your help.


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