Once upon a time in 1976, my great Aunt Annette gave her copy of Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking to my dad.
35 years later, he passed that very same cookbook along to me.
Julia Child has been an invaluable source of inspiration for me She’s known for being the chef who not only taught America how to cook, but that if you drop a stuffed chicken on the floor–it’s okay to laugh and wave the poultry around like a kite. Her lighthearted demeanor and limitless passion for food have only further stimulated my enthusiasm in the kitchen. As you probably guessed it, a very worn copy of Julia & Julie sits, not on my shelf among the other discs, but next to the DVD player so I can watch it at a moment’s notice.
When I first read Julie and Julia (the book) I counted down the days until the Meryl Streep and Amy Adams version was released in theaters. We happened to be visiting my grandparents in New Jersey on that very weekend and decided to see it together. At this point my Aunt Annette has passed away a few years earlier, and we all chatted about how much she would have adored this parallel story. I saved my ticket stub. The next day, my parents and I returned to North Carolina and my sister to Hawaii. We got a call the following day that my grandfather had unexpectedly passed away. Ironically, I had taken this photograph several nights before on our way to our favorite New Jersey Italian restaurant (which you’ll read about in my next blog).
Julie and Julia would now hold a deeper meaning to me than I ever could have imagined. Earlier this year, I began reading My Life in France, the book that Julia Child’s story in this movie is based on. As I progressed further into this novel, I began to see my own parallel’s with Julia Child’s story.
She was presented with the idea of collaborating on a cookbook. I had just made the Top 20 of Rachael Ray’s Great American Cookbook Competition.
She began writing a cookbook, and worried if anyone would be interested in learning how to make French food. I made the Top 10, and wondered if anyone would be interested in a book about transforming my childhood food memories and stories into gourmet eats.
She stayed up until 2 AM banging away on a typewriter working on her “cookbookery” as she called it. I opted out of bar hopping with my friends to hunch over my laptop until all hours of the night working on more recipes to send to the Rachael Ray team in hopes that I would advance in the competition.
As I made the Top 5, and basked in the secret glory that I would be traveling to New York in three weeks, I continued reading. At this point I was deep into Julia’s story– past the publishing of the cookbook and well into the PBS television opportunities that came her way. I learned of a legendary French chef she duo-ed with on a show called Julia and Jacques: Cooking at Home.
Three week’s later, I was not only getting an omelet lesson from Jacques Pepin himself on national television–but I got this.
It wasn’t much. A simple nudge. A smile exchanged. On the surface, a brief moment frozen in time between me and the very first surprise judge I would encounter on the show. But to me, a carefree, momentary clash of my universe with the world of Julia Child and the spirit of my Aunt Annette all in one. That day, I stood on a stage with Rachael Ray, Jacques Pepin, 4 other contestants, and a live audience of 130 people.
But it was my Aunt Annette who’s presence I felt the most. This nudge was for you–my dear Annette.