Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Happy Birthday, Julia and Thank You for the Gift

MUSE

Muse:
a) any of a number of sister goddesses;
b) any goddess presiding over a particular art;
c) the goddess or the power regarded as inspiring a poet, artist, thinker or the like;
d) the genius or powers characteristic of a poet.
- Random House Dictionary

I was given a set of Mastering the Art of French Cooking in 1986 just after I had moved to France, which was, when I come to think of it, a bit like bringing coals to Newcastle or, as I did, bringing a pasta machine to Italy. Although I have always loved my copies of Mastering, it wasn’t Julia Child who taught me to make Blanquette and Daube, ratatouille and mayonnaise. No, I learned how to make the French classics from my French husband, a man who had never even heard of Julia Child, The French Chef, until well into our marriage when I explained who she was. His response? There was no revelation, no epiphany, no beginning of a love affair with her recipes. No, he shrugged his shoulders and promptly forgot about her. I mean, he is French, grew up learning to cook from his own Maman so what would he need with Julia Child, une américaine?



 I have long been fascinated by Julia yet, unlike so many of my American friends, it’s never really been about the food. Oh, I know the lady could cook! I do have charming memories of watching The French Chef when I was a kid but it didn’t particularly inspire me to cook. If we learn from example, then I was more likely to make a big pot of cabbage soup or pop a tv dinner into the oven than try and concoct clafoutis or coq au vin; I never attempted to cook like Julia Child nor did I expect French food to ever appear on my mother’s kitchen table. No, I wasn’t an enthusiastic fan of The French Chef for the food. What I loved about those shows was Julia herself. It was her enormous personality, her energy, her own passion for cooking – and eating - and her humor that inspired and entertained me. Her casual nonchalance, her endearing lack of grace and lack of beauty made me, a clumsy ugly duckling, a little more at ease with myself, less embarrassed by my faults and maybe a bit more confident in my own talents, whatever they would turn out to be. The Galloping Gourmet, my other television hero, was all sexiness and suavity, charisma, British accent and perfection while Julia was, well, Julia.

Today, my personal relationship with, my passion for Julia Child has transformed into something else completely. As I have gotten older, our connection has grown more complex. Thirty some odd years or more after first discovering her on television, twenty-five years after receiving her cookbooks, what fascinates and inspires me today was Julia’s age when she discovered her passion for cooking, her age when she embarked on an entirely new career. Julia was a ripe old 36 when she arrived in Paris and succumbed to the incredible cuisine and ambiance of her adopted country, 37 when she enrolled at Le Cordon Bleu cooking school. She was in her forties, stoutly Middle Aged, when she embarked on her career of teaching, cooking and writing, 49 when published for the first time. You see, I moved to France, not quite as old as Julia was but almost and slowly discovered the incredible food. I was married and pushing middle age before I, too, began my own love affair with French cuisine.


And here I am, like Julia, a woman of a certain age, on the brink of starting over, embarking on my own new career. Julia has become my role model, a woman who was able to transform and recreate herself, daring to start over long past the age that we are told we should already know who we are and where we are going. Long past my own prime, or so society tells me, I glance around at all the young whippersnappers in their teens, twenties and thirties who have discovered their own passions for writing or photography, some of whom leave college armed with creative writing or journalism degrees or those who go onto culinary school or are given a camera when still a babe in arms and it intimidates me. I question my choices and the possibilities of a future. I wonder if I am just plain crazy to be doing this now and up against all of those who have been at it for years. And so Julia’s own history, her life, which is in many ways similar to my own, reassures and spurs me on.

I look at those old black and white episodes of The French Chef and see a funny, witty woman, not particularly elegant, larger than life who tromped fearlessly through France in her size 12 shoes, who grabbed at life with much more gusto than the average human can muster up on any ordinary day. I see a woman who made a name for herself in what was thoroughly and insistently a man’s world in both France and the US. And I am encouraged. Connected by the revelation of a first sole meunière, mine eaten at that venerable old Parisian icon Chartier, hers at La Couronne in Rouen, a first oyster, mine tasted with the same mixture of curiosity and intrigue at a bustling brasserie on La Place de la Bourse, culinary lightbulbs popping and flashing, Julia and I are united by the irresistible urge to make food our life, our career. And while she dove in head first, no looking back, and I tiptoed in rather hesitantly, we both stumbled upon a passion and a new start quite by accident and surprise and later in life than either one of us should have.

In my constant search for inspiration, Julia is my muse.


Julia Child’s 100th birthday is bringing out the nostalgic in all of us. Fans all across America talk about how Julia inspired, gave them the courage to take to the kitchen and, whisk in hand, whip up their own mayonnaise or hollandaise; she encouraged them to master a traditional bouillabaisse; she offered the perfect recipe for the perfect clafoutis; she had the country rolling out homemade pastry dough for an authentic Quiche Lorraine. Proverbial sticks of butter are being laid at the altar of the Grande Dame of classic French cooking updated for the modern American kitchen. Yet while all wax eloquent on how Julia got them cooking, I thank her for simply, unknowingly inspiring me to write, to forge a new career, for giving me the assurance to start over at my age and for doing it joyously, confidently and with relish. As Julia once said, “Find something you are passionate about and keep tremendously interested in it.” And to slightly appropriate another of Julia’s truths “The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking – and writing - you've got to have a what-the-hell attitude.” 

Happy Birthday, Julia Child!

29 comments:

Maureen | Orgasmic Chef said...

I couldn't agree with you more. I always watched Julia on tv when I was young and her show was live. Even then I was in awe of how she could do all that, mistakes included, and seem like it didn't bother her at all. It didn't!

I learned from her that cooking and sharing food is a joy and who cares if you drop the omelet on the floor. Bin it and start over.

I LOVE this post!

judy witts said...

Lovely!!! I met Julia when she would stay at the hotel I worked in San Francisco. She and Marian Cunningham ( who told me i was not to old to start) were my muses for women that cooked!

I actually cooked more from Jacque Pepin though!
and although I have French blood--- ended up in Italy and my Italian Muse-- is Marcella Hazan!

Thank god for dreams! and making them come true.

Tina Concetta said...

I grew up with Julia as well. Though I like to cook, it's hard to get time in the kitchen when you're husband is a chef and dominates that part of the house. I just finished reading Julia's book "My Life in France" and loved every page. She was a remarkable woman, with not only a passion for good food and cooking, but a passion for life with great humor and spirit. Happy Birthday Julia.

Amanda said...

Jamie, this is a WONDERFUL post and I thank you for it. Like you and Julia, I'm finding my legs in a new field at an unfashionable age, but I figure it's now or never and I'm just loving every minute and every challenge!

Mehmona Ruby said...

Happy Birthday, Julia ,. I always watched Julia on tv when I was young . Thanks for sharing your Article with us :)

Mehmona Ruby said...

Happy Birthday, Julia , I always watched Julia on tv when I was young . well thanks for sharing your article with us .Gifts to Pakistan

Rosa's Yummy Yums said...

A beautiful ode to Julia Child! An interesting person/character for sure.

Cheers,

Rosa

WiseMóna said...

What a lovely tribute to Julia. I have ony cooked one of here recipes ... Boeuf Bourguignon ... But use her rule of thumb in this effort all the time. Do not clutter up the meat dishes with unnecessary vegetables. She is certain,y an inspiration Jamie ... But then again so are you x

WiseMóna said...

Jamie... While I think Julia is still a massive inspiation to any and all aspiring cooks and writers, I also hold you in the exact same regard x

La Table De Nana said...

I bet she loves what you just wrote!I do!

Bunkycooks said...

Cheers to Julia and to inspiring something in all of us, whether it is a love of cooking, a change in careers or the ability to do something later in life. I often think about her age and how much she accomplished in what at the time, would have definitely seemed impossible. We still have lots of fire in us Jamie, so always remember that! :-) BTW, this was beautifully written.

Ivy said...

I only found out about Julia Child from the film. At the early years of blogging I knew none of the American celebrities because we didn't see their shows in Greece. Only recently have we been seeing Gordon Ramsey and Nigella. I like Ramsey but I don't bother to watch Nigella, as I watched a couple of shows and didn't like them. I can't understand the frenzy about making the above or other chefs (I mean generally even Greek chefs) heroes. It's their job and they do it well.

Barbara | Creative Culinary said...

When I first saw Julia Child she was just a character; not a muse. She was more just a sort of crazy lady on PBS with a funny voice. But as I grew older and cooking became more important, I discovered the talent behind the personality and I was hooked.

I have always loved her very down to earth demeanor but I can not deny, I LOVE that she was so tall...it's something special I've always thought we had in common that few others shared!

Beautiful tribute Jamie.

Sunchowder said...

Beautiful, post. I can so relate as I too, have recreated myself and am still not sure that I am going in the right direct. So well done.

Heather Schmitt-Gonzalez said...

Here, here! Beautifully written, Jamie. I'm with Julia (and you), it's NEVER too late and you're NEVER too old to follow your passion. You're in the right place. =)

Lisa said...

Beautiful tribute to Julia, Jamie. What's so great is,l she proved there is NO age limit when it comes to cooking. Yes...a certain look may attract the media/advertisers, but without the chops, how much further can one go? I think I own every DVD set of Julia..from her early years to later years, so I can see her whenever I want :) Bon Appetit!

Cake Duchess said...

I am giggling at what Barb wrote because when I was little, she was the crazy lady on PBS with the funny voice. But I was hooked by that funny voice and charming smile and am still hooked today, like most of the rest of the world. Sweet tribute to an inspiring and talented lady.

Barbara Bakes said...

Such a great gift she gave to all of us. Especially we women of a certain age trying to reinvent ourselves. :)

Kiran @ KiranTarun.com said...

A very thoughtful tribute, Jamie :) Have you watched, Julie & Julia?

Jamie said...

@Sunchowder: Ha Wendy, if YOU aren't going in the right direction with the turning your life has taken than I don't know who is! HUG to you!

Sanjeeta kk said...

Beautiful tribute Jamie..and yes inspiring too in every sense..for forty plus moms like me who started their foodie expedition late in life.

Jeanne said...

A beautiful post and I love the parallels you draw. I had never even heard of Julia, growing up in South Africa, until I started blogging 8 years ago but have developed a deep affection for her enthusiasm, fearlessness and food.

Lora said...

A beautiful, inspiring and heartfelt post Jamie. Loved it. One day if we ever have a glass of wine together I will share some hilarious stories of producing Julia on TV shows. She was hilarious and an original off camera as well.

Lydia (The Perfect Pantry) said...

Like Julia, you will find your true place in the food world a bit later in life, but in order to do what you want to do, you have to have lived a little first. Julia brought the sum of her experiences to her work, first the cookbooks and then television. You will bring the sum of your experiences to your writing, too.

MyKitchenInHalfCups said...

Always it is the gift of the self that is of most value. She gave us herself: unpolished, unrehearsed and unbridled enthusiasm. I think it's why she inspires so many from so many directions.
Lovely post.

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

I had a suspicion that you might do a post about Julia's birthday Jamie ;) I knew it would be good but again you've really highlighted one of the things that delighted me too. It's never too late to find your calling or be published! :D

Minnie@thelady8home said...

What a beautiful post Jamie! I didn't know that Julia started so late!! Or the fact that she was so unassuming about herself. The more I know about her, the more fascinated I am. Wonderful wonderful write up!

You have one lovely blog here, and though I am too new at this, I do want you to know I love your blog.A small token of appreciation from me - 'One Lovely Blog' award.
http://www.thelady8home.com/2012/08/18/happy-weekend-a-refreshing-drink-and-one-lovely-blog-award/

Robin | what-about-the-food said...

Cooking aside, the tribute to a strong, passionate woman who challenges the norms and male centric fields and bravely pushes through failures and turns them into tremendous success. What a character, role model and delight. We need women like these in our lives so when we are feeling self-conscious, timid or a bit fearful their kind of examples encourage us to keep moving forward.

Your post is truly a lovely tribute and reminder of the gift she was. Well written and personal. So you.

Carolyn Jung said...

I was lucky enough to interview her a couple times in person. She was just the way she was on TV -- frank, full of wit and passionate about everything. Truly one of a kind.

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