Where Would You Take Julia Child to Lunch?
Barney Remembers Chatting with Julia Child
Thursday, September 3, 2009
EATING WITH JULIA CHILD: Watching the new film Julie & Julia, I thought back fondly to my lunch with Julia Child in the 1980s. Where, I wondered, should I take this famous cook, author, and TV star? Was there a restaurant in town to match her palate? Turns out, there were plenty.
Julia was not a food snob. Butter may be a fearsome six-letter word to the health-inclined, but to Julia it spelled culinary gold. She taught the nation that cooking can be fun, not drudgery, and that eating was a delight, not something boring to get over with as fast as possible.
On the Beat
Julia loved food and was just as happy to dine on paper plates and Mexican food at La Super-Rica Taqueria as filet mignon on china at the Biltmore. Summerland’s Nugget burger joint, she told me, was her idea of a kick.
“Ever been to McDonald’s?” I asked. “Yes, many times,” she said. “It’s better than airline food. I love a good hamburger. And a good hot dog, when you can find one.”
As for our lunch, how about Burger King, I joked? “Oooh,” she countered in that high-pitched, upper-crust accent (even though she grew up in Pasadena). “What about the Montecito Cafe?”
So it was, but first Julia, her husband Paul, and I shared a rosy Sanford blush in her Montecito condo overlooking Hammonds Meadow. She had no microwave. No room for one, she explained. Besides, she said, “It takes a lot of the fun out of it.” She loved the sounds, sights, and smells of oven cooking.
At the Montecito Cafe, we looked to see what the people at the next table were having-a romaine salad-and it looked so good we ordered the same. Wine? I shuddered, wondering what Julia would order and whether my wallet would be whining. A $100 bottle of Dom Perignon, flown in from Napoleon’s ancestral cellar? But she ordered a house chardonnay. Whew!
Julia said she and Paul only went out to eat about once a week. “We don’t eat fancy, just good food.” How the nation chuckled when Saturday Night Live satirized her, with Dan Aykroyd flinging bloody pieces of chicken around the TV studio with dazed delight. Far from being offended, Julia had a tape made and loved to play it for guests.
The film Julie & Julia was taken from Julia Child’s memoir, My Life in France, and from the book Julie & Julia, by Julie Powell, who wrote a blog about cooking, in the space of one year, 524 of Julia’s recipes. (The ads claim “Based on Two True Stories.”) The movie also claims that no animal was injured in the making of the film. Just sliced, diced, and cooked.
Montecitan Bill Tomicki, publisher of Entree travel newsletter, recalled that decades ago, when he was working on a story about what 10 famous chefs considered their favorite kitchen instrument, Julia wrote back: “Without question, my most essential tool is my little finger, which I use to dip in for a taste.”
After she moved to Santa Barbara, Tomicki said, “We were invited to a party at her house, where she confided that her favorite hors d’oeuvres were goldfish. So when we invited her to dinner, we had goldfish. She was in heaven. Thank God we had Scotch. She drank a lot of it.” [Yes, goldfish. The species, not the cracker.]
SPITFIRE: There are feel-good movies and feel-good plays. The Spitfire Grill, on the boards at PCPA’s Festival Theater in Solvang, is one of the latter. But before the misty-eyed finale restores your lagging faith in humankind, there’s trouble right there in the small town of Gilead. Who is this tough waif-girl just out of prison, and what does she want? In last Friday’s preview performance, I cared about her a lot. You would too.
MEASURE B BATTLE: Never mind the candidates; the loudest debate so far is about Santa Barbara’s Measure B, which would reduce maximum El Pueblo Viejo building heights from the present 60 to 40 feet. At a September 9 town hall pro-and-con session at the Museum of Natural History, ex-mayor Sheila Lodge will be among pro-B speakers, with former city community development director Dave Davis taking the anti side.
LOVE FOR SALE: A woman walking her sweet little poodle/golden retriever in San Roque told me she got the pooch from the Humane Society for $35. “Proof that you can buy love,” she beamed.
COLORFUL CONDOS: The current Sunset magazine has a feature on Jeff Shelton’s colorful Cota Street Studios condo complex. It also lists 20 Coastal Discoveries, including Santa Barbara’s 1,000 Step Beach. (“Don’t worry,” Sunset soothes, “there are only 241.”)
SCRABBLE TIME: One thing you can say about Santa Barbara folks: They know how to have fun while raising money for good causes. Like the Fourth Annual Scrabble Night for Literacy on Friday, September 11, at the Public Library’s Faulkner Gallery.