Chefs, Farmers, and Food Lovers Celebrate Julia Child
Santa Barbara Culinary Experience Combines Restaurant Week with Taste of S.B. Weekend
By Matt Kettmann & George Yatchisin | May 12, 2022
Julia Child is so hot right now.
There’s a scripted series on HBO Max that was just renewed for a second season; a documentary by Oscar-nominated directors Julie Cohen and Betsy West; a cooking contest on Food Network/Discovery+ judged by famous cooks and restaurateurs; a podcast with more than 150 episodes featuring top chefs, writers, and food thinkers; and an increasing impactful annual award given in her name at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.
“Julia Child passed away nearly 18 years ago, but she still leaves an impressive ability to continue teaching Americans about the joys of culinary pursuits,” said Eric Spivey, a longtime friend of Julia and chairman of The Julia Child Foundation for Gastronomy and the Culinary Arts. “Her literary and television career remains relevant and impactful for new generations of people.”
Santa Barbara County is where Julia spent many of her summers (when in Pasadena), winters (when in Boston), and last few years of her life (at Casa Dorinda in Montecito), and now the region is celebrating that connection with the inaugural “Taste of Santa Barbara,” which runs May 16-22. The event is hosted by the Santa Barbara Culinary Experience (SBCE), which was founded by Spivey and others in 2019 to be a public interface for The Julia Child Foundation.
The nonprofit’s first event ever was supposed to be in March 2020 on that fateful weekend when the country shut down due to the pandemic. “While deeply disappointing for everyone that we had to cancel the event, it provided us time to learn the power and limits of virtual events,” explained Spivey, who hosted a number of virtual experiences in 2021. “It also gave us new information to refine the programming resulting in a broad and inclusive set of events for all the community to enjoy.”
That means the 2022 Taste of S.B. weekend — which is being combined with Santa Barbara Restaurant Week — is SBCE’s in-real-life coming-out party. It’s a mix of edible enjoyment, with special dishes and drinks made to honor Julia and Paul Child all week; educational nourishment, with a documentary screening on Friday, food sustainability panels on Saturday, and farm tours on Sunday; and a proper wine toast, with a dozen wineries pouring for crowds at the Presidio on Sunday. Read on for more details, and cheers to Julia!
See sbce.events for the full lineup, tickets, and more.
– By Matt Kettmann
Dishing Up a New Julia
When Oscar-nominated directors Julie Cohen and Betsy West set out to make a documentary about the legendary Julia Child, they realized the public believed they knew her. That meant their goal was for a tone that was, as Cohen puts, “Not the same old same old.” People can find out how they made the story new when their film Julia is screened as part of the Santa Barbara Culinary Experience’s Taste of Santa Barbara weekend on Friday, May 20, 7 p.m. at SBCC’s Garvin Theatre, with the directors on hand for a post-film Q&A.
Early on, chef Marcus Samuelsson, one of the first of many fascinating talking heads, calls Child “the Madonna of television chefs,” an outlandish comparison that’s also apt, as both challenged what celebrity women could and should do. Next, footage of a roasting chicken is set to Jimi Hendrix’s “Fire.” Sure, Child began her breakthrough public TV show The French Chef in the 1960s, but rocker Hendrix still seems from a very different world than the Pasadena-born patrician dishing up boeuf Bourguignon.
“It’s trial and error, coming up with the right song to use,” Cohen said in a recent Webex interview. “We tried it with some Vivaldi, and we both looked at each other and instantly said, ‘No!’” When the Hendrix got tested, they knew they landed on something to capture more of Child’s subversive side. Cohen continued, “At one point, Hendrix sings, ‘Get on with it, baby,’ and we have that right when someone bastes the chicken….” West jumped in: “We liked it a lot.”
For their film, while providing a relatively traditional and engaging chronicle though Child’s amazing life — a WWII stint in the OISS (precursor to the CIA); co-authoring Mastering the Art of French Cooking, arguably the first blockbuster cookbook; only becoming famous until after she was 50, etc. — it is more than anything else a love story. In fact, Julia’s marriage to Paul Child was one of the themes that most attracted Cohen and West to the project.
“We like making documentaries that are also date movies,” Cohen said (hinting back to their previous smash RBG). “Paul was such a Renaissance man, but he was also not the easiest guy to deal with in the world unless you were Julia Child.” The film vividly captures how he subsumes his own life to help support Julia as she becomes the first food world superstar and then manages to maintain that position for decades.
Cohen and West very consciously work the food/sex metaphor, too, especially in a sequence capturing the making of a pear tart that is delicious food porn. “Our food stylist, Susan Spungen, suggested the pears as particularly sexy,” West recalled, “and then our two cinematographers, Claudia Raschke in New York and Nanda Fernandez Brédillard in Paris, really leaned into the sensuality of those images.” The pears even get paired with a tasteful nude of Julia in silhouette that Paul, a very talented photographer, took in their Paris apartment.
Given the wealth of primary sources — footage, photos, letters — Cohen and West had more than enough to work with to shape their film. But their archival team also dug up footage not seen before, such as clips of Child appearing with Hugh Downs. Alas, given she only lived in Montecito for the final three of her 91 years, the
film doesn’t deal with her time here. “The core of the film is about what made Julia Julia,” West pointed out. “She didn’t become the French chef and rest on her laurels.”
The film stresses how, while denying she was a feminist, Child lived an exemplar feminist life. In particular, she was a public supporter of Planned Parenthood to the point where the film shows anti-choice people protesting her appearances. “She risked her reputation; she didn’t just write a check,” West said. Cohen added, “In Julia’s era, she was one of the first to take such a public stance. Some of the celebrity activism you’re seeing now is thanks to her.”
But Child might be most revolutionary for making America care again about food, teaching us to toss out the TV dinners for what we learned from the gangly, enthusiastic, willing-to-make-mistakes TV chef. Much of the documentary was created during the pandemic, and Cohen claimed, “We were reminded how important and central having a good food experience with the people you love in your own kitchen can be. It punctuated a lot of what Julia believed in.” – George Yatchisin
Julia screens at SBCC’s Garvin Theatre on Friday, May 20, 7 p.m., followed by a conversation with the directors.
Restaurant Week Returns
This year, Santa Barbara Restaurant Week is working in tandem with the Taste of S.B. event, but the basics are similar since the promotion began back in 2018: The more than 30 participating establishments are serving set menus priced at $30, $40, and $50, alongside a few wineries that are offering special flights at $20, $25, and $30.
The big difference from years past is that restaurants didn’t have to pay to be part of the campaign this year. “With our hospitality industry hit so hard by the pandemic, we wanted to make Restaurant Week as accessible as possible to all restaurants, as a way to shine a light on as many as possible, so all fees were waived so anyone can participate,” said Donna Yen, SBCE’s executive director. “We hope it encourages diners to explore new restaurants they’ve never tried before.”
Taste of Santa Barbara Wines @ El Presidio
To toast Santa Barbara County’s thriving wine industry, Taste of Santa Barbara is hosting a dozen wineries at El Presidio de Santa Bárbara State Historic Park, located at the prominent downtown corner of East Canon Perdido and Santa Barbara streets. Tasting stations from every sub-appellation in the county will be sprinkled around the grounds, and there will be a series of panels inside the chapel throughout the afternoon to shed more light on the people and places behind these wines.
“The Presidio’s beauty and storied past is why we chose the venue to host Taste of Santa Barbara Wines, because part of the goal with this event is to deepen the experience of tasting wines with a storytelling component,” said Yen. “Guests will get to hear stories from these talented winemakers, and learn about their unique journeys of making wine.”
The event will be Sunday, May 22, from 1-4 p.m.
Dine Around Town with Julia & Cocktail Crawl with Paul
A still-growing number of restaurants and bars are crafting dishes and drinks in honor of both Julia and her cocktail-loving husband, Paul Child.
As of last count, there were 16 participants signed up, including Barbareño’s lamb al pastor ode to Julia’s fave Mexican spot on Milpas, La Super-Rica; Eye on I’s Coquilles Saint Jacques, a scallop dish that appears in her first book; Bossie’s Kitchen’s pain perdu bread pudding with vanilla custard; Test Pilot’s Carioca Quencher, with rum, lemon, apricot, honey, and soda; and Loquita’s La Julia, with gin, Lustau Blanco, celery bitters, and lemon oil.
“We’re excited to see everyone getting creative here and think that people will love seeing the various tributes all around town!” said Yen.
Experience the Farms
For those seeking to get intimate with where their food comes from, Taste of S.B. is coordinating a number of farm and food production tours around Santa Barbara County, from exploring the Rock Front Ranch up in the Cuyama Valley and learning about bread and wine production in Lompoc at Piedrasassi to picking blueberries and strawberries, touring a regenerative farm, and seeing how a downtown soup kitchen works. Most tours are on Sunday, May 22, and cost $25, but see sbce.events/regional-farm-tours for details.
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