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Happy Birthday Julia, the Grande Dame of cooking

By By Robert St. John / food columnist
Aug. 14, 2002
Robert St. John is the executive chef/owner of New South Restaurant Group. His weekly food column appears in newspapers in Mississippi and Louisiana. If you have questions or comments, he can be reached at or (601) 264-0672.
Emeril Lagasse is all the rage on television. But before Emeril bellowed a "Bam!," before Mario layered a lasagna and before Wolfgang spoiled a syllable, there was Julia.
Julia Child is the Grande Dame of cooking.
She has been diligently serving on the culinary front lines for 40 years. After receiving formal training at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, Mrs. Child opened a cooking school, L'Ecole des Trois Gourmandes, to teach American wives whose husbands were stationed in France the intricacies of French cooking.
In 1961 she published "Mastering the Art of French Cooking," the first of 11 books. It is still in print and remains one of the definitive works on the subject. She began her Emmy-award winning television-cooking career in Boston with "The French Chef." That was 1963 and she hasn't slowed down since.
I had the privilege of spending two separate breakfasts with Mrs. Child. I was in awe of her knowledge, passion and modesty. I learned volumes in the short time we visited. On the first occasion we talked about cooking. Her favorite ingredient butter. Her cooking advice: "Know the basics and everything else will fall into place."
During our second breakfast she shared tips on how to maintain a healthy lifestyle while cooking with classic French ingredients. I have been practicing Mrs. Child's method since March and have lost 37 pounds.
When I asked how she was able to stay fit and trim after years of cooking with heavy cream and butter, she said, "Eat small portions. Don't deny yourself good food. Have three or four bites and leave the rest on the plate." This is simple, practical, common-sense advice from a woman who practiced the same principles in her cooking.
Happy 90th birthday
Julia Child is America's most significant culinary icon. Mrs. Child was breaking through barriers before barrier-breaking was en vogue. She was the first woman in a man's world. Due to an archaic and outdated French kitchen system, female chefs were not allowed in the back-of-the-house. Some of our best chefs were stuck in home kitchens.
Even in the United States, women were considered caf waitresses but not chefs. Thanks in large part to Mrs. Child, the professional kitchen (formerly an exclusive all-male club) was liberated. She has done more for women in the workplace than she will ever be given credit for.
Later this week Julia will celebrate her 90th birthday. Across the country, some of the nation's finest restaurants will be hosting birthday dinners for Mrs. Child. The events are fund-raising benefits for The Julia Child Endowment Fund through the International Association of Culinary Professionals.
At the Purple Parrot Caf we planned on hosting a Julia Child Birthday Dinner, but the date conflicted with our remodeling plans and guests would have had to eat on paper plates in a gutted dining room. Of course, Julia wouldn't have minded as long as the food was right.
New Chef de Cuisine
However, by the time this article makes it to print we will have completely remodeled the 15-year-old restaurant and added our new Chef de Cuisine (French chefspeak for "master of the kitchen") Linda Nance.
(Note: I am the executive chef, French chefspeak for "no longer does any of the work, but still gets the glory!")
Chef Linda is a dean's list graduate of the Culinary Institute of America; Julia Child calls it "the Harvard of all cooking schools." For 15 years, she has worked at such renowned restaurants as The San Ysidro Ranch in Montecito, Calif., The Tournament Players Club and The Rainbow Room in New York.
Linda, soon to be the Grand Dame of Contemporary Seasonal Southern Cuisine, will be manning (or is that co-manning) the stoves in the Purple Parrot Caf. I am sure she would be the first to agree that Julia Child paved the way.
Happy 90th birthday, Julia. What do we say to someone who has done more for American cooking than anyone? What do we say to someone who helped pave the way for women in the professional kitchen? How do we honor someone who has made such an impact on the culinary arts that her home kitchen is on display at the Smithsonian?
We say, simply, what she would say
Bon apptit.
Hollandaise Sauce
6 egg yolks
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 cup white wine
1 teaspoon salt
11/2 cup clarified butter, warm but not too hot
Place egg yolks, lemon juice, wine and salt in a mixing bowl. Using a wire whip, mix well. Over a double boiler on medium heat, whip the egg yolks continually until they thicken. Be careful not to scramble the eggs in the process. The yolks will be ready when you see "ribbons" as you pull the whip through the mixture.
Remove from the double boiler and slowly drizzle in the warm butter, continuing to stir vigorously. If the sauce becomes too thick, use small amounts of warm water to thin it (no more than a tablespoon at a time). Once all of the butter has been incorporated, hold in a warm, but not hot, area until ready to use.
Yield: 2 cups.