The learning curve as a winemaker and as a chef is forever. Julia Child helped me understand that fact of life over the many years we had as friends.
We never know it all as winemakers or chefs. There will always be more to learn about our professions if we stay curious and passionate. Julia was always interested in who was new and what were they thinking and doing in the kitchen. She loved her wines, as much as a good cocktail, but I think she enjoyed young and passionate winemakers more than the wine they made.
Julia cared about all practicing chefs. She was truly interested in what they were doing, and if we were out to dinner, she couldn’t wait to go into their kitchens and ask them questions about what they were preparing, what interested them. She was always asking questions, rarely lecturing, sincerely curious. She was always learning, and in my mind, she stayed very young to her death.
I met Julia thru the early days of the American Institute of Wine and Food in the 80s. I had built many culinary programs at Beringer, and established a School for American Chefs with the brilliant Madeline Kamman, and our paths were crossing a lot. She asked me to join the National Board for the AIWF, I agreed, and stayed on for 7 years. She then asked me to join the Board of Copia, a Center for Wine and Food she cared deeply about, spear-headed by Bob and Margret Mondavi. Again I said yes, and stayed on another 11 years.
I don’t think I ever said no to Julia. I felt if I did I would miss something important. And because of this I have many, many fond memories. I was asked to chair a dinner and AIWF Auction celebrating her 85th at the Hay Adams in Washington DC in 1997, and consequently two other annual AIWF auctions she attended and supported, and always felt at a loss for words introducing her. Maybe because she needed no introduction.
Case in point – decades after filming her ground-breaking television show, long after its reruns, we jumped on an elevator at the World Trade Center for a working lunch at Windows on the World. As the elevator filled, everyone’s eyes were on her. It was the youngest, a teen, skateboard in hand, who blurted out, “That’s Julia Child.” Everyone else of course knew that. Julia was a celebrity known and adored by many generations.
In her later years, I would escort her around the Napa Valley, driving her to various meetings, dinners, and lunches. She would still be going strong into the night when I started to wane, asking questions, and enjoying the company of others. She said she lived on small naps, never long hours of sleep, but I think she lived on being in the company of others who shared her passions; all things dealing with good food, and people, and politics.
Yes, she was very liberal. A contrast to her conservative parents from Pasadena, California. She often talked about how different her life would have been if she had not traveled to France and fallen in love with the French cuisine. In particular she adored butter. It could do no wrong, and I always sensed she would make sure I’d eat my proper amount whenever we dined together. To Julia, “Lean Cuisine” was an oxymoron, or just plain blasphemy. She knew where the real flavors hid.