(Julia Child would have celebrated her 100th birthday this week. The fallowing appeared in a Nibbles column originally published in Yellow Scene magazine in 2009)
It was my father, the Austrian-born anesthesiologist, who turned me on to Julia Child, and not Mom, who did all the cooking. I would hear him laughing in the TV room and go in to find out what was so funny. I couldn’t believe he was watching a cooking show. Heck, in the 1960s, The French Chef was the only food show on our black-and-white Zenith.
But it was clear Dad didn’t care about the cuisine particularly. He thought of Joooo-leeeee-ahhh as a talented and hilarious stand-up cooking comedian.
All I knew at that point was that Julia made food and cooking a fun adventure. Perhaps she was the early spark that eventually led me to a culinary career.
Decades later when I finally encountered Julia Child in the flesh at a luncheon at Denver’s old Wellshire Inn, I was awestruck, but she couldn’t have been more “aw shucks” about her celebrity status. As the Daily Camera’s food editor, I got to see a lot of Julia and interview her while covering the Aspen Food & Wine Classic where she was the biggest draw at that then-obscure little event. Chicken were her constant comic foil.
In her later years, she would shuffle onto the cooking demonstration stage, shoulder’s deeply hunched and looking quite elderly. Could she still pull it off, we sadly wondered? Then she would turn on her mic and herself. She’d pick up a chicken and become magically transfigured into the familiar, dynamic, icon who always concluded with a hearty “bon appétit.”
The last time I saw Julia in Aspen, I did something that I almost never do as a journalist: I asked for her autograph. I told her I’d never cooked her recipes because I don’t usually use recipes, but I deeply appreciated what she’d done for the American palate. She asked me who the signature was for. “It’s for me,” I said. That notebook cover bearing the words “For John, Julia Child” is among my most precious keepsakes.
Dad was always supportive of my career and a little mystified about my choice. But he was never more impressed than when I showed him the autograph.
“What was she like?” he asked.
“She was Julia, just like on TV,” I said, “except much taller and really funny.”
He broke into a huge smile. I cherish that too.
John Lehndorff is the editor of Colorado Table in the Aurora Sentinel, Buckley Guardian and Life Science publications and sites. He writes the Nibbles column. For more information about food events, festivals, tastings, tours, markets and more, visit Colorado Table: aurorasentinel.com/colorado-table. Send information about food events, classes, festivals, wine dinners and tours in the metro area and all over Colorado to: email@example.com
• Radio Nibbles, 8:25 a.m. Thursdays, KGNU (88.5 FM, 1390 AM, and KGNU.org. Details: Weekly chat about all things culinary in Colorado (and the world) with r John Lehndorff