My Life with Julia
“…their biggest gift was to live their lives in an exemplary way: they taught us the importance of passion, doggedness, creativity and humor.”
Q: what are some of your favorite memories of Julia and Paul? A:
Mostly about eating, of course. Julia’s kitchen in Cambridge was her laboratory, and the center of the house. We’d sit around the big table there talking—about movies, politics, food—while she tinkered with some new recipe on her old Garland stove. There were all sorts of giant knives and copper pots and exotic culinary contraptions in her kitchen—like the giant mortar and pestle she bought in Paris. (Her entire kitchen is on display at the Smithsonian.) This seemed natural to me, and it was only much later that I realized how lucky I was to spend time with her. In Maine, Julia would join us in picking strawberries, fishing for mackerel and digging for clams. She’d make chowder, bouillabaisse, lobsters, bread, jams and berry pies, and—our favorite—lace cookies. In New York, Julia would sometimes take us along to a fund-raiser she was doing, and then we’d go out to a restaurant, where they’d seat us in the middle of the room and feed us way too much food. Afterward, Julia made a point of going into the kitchen to thank everyone from the dishwasher to the head chef. Entering a restaurant with her was an experience; I’ve seen near-riots break out when Julia walked into a room. Once, a woman at a fancy restaurant set her napkin on fire when she knocked a candle over in a rush to get Julia’s autograph. Julia handled the crush of attention very well; Paul didn’t like it much but put up with it for her sake. We visited Paul and Julia in Provence a number of times. Shopping at the great outdoor market in Cannes, Julia spoke to every vegetable and meat purveyor, and, naturally,
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they loved her. In 1976, when I was 14, she took us to La Colombe d’Or, a restaurant in St. Paul de Vence, where I had my first really extraordinary, three-plus-hour French lunch. Then Paul set up a TV on the veranda, and we watched the Montreal Olympics while Julia grilled the most delicious chicken I’ve ever eaten. Of course, one of my best memories of all is spending time with Julia at the end of her life: we were writing this book together, and getting to know each other—and our family stories—all over again. I feel very lucky to have spent this private, reflective time with her.
Q: when did you first learn that Julia was writing a book about her life?
The years she lived in France, Julia said, were “among the best of my life.” It was there that she figured out who she was and what she wanted to do with herself. And for almost as long as I can remember, she talked about writing a book about that time—“the France book.” In 1969, Paul suggested printing the letters that he and Julia had written to my grandparents from France. But the publishers weren’t interested. Julia liked the idea, though, and kept notes about it. In her desk, I found files of things she had written about her experiences there—her first meal in Rouen; how to shop for partridge in Paris, or fish in Marseille; the trials and tribulations of getting Mastering the Art of French Cooking written and published. But for some reason, “the France book” never got written.
Quarterly magazine of the Taft School