Julia & Me & Michele & KCET

The success of Nora Ephron's Julie and Julia has reignited America's love of cooking. Julia Child cookbooks are selling briskly in bookstores and online. There's a daily stream of stories about America rediscovering America's master chef. That's the good news. But it's a bittersweet moment because the woman who inspired generations of foodies is no longer with us.

Julia Child was an original, an innovator, and a classic. She was a great friend of not only public television but of KCET, which she adopted as her PBS station when she moved West from Cambridge, Massachusetts. Julia attended a number of KCET events (even pledge) and was generous with her time whenever asked to help. We miss her and remember how she touched our lives.

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(At Julia's home, April 26, 2002)

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My late grandmother was the first person who taught me about cooking.  Her Eastern European specialties - potato filled varenyky, cabbage rolls, and poppy seed cakes - tasted great.  Watching Sofia prepare these dishes taught me about dexterity, measurements, ingredients.

Learning at grandmother's side prepared me for the tall funny woman who changed my way of eating and cooking when I caught her weekly series on WNET/Thirteen in 1980.  Even though I worked at the commercial NBC network in New York, I was a proud supporter of WNET.  Julia Child was one of the reasons I gladly wrote a few membership checks a year.

To my delight, Julia appeared as a guest on "Live at Five", the show I was involved with.  Not only was I honored to meet my culinary hero, but Julia's representative had her sign a series of a six VHS tapes titled The Way To Cook.  Each VHS tape focused on a different course:  Fish & Eggs; Vegetables; Poultry; Meat; First Courses & Desserts; Soups, Salads & Bread. These tapes helped refine my personal cooking style.  Many years later when I met Julia again at the KCET studios when she did pledge, I told her about those beloved tapes - and how pained I was that they went missing during my cross-country move from Manhattan to Los Angeles.

Julia's KCET pledge visit brought out many of her fans who worked at the station as well as two chefs/restaurateurs she mentored and nurtured early in their careers- Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger.  They were the popular television hosts of The Border Girls and created several popular California restaurants including The Border Grill and my personal favorite, City.

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(Susan Feniger, Mary Sue Milliken, Julia Child)

Julia loved all the attention she got in the KCET green room and on the set. She was happy to speak with everyone and pose with whoever asked her to.

Several years went by before I saw Julia again.  I drove to her town home with a camera crew to interview Julia for what was to have been a retrospective that was to run during a KCET fund-raising gala honoring the legend.  Julia had moved to a lovely seniors complex in Santa Barbara. Here is Julia discussing the mechanics of making her show.

I remember her two bedroom home well especially because of the thing that made it unique.  Julia was the one and only resident allowed to turn her guest bedroom into a kitchen.  Mind you, it was nothing like the famous large kitchen from her Cambridge, Massachusetts home.  Julia donated that enormous room along with all her kitchen ware to the Smithsonian.  Julia's Montecito kitchen was equipped with some pots and pants that were affixed to her classic pegboard on the wall.  There was a small stove and something that caught my eye - a toaster oven. When I asked her about it, Julia said she enjoyed learning new ways to prepare food using this small piece of equipment.  She did, however, make a point to have breakfast in the communal dining room at the seniors complex because, she said, she 'loved' the bacon!

My colleague spent a lot of time with Julia, visiting her often, taking her around.  Julia loved spending time with Michele Garza, KCET's executive director of Special Events and Promotion.  I asked Michele to share her remembrance of Julia:

"I was first able to meet Julia when I planned a reception for the release of one of her PBS series in the early 1990's. From that time forward, Julia generously invited me to join her often for lunch and frequent visits to her cozy townhouse in Montecito. In reflection, the three attributes that best describe Julia are that she was extremely kind, modest, and thoughtful. When we went to lunch we would select dishes that could be shared. She thought it to be much more fun then one plate of a single entrée. She never allowed the low calorie, low fat mentality to interfere in our menu selection. She always said everything in moderation, that is how I live my live, and I'm in my 80's dear. Then she proceeded to relay a story to me about a woman she met at a dinner who asked her advice about proper nutrition and how she could improve her dull hair and dry skin. And Julia's reply to her was not enough butter in your life. She didn't believe in dieting, but a proper diet of fresh food and absolutely no snacking in between meals. The last time I saw Julia before she passed away was for lunch with my husband Raul on a sunny Saturday afternoon. We sat on her patio relaxing and enjoying roast chicken and a glass of wine. I was very amused by the fact that the center of the conversation and our full attention was on her new lovely and very playful little kitten. She was one of a kind."

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(Raul Garza, Julia Child, Michele Garza)

I will remember Julia for the rest of my life for the wonderful work she did and for the joy she continues to bring into our lives.

Au Revoir, Julia.

About the Author

Bohdan is Vice President, Broadcast, Syndication, and Program Development for KCETLink.
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Bohdan,

You LUCKY LUCKY man. She's my hero. Tops my list of "if you could have anyone over for a dinner party, who would it be?" Thanks for sharing your memories and the sentiment so many of us--her fans--feel.

Toujours, bon appetit!

Kelly

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Kelly, thank you for your note. I really believe I would not have taken up cooking as enthusiastically as I have (I prepare most of my own meals and enjoy the process) had it not been for Julia Child. I used to believe French cooking was something only others, people who had gone to culinary schools, could do. But Julia changed my mind and I still use her cookbook till this very day. (And I use the full amounts of butter too because she told us it would make the food taste that much better - and it does). Thanks, again. Bohdan

Bohdan you have done a wonderful job of humanizing this complex woman - as opposed to the inane ramblings of that simple-minded sociopath "Julie". Now I am hungry for pierogis, which is bad news for ridding myself of the Rosemary's Baby bump I'm currently growing...off to do some sit-ups instead...Beauregard

What a marvelous blog Bohdan. My sister and I were reminiscing just this week about watching Julia when we were young. She was a delight to watch and her "joie de vivre" really came through for us both. We both saw the recent encore presentation of her making bouillabaisse.

Thanks for the wonderful stories and video.

Now -- off to the fish monger.
M