Culinary Historians of Ann Arbor Celebrate 100 Years of Julia Child
Kim Bayer | AnnArbor.com Contributor
Smiling beatifically from her formidable height, a cardboard cutout of Julia Child surveyed the party that the Culinary Historians of Ann Arbor held in her honor Sunday afternoon. On the tables were dishes using recipes from Julia's 17 cookbooks: ratatouille, coq au vin, corn salad, a stunning pork pate, iles flottante, custard flan, orange buttercream praline cake, and much more. Julia would have been 100 years old on Aug. 15.
For nearly 30 years, since the group's inception in 1983, the Culinary Historians of Ann Arbor have been led by Jan and Dan Longone. The Longones knew Julia personally, and this was the fourth dinner they have held in her memory.
Julia's seminal cookbook "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" was first published in 1961 and may have been the opening salvo of what has come to be known as the "good food movement." Certainly the food at Julia's birthday party reflected her axiom that “if you're afraid of butter, use cream.”
At 6 foot 5 inches tall, Julia Child was larger than life both literally and figuratively. She brooked no nonsense and suffered no fools, and yet was both incurably romantic and eminently practical. She believed “Cooking is like love; it should be entered into with abandon or not at all,” even as she tartly questioned “How can a nation be called great if its bread tastes like kleenex?” To the joy of carnivores everywhere she observed that “The only time to eat diet food is while you're waiting for the steak to cook.”
In addition to keeping Julia Child's legacy alive, the Culinary Historians of Ann Arbor meet monthly during the school year to consider the many ways in which food creates a context for culture and history, and vice versa. Past presentations have included the Longones' personal reminiscences of Julia Child, an overview of home brewing, the history of Fish Town in the Leelanau Peninsula, urban agriculture in Detroit, and the story of Madeira.
Upcoming programs will trace the history of the Coney Island restaurant (and the Greek connection), as well as guidelines for the maintenance of backyard chickens and the joys of new-laid eggs.
Back issues of Repast, the CHAA quarterly, are available through the Ann Arbor library's archive.
On her 100th birthday tomorrow, I think I'll remember Julia with her recommendation that “the best way to execute French cooking is to get good and loaded and whack the hell out of a chicken. Bon appetit.”
Kim Bayer is a freelance writer and culinary researcher. Email her at kimbayer at gmail dot com.