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Eight Forty-Eight

Julia Child's Chicago

The film Julie and Julia tells the story of two women who find their life's meaning – in food. Julie Powell is a writer who blogs about working her way through every recipe in Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Julia Child is the legend behind that cookbook classic. The movie – and Meryl Streep's performance – have been praised for bringing the exuberant Child back to life. But Eight Forty-Eight's Kristin Moo discovered some surprising Chicago details about the grand chef.

Julia Child loved Chicago.

 

DALEY: She loved to eat at Billy Goat tavern and Lou Mitchells. And she got along with Chicagoans very well and she responded in kind. Chicago is city of big shoulders, and she had big shoulders.

Bill Daley is a food and wine critic for the Chicago Tribune. He found a photo that shows the 6-foot-2 Julia in the Tribune's test kitchen in 1961, just after she published Mastering the Art of French Cooking. And she kept coming back.

There were all sorts of publicity events for her books and her cooking show on PBS. But on top of that, Chicago was a frequent stopover in between her homes in California and Massachusetts. And so many Chicagoans came to know Julia well, and recognized a certain prairie spirit in her blood.

Judy Hevrdjes covered Julia Child's 1981 visit to Chicago for a housewares show.

HEVRJEDES: She was a pioneer girl at heart. Let's make the best of what we've got, and let's work it…

In fact, Julia notes in her autobiography that her paternal grandparents came from Illinois farm country. And her parents met in Chicago. That's no surprise to longtime Tribune food editor Carol Haddix.

HADDIX: She was so practical, so down to earth, very much like a Midwesterner. And she was very friendly. No matter who it was, she would stop and talk to people.

Julia's love of humanity is a characteristic echoed without fail by her Chicago friends and acquaintances.

JOHO: I'm Jean Joho, and have Everest Restaurant and Brasserie Jo in Chicago.

He and Julia became friends in the '80s. He cooked for her 80th birthday celebration.

JOHO: She was a party lady. She wanted a party. And she let you know, she liked her 80th birthday. She like to keep it going for a whole month, if possible she make it for the whole year. She like a party.

Joho recalls one evening in Chicago—he had just opened Brasserie Jo, and Julia was finishing a late seven-course meal at Everest.

JOHO: She said, Okay, I heard you have a new restaurant in town. I said, Yeah, the name is Brasserie Jo. I want to go see it. And this is at 11:00 at night. Okay, fine. And we go over there, and she's like, oh, are we eating here. Julia, I have no promise we can eat. We just come from a dinner. Oh no, I no can leave before I have another meal. I need a beer here. You have some wonderful draft beer. I need a beer.

Joho fixed up appetizers, and some beef Wellington, but that's not all.

JOHO: This person at 1:30 in the morning, you know, she took her time. We were 5 or 6 people, she told some jokes. And like, Julia, you know I have to take you back to the hotel and she's like oh no, I'm fine, I'm fine, my TV show tomorrow morning is only at 6:00, and that's was Julia, that's who she was.

Joho's also cooked in Julia's kitchen, as have many Chicago chefs.

CLIP: Pastry chef Gale Gand puts her training as an artist to good use in creating such delightful desserts as this towering napoleon. And this fettuccini ice cream sandwich. Learn how to do it on Baking with Julia!

At their home in a Northwest suburb of Chicago, Gand's twin four-year-old daughters prepare a Barbie tea party… right in the midst of Julia's old Madeleine pans.

GAND: After she died and her home was being disassembled…
RUBY: I'm having a tea party!
GAND: (laughs)
RUBY: Having a tea party!
MOO: Those Madeleines would go great with the tea party.
GAND: (Laughs.) After Julia died, most of her kitchen went to the Smithsonian…

And some items were sold in an auction; that's how Gand got these lovingly tarnished pans.

GAND: They had crumbs on them. When I got them. Like, her crumbs. And it was a big dilemma. Do I wash them, do I use them, do I not? And I was testing a recipe for one of my cookbooks, and I needed Madeleine pans. And the only ones I had were Julia's. And I have a saying, which is WWJD. Which doesn't mean “what would Jesus do,” it means “what would Julia do.” And Julia would totally use them. So I did.

Now, with the line-up so far, you might think you had to be some kind of world class chef to be friends with Julia. Scott Warner is the program chair for the Culinary Historians of Chicago, and a freelance food writer. He calls himself “an average food schmo” who says he may not have known Julia all that well. But that doesn't mean she didn't know him. Warner recalls running into her at a food writers conference early on in their acquaintance.

WARNER: She looked up with a smile, her eyes were twinkling. 'The name is Scott,' and I was astounded. and she said, 'and everybody's been calling you Steve.'

Their friendship continued through the last years of her life.

WARNER: One year, when she was in Chicago, I had lunch with her at the Ritz-Carlton café. And I told my boss. I didn't ask him permission to take a long lunch. I said I'm having lunch with Julia child and I'll be gone for three hours…

And he was.

WARNER: I realized at that luncheon, I'm sorry, but I was actually falling in love with her literally. She was 84 years old? Her body was failing. But I looked at her and I saw a 25 year old girl, the spirit was there. And I understand with others that they felt the same way.

Indeed, even though Julia died five years ago, the Tribune's Bill Daley says that spirit is still present, right here in Chicago.

DALEY: She had Trotter on her TV show, she had Bayless. Abby Mandel, who did the Green Market, she was a mentor for Abby, and pushed her along. There's a lot of people here who got inspiration or a push from her. And we all still get to enjoy it now.

So the next time you're at Frontera Grill, the Green City Market, or even Charlie Trotter's or Tru, share some good food with good friends, and think of Julia Child.

JULIA: So that's all today on the French Chef. This is Julia Child. Bon appetit!

RELATED:
Julia on PBS
The Chicago Tribune's Julia photos
Julia Child movie sparks food tributes (via The Chicago Tribune):
Chef Gale Gand
Chef Joho
Baking with Julia

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