Is today! Actually, to be totally accurate, it’s the 100th anniversary of her birth. She died at 92 years of age, so she didn’t make it to 100 alive, except that she lives in our memories and her legacy to American cooking.
I met her twice, once at a Smithsonian Associates lecture and once at a store demonstration, years ago; but I (along with millions) feel that I know her through her television series and books. “The French Chef” and Mastering the Art of French Cooking were the start of a movement away from canned and packaged foods and towards real, honest cooking in this country. Her legacy is tangible and ongoing for both professional and amateur chefs.
Today, as the Smithsonian is holding a celebration in the National Museum of American History, the centerpiece of the party is the (re-)opening of Julia’s kitchen. It was donated to the NMAH in 2001. While this kitchen was the set of three of her television series, the best part is that it was her actual home kitchen in Cambridge, Massachusetts, for years, and it shows.
The Smithsonian reassembled it as part of their new exhibit due to open in November, “FOOD: Transforming the American Table 1950-2000,” a serious (and overdue) treatment of how technological, social and cultural trends influenced eating in America. The kitchen is much more accessible to museum visitors, being just off the Constitution Avenue lobby instead of buried in the basement, as the previous installation was. See it quickly, as it will close again on September 3, and remain closed until the new exhibit opens.
At the press event yesterday, John Gray and Paula Johnson of NMAH welcomed us and gave us some information about the new exhibit: it will have about 300 objects in addition to the hundreds in the kitchen; it will include a ‘communal table’ at which museum visitors can express their thoughts about and experiences with food; and, perhaps most significantly, it will serve as the kickoff for The Food and Wine Project, an ambitious undertaking which will include ongoing collecting efforts, symposia and intellectual exchanges, and online and public programs. In 2015, following museum renovations, there are plans for a state-of-the-art demonstration kitchen.
I talked to Philadelphia Cousins, Julia’s niece, who was there as a representative of the Julia Child Foundation for Gastronomy and the Culinary Arts (and, of course, as a personal connection to the Ghost of Honor). She carries a family resemblance, with both her face and her height.
Asked for personal memories of her aunt, Phila said that she and her mother would often visit, especially when Julia would call and ask them to taste dishes. “I’m practicing puff pastry!” and there would be a meal with several courses of puff pastry variations.
She remembers “simple, beautiful meals.” When asked if her aunt ever talked about her service with the OAS during World War II, she would only say that she talked about meeting Paul in Ceylon – “He liked her legs quite a bit.”
I’m looking forward to the full FOOD exhibit in November. Dare I end with “Bon Appetit!”?