The calendar says we’re nearing the end of Julia Child’s centenary year, but the national celebration shows no sign of winding down. The outpouring of affection from fans old and new for our home-grown “French Chef” is equal parts nostalgia, homage and gratitude for teaching us that the party is in the kitchen and the only abiding rule for cooking, eating and living was her favorite maxim: “Above all, have a good time.”
As for birthday parties, she loved them, especially her own. On her 40th birthday in 1952, the Childs felt like true Parisians. Julia had mastered all the culinary technique the Cordon Bleu could teach, had opened a cooking school with two French partners, and was collaborating on a French cookbook for Americans. She was brimming with confidence and excitement for her new vocation, but change was in the air. Paul’s four-year posting in Paris was almost up and there were rumors of a transfer. They feared having to leave their beloved city for parts unknown. On August 15th tout Paris was on vacation and most of the best restaurants were closed, so they settled on the Ritz Hotel for Julia’s birthday dinner with friends. They spent the evening sipping champagne and memorizing the Paris skyline. In the years to come they’d live many places, but Paris would remain their North Star, always calling them back.
One of Julia’s favorite birthdays was her 80th, which at first stunned her. Ever focused on the next book tour or television series, she didn’t dwell on getting older. “Boutez en avant!” she would cackle, rubbing her hands together at the prospect of something new. Elaborate birthday galas from coast to coast brought out the biggest stars in the culinary firmament to pay tribute to the woman who changed the way Americans eat and think about food.
The most moving celebration came in her hometown. After an elegant dinner, the Boston Pops serenaded Julia with a composition written in her honor: “Fanfare with Pots and Pans,” played on saucepans, skillets and whisks. Paul was in failing health and unable to attend, so Diana Rigg read one of his loving birthday sonnets to his soulmate. Julia smiled through her tears.
A big party was planned for her 92nd birthday. But two days before, after sipping a bowl of her own French onion soup, and with her feisty black-and-white kitten curled up on the pillow, Julia “slipped off the raft,” as she liked to say, knowing the festivities for family and friends would go on.
On August 15, Julia Child would have been 101. To celebrate, we’re giving away 5 copies of Julia’s Cats: Julia’s Child’s Life in the Company of Cats on GoodReads.com. To enter, click here.
Julia’s Cats: Julia Child’s Life in the Company of Cats by Patricia Barey & Therese Burson is available wherever books are sold.