Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Julia Child Panel Discussion

Julia Child Panel Discussion
I enjoyed seeing Julie & Julia even more the second time around. The theater was full and that made a big difference. It's a light romantic comedy, not a documentary, but the scenes with Julia are pure joy. Just as wonderful was hearing several of her friends and colleagues reminisce about her at a panel discussion put on by the San Francisco Professional Food Society after the screening.

The moderator was Janet Fletcher, author and food writer at the San Francisco Chronicle. The panelists were Roberta Klugman, past Executive Director of the American Institute of Wine & Food, Margrit Mondavi, Vice President of Cultural Affairs at Robert Mondavi Winery; James Dodge, cookbook author and Director, Specialty Culinary Programs, Bon Appetit Management Company; Lexi Leban, the Academic Director of Digital Filmmaking & Video Production at The Art Institute of California and Linda Carucci, Chef Director at the The International Culinary School at The Art Institute of California.

Here are some stories panelists told about Julia:

Margrit Mondavi shared her impression that there was "nothing artificial" about Julia. She felt the portrayal in the movie was a little exaggerated but agreed with Roberta Klugman that it brought Julia back to life. She said Julia always wanted to go out for Chinese food and she realized, it was because it reminded her of her romance with her husband Paul whom she met in Asia.

She also told a funny story about being at Copia with a number of "ladies of certain age" each complained about their aches and pains and each had a more esoteric remedy to recommend than the next. Finally Julia commented, "Why don't you just take two Tylenol? It works!"

Jim Dodge remarked how down to earth she was, and recounted how at a dinner there was once a woman who was wearing lots of expensive jewelry and going on and on about it endlessly. Finally Julia interrupted, stared directly at her and said, "See this watch, I got it at Longs Drugs, for $9.99!" The boorish woman clammed up after that.

While living in Los Angeles, Dodge used to pick her up in his red truck and take her to lunch. He said she loved the truck and being up so high so she could see everything. One day he asked her where she wanted to go for lunch and she surprised him by saying Costco. Costco? Why did she want to go there, he asked. "Don't you know, she said, they have the best hot dogs!" She ordered a hot dog and a Coke, he said, never a Diet Coke. He watched the customers recognize her but stare is disbelief. Afterwards she said, "Let's go inside and look for bargains," and so they did.

Her care and concern for others and they way she nurtured professionals was mentioned by all the panelists and illustrated by this story as well. Dodge shared that she loved steak and once he noticed she was having difficulty because her steak was so overcooked. He offered to send it back and she said, "Oh no, it would upset the chef."

About the book, My Life in France, Dodge said it was tremendously important to her that the book be written. Though a private person about some things, he believes it was because her grand nephew, author Alex Prud'homme was such a dead ringer for her late husband, that she was able to share many intimate details with him for the book.

Roberta Klugman was hard pressed to find a dark side to Julia, but did admit she could be short with people when she was tired. She said Julia liked to be independent and didn't always want chaperones, she once demanded to be dropped off at Macy's so she could buy a girdle.

Carucci remarked how curious she was, that she was very much a lady, but also somewhat earthy. In a gracious moment Carucci said at a lunch Julia was interrupted by two men who came over to her table and asked to have their picture taken with her. She excused herself, chatted with them and took pictures then returned to the table, the discussion and her sentence!

At her house in Cambridge, Carucci noticed all the paintings in the house had cats in them. She chatted with Julia about cats and told her she had two sibling cats but of different breeds. Julia didn't understand the intimate details of cat breeding and the possibility of multiple partners and fathers in a given litter. Poor Linda Carucci had to explain the facts of life to a very curious Julia who wanted to know every last detail.

Curious, caring, funny and down-to-earth, the picture painted by those who knew her only served to make those of us who didn't appreciate her even more. Bon Appetit!