Wednesday, September 30, 2009

On cooking for Julia Child

Lora Brody visits Jungle Red to celebrate the launch of her blog, "Writing on Air" where she writes about food, fiction, and Julia Child whom she considered a friend and colleague. No slouch herself in the food department, Lora has been a long-time New England food celebrity who ran a successful catering business, wrote more than a dozen cookbooks (including "The New England Table" and "Chocolate American Style"), and teaches cooking classes each year in the Dordogne area of France.

HALLIE: When did you first meet Julia?

LORA: I’d just started my catering business. Ruth Lockwood, the producer of Julia’s TV show, hired me to cater a dinner party. I found out close to the date that it was for Ruth and her husband and Julia and Paul.

HALLIE: What did you do?

LORA: Freak out! And then I killed myself to make that meal.

HALLIE: But it was after that, you got to know Julia as a friend

LORA: I was one of a handful of women who started the first women’s food service organization. Among others there was me, Ruth, Sarah Moulton who is now the executive chef at Gourmet, Margaret Romagnoli, and Julia. We had meetings at each others’ homes, and one day I invited Julia to my house to dinner.

We had dozens of Julia rehearsal dinners. I remember I served nicoise olives. She ate one and tossed a pit into the yard and said, "Oh you’ll have an olive tree out there any day now." Then there was cold beet borscht—I made the consommĂ© base from scratch. I served it in soup bowls with handles, and Julia was the first person I ever saw pick up the soup bowl by those handles and drain it.

My boys were eight and ten, and when it came time for the main course, they put on chef’s hats and aprons and Groucho Marx glasses and carried in a silver tray with a rubber chicken, garnished with tomatoes and parsley. Julia grabbed that chicken by its neck and feet and pulled it. “Oh, pollo al dente!” she said. “You can certainly stretch this into quite a meal!”

HALLIE: What a memory. So she really was just as offbeat and delightful as she seemed to us mere mortals.

Lora will be dropping by today, answering questions and reminiscing about Julia.

Please, join in -- and visit Lora at Lora Brody: Writing on Air.


  1. Oh, Lora, that's so great. And it must have been so intimidating!

    Did she never take shortcuts? I mean, today, (if somehow she could come to dinner again) would you still make everything from scratch? I'm hungry...

  2. Hi Lora, so nice to have you here! We love talking about food at Jungle red...and eating of course!

    Do you remember the first meal you catered for Julia and Ruth?

    And another question--I wondered after reading Julie and Julia and then seeing the fabulous movie, why Julia Child would have been down on Julie's project? Any insight into that?

    Now I'm headed right over to check out your blog and your cooking classes...

  3. Hi - it seems my previous replies from today are wandering around in cyberspace.

    Thank you for your comments and questions.
    In response to Hank's question - the very last time Julia came to our house for dinner, my son Max (who owns a restaurant in Western Massachusetts called The night Kitchen) and I made baked stuffed lobster with Ritz cracker crab meat stuffing. Everything was from scratch. However I just heard from a trusted source that one of Julia's favorite things to eat was the hot dogs they serve at CostCo. She was also a big fan of McDonald's french fries.

  4. Hi Roberta - thank you for your nice welcome. The things I remember most about that dinner -actually, the only thing I remember (menu-wise) was the dessert: a gâteaux (much to fancy to be called a 'cake')
    with gobs of mocha butter-cream sandwiched between hazelnut meringue layers. It took days to make- and it was enormous, but there wasn't much left over at the end of the meal.
    I think Julia was put out about the Julie book was she felt that someone was making money off her name. She was extremely careful about the use of her name and image - she never endorsed anything for pay. Knowing how strongly she felt about this,I can understand her feeling that way.

  5. That's so interesting...I'm sure Julie hoped Julia would be pleased, but I can understand why she was less than. Ironic that The movie (and hence Julie) propelled the cookbook and Julia's autobiography onto the best seller list. I wonder if Nora ever met Julia. I'll have to ask her.

  6. Nora and Julia - that would be a most interesting match up. Two very verbal, opinionated food loving gals. I'd put money on Julia reading Heartburn and loving it.

  7. Welcome, Lora. I look forward to reading your writing.

    My aunt Jo Reinhardt in California recently passed away. A friend of hers who saw Julie and Julia shortly after Jo's passing said she wept almost throughout, being reminded of the similarities between Julia and Jo : both were excellent and creative cooks, tall, funny, interested in others, and had roots in Pasadena.

    At Jo's memorial service last Friday near San Francisco, one of her three sons (all skilled cooks) said one of the top ten things he learned from his mother was to ALWAYS cook the whole chicken. A friend of my aunt and uncle's who spoke later said that, since meeting Jo 30 years ago, he hasn't bought a even a single "piece of chicken."

    Ever since I was 4 and we made our weekly pilgrimage to the MacDonald's in Pasadena ["18,00 sold!", I have been way too fond of McD's french fries. Here's to Julia.


  8. Edith. What a great story about the chicken. I agree.

  9. Edith: Always cook the whole chicken. That is wonderful. I mean--it's a huge metaphor.

    Um, isn't it? Or is it just about chicken?

  10. Dozens of rehearsal dinners? How did you decide what to serve and did you make exactly the same meal over and over again?
    (I can imagine the fear factor! Martha Stewart was invited to my werdding and I was so relieved when she declined.)

  11. Martha Stewart?? I do hope this is a future blog topic, Ro.

  12. A belated comment from my sister Nora when I asked if she'd met Julia:
    "Never met her. I was never in the same room with her. She wrote me a letter in l968 after I wrote about the Food Establishment, a lovely letter inviting me to lunch the next time I was in Cambridge, but then I was never in Cambridge. I feel sad about it because according to everyone who met her, she did not disappoint."