I began my culinary career by accident. When my oldest daughter began kindergarten, the school had a gourmet club to raise money for the PTA. Mothers volunteered to give cooking classes in their home and the proceeds went to the school. People seemed to love my classes. so when the club folded two years later, they asked me to teach professionally in my home. In my fourth year of teaching, a close friend of Julia Child invited me to assist Julia in several large cooking demos in my area. I was excited beyond belief and extremely jittery at the thought of meeting my hero. But when I met her, she immediately put me at ease. She was pretty much what you'd expect if you'd watched her on TV, warm and friendly, but not nearly as funny or scatter-brained. We worked together for a couple of days preparing for the demos and went to dinner each night. She was always personable, friendly and down-to-earth, but the moment she stepped on stage, she became quick, sharp and incredibly funny. During her first demo, she sat me in the front row right next to her husband, Paul. I was sitting there thinking I was the luckiest person in the world, but when she told the thousands of people in the audience that cooking teacher Marlene Sorosky suggested a better way of cooking salmon, I thought I might faint. I couldn't believe that the idol of every cook in the country had actually mentioned my name.
I assisted Julia every time she came to Southern California, and like everything in life, working with her became routine. If the audience wasn't rolling on the floor with laughter during her demo, she would walk off the stage muttering, "I wasn't funny enough." One of her most comical incidents was right after the eruption of the Mount St. Helen's volcano in Washington. She was making an enormous bowl-shaped Baked Alaska, which she named Mount St. Helen. Instead of pouring a few tablespoons of rum over the mountainous meringue dessert , she laughingly poured the entire bottle. When she ignited it, it burst into wild flames. Frantically, she reached for the largest thing around to put over the fire to squelch the flames. Would you believe a colander? She inverted an enormous colander over the dessert and the flames blazed rapidly through the holes. The audience was in hysterics and after the demo Julia seemed quite pleased.
I wish I could end this story laughing, but my relationship with Julia ended on a rather disappointing note. When she was filming her show Dinner at Julia's in Santa Barbara, she invited me to be part of the taping of a cocktail party at the end of the show. One of my friends, the executive editor of a popular food magazine, asked to come with me. Of course, Julia was delighted that we come together. As we walked in the door, Julia grabbed my friend, telling her that she was invited to stay for the final taping of the dinner party. She completely ignored me, acting like I wasn't there. My friend tried to explain that we drove together from LA, but Julia wasn't listening. During the cocktail party, Julia made no eye contact with me and when it came time for the awkward moment of those leaving and those staying for dinner, I realized I had to make a decision. I could either leave without saying good-bye or I could thank her for inviting me. I decided on the latter, because I didn't want to have friction between us. I went up and thanked her and she then invited me to eat in the kitchen with the rest of the crew.
It is easy to understand why she wanted my friend to stay for dinner. There was only room for 10 guests and a magazine editor was politically more important. When push came to shove, she chose the person who could help her career. It was the way that she handled it that I found most disappointing. Instead of explaining the situation, she chose to ignore me.
Now that I've said all this, I want to share the lesson. I believe that there is a lesson in everything; all we need to do is look. This experience has made me acutely aware of treating everyone who comes into my life the same, whether they can be politically helpful or not. As in all too many endeavors, politics is the key to moving up the ladder of success. As sweet and generous as Julia was, she reached the top using more than her talent and humor, she knew how to play the game.
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Julia Child (1912 – 2004) is best known as a French chef and TV personality who introduced French cuisine to American audiences during the 1960s and onward. She is the author of the classic cookbook Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and the host of the TV cooking show The French Chef.
Born in Pasadena, CA, she moved to Paris with her husband Paul Child in 1948 after he was appointed an Exhibits Officer with the US Information Agency. It was there that her husband, known for his well-developed palate, introduced his wife to French cuisine. She also attended Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, where she first began formulating plans for a French cookbook specifically geared to American readers.