Julia Child: The French Chef Keeps Many Projects On The Burners

April 07, 1991|By Frank Rizzo | Frank Rizzo,Hartford Courant

CAMBRIDGE, MASS. — Cambridge, Mass.

On a sunny winter afternoon in Julia Child's expansive kitchen, ,, lunch is poached eggs over homemade hash, an endive salad with French olive oil, wine vinegar and lemon -- and a bottle of Chardonnay.

But it is nothing compared with the other activities she has on her burners:

*Promoting the American Institute of Wine and Food.

*Trying to establish master's degree programs in gastronomy at universities.

*And fund-raising, such as a gala dinner and cooking demonstrations in late June for Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven, Conn.

The 78-year-old Ms. Child is in fine form, talking with her famous forthrightness on a range of topics during an interview at her great, gray pre-Victorian house, surrounded by a white picket fence, on a quiet residential street not far from Harvard Yard.

Ms. Child's kitchen is both spacious and intimate. Free of froufrou, the kitchen is decorated with a utilitarian flair. Sunlight streams into the dark green room, which is filled with Pegboards holding a lifetime collection of molds, ladles, scissors, beaters, whisks and kitchen gizmos. Copper pots and pans hang like golden trophies. A seemingly endless variety of crocks and bowls line up atop the plain wooden cabinets. A large table at the center of the room holds groceries, writings or meals.

A hale and hearty Ms. Child, dressed in flowered blouse, sensible slacks and sneakers, darts around the kitchen and pantry as she prepares lunch. She stirsthe hash, chops the fresh herbs for the salad and nurses the eggs. When pita crisps stay too long in the oven, she gives them the heave-ho into the sink and prepares English muffins in their stead.

"It's interesting when you speak to someone who is not familiar with the profession," she says in her familiar vibrato voice. "They look at you in a bemuuuuused way [and think]: 'Silly person.' Don't you find that?"

Ms. Child wants people to be less bemused and more "culinary literate."

Nine years ago she co-founded the American Institute of Wine and Food, an international organization. The non-profit educational organization has 20 chapters with more than 6,000 members. The goal is to have about 30 chapters and 30,000 members.

The school has become a major part of Ms. Child's life, even more than writing books, creating videos and appearing on television programs. She is enthusiastic about it, as if she had just uncovered the secret to a great sauce.

"We're really off and running," she says with trademark gusto. "But it takes a long time to get these things going."

Who belongs? For $60, she says, anyone. But a closer look at the membership roster will show a ragout of "movers and shakers in the wine and food business, every type of fisherman and apple grower, restaurateurs and passionate consumers."

"The object is to learn about the quality in the wine and food and to improve on it and to act as a clearinghouse and meeting place. That's another thing the institute is interested in: the dissemination of information."

Which leads to one of Ms. Child's favorite subjects: "The fear of food."

"The tragic thing is that people, especially women, they're so fearful. All the information is right there: about fat, about nutrition, about how much butter you can have. But people don't pay attention to it. They just listen to the latest thing in television. There are some people who don't dare eat any butter or bacon -- at all. I think one of the problems is the way it has been presented. I think you get scientists in there talking about scientist-type language.

"We're interested in getting nutritionists to be gastronomers and getting cooks to be conscious of nutrition. On the whole, to [nutritionists], food is medicine. I think very often they're so afraid that people are going to overdo, they don't want to say anything is fun and good for you.

She points to "those three poison grapes" several years ago that caused consumers to give up the grape, "and that whole Alar scandal" that hit the apple industry at its very core.

"There are far more natural carcinogens [in nature]. Plants all have their own protective devices to ward off enemies and so forth, and very often they are carcinogens. . . . There are more in natural foods than you find . . . in pesticides.

"And poor old Meryl Streep getting involved. There are a lot of simple, frightened parents who, if anyone said there is even one chance in a million of danger, they won't do it.They want zero, which, of course, is impossible because you wouldn't eat anything, especially natural foods, which have just as much problems as other foods."

Ms. Child pooh-poohs nutritional findings that take on the momentum of a craze, such as the focus in the news on cholesterol.

"Cholesterol is only one factor [in health]," she says. "Exercise, obesity, variety [of foods], high blood pressure, smoking are also factors. And most helpful or dangerous of all are your own grandparents [because of heredity]."

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