AIWF toasts Child, wine critic Parker

Chef: Julia Child visits Baltimore and says she is giving her kitchen to the Smithsonian.

September 26, 2001|By Sara Engram | Sara Engram,SUN STAFF

If anyone could pack a room full of food and wine lovers for a pricey fund-raiser at the Harbor Court Hotel Sunday night, it's Julia Child, a cook so important to American food history that her kitchen is headed to the Smithsonian Institution.

The Baltimore chapter of the American Institute for Wine and Food (AIWF) honored Child and wine critic Robert M. Parker Jr., both recent winners of the Legion of Honor. In 1999, Parker was given the French government's highest honor for his contributions to French cuisine and culture. Child received the honor last year.

For the crowd of more than 200, Child's enthusiasm was infectious. She recalled the early days of the AIWF, which she helped to found in the early 1980s, and expressed her pleasure in seeing so much interest in the culinary arts.

"This is what it's all about, really," she said, before wishing the audience a cheery "Bon appetit!"

The menu for the sumptuous reception and meal was planned by Child. It included such Child favorites as duck pate, oysters with caviar and creme fraiche, foie gras, herb-crusted pheasant and dry-aged tenderloin of beef, each course prepared by some of Baltimore's best chefs and matched with exquisite wines by Parker, widely regarded as the world's most influential wine critic.

But as even Parker said, "I'm here because Julia Child is here."

The evening had elements of yet another East-Coast farewell party for Child, who is closing her home in Cambridge, Mass., and moving permanently to a retirement community in Southern California.

She will leave behind a kitchen familiar to many Americans as the set for some of her cooking shows on public television, as well as the site of many festive dinners and almost-endless recipe testing for her books.

Much of that famous kitchen will be going to the Smithsonian Institution, Child said Sunday. Details of the gift are not final, but a Smithsonian official says negotiations are underway, with an announcement expected later this fall. The kitchen will be housed in the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History.

Not everything will head to Washington. One wall of gleaming copper pots, along with some books and other things, will go to the new headquarters of COPIA, the American Center for Wine, Food and the Arts, now under construction in Napa Valley, Calif.

Many of her books will go to the Schlesinger Library at Radcliffe College. One of her nieces has enrolled in a culinary institute and will take some pots and pans. Another niece sells old and rare books and will get the rest of the books. Other furnishings will be divided among nieces and nephews. The house itself has been given to Smith College, where Child graduated in 1934.

None of this seems to sadden the indomitable Child, who insists she's not the sentimental sort and proves it by cordially greeting friends and strangers throughout the evening.

At 89, Julia Child is a woman happy with her life and where it has taken her. "I can't imagine a profession I would like more," she says.

But if she had a chance to try something else?

"I might be a butcher or a veterinarian." As a veterinarian, "I'd probably work on pussy cats."

As for butchering: "I love working with my hands, and I love cutting things up."

In his remarks, Parker, publisher of the influential Wine Advocate, praised the increased quality of food in American homes and restaurants, and noted that he would never have imagined a time when the "gastronomic capital of the world is not Paris, it's New York."

He also addressed the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, saying he had found himself distracted in recent days and even felt that as a "purveyor of pleasure," his work seemed "somewhat fickle." But "we've got to get back to what we love, or we give the terrorists a victory," he said.

The sold-out event raised about $25,000 for AIWF's national and local activities, according to Diane Neas, chair of the Baltimore chapter. The chapter, which has 262 members, attracts food professionals and amateurs alike for meetings and meals, and conducts outreach activities like nutrition training programs in Baltimore's public schools.

With their focus on furthering culinary arts and sciences and the appreciation of good food and wine, COPIA and AIWF are two of Child's favorite causes. She is timing her move to California to coincide with the opening for COPIA's headquarters Nov. 10. (Copia was the Roman goddess of abundance.)

"There's so much real interest in food," Child says. "And it finally has become an acceptable discipline. ... That's taken a long time."

In Europe, she says. "If you're a cook, you're still a workman, a lower-class person, and that's not true here now, thank heaven.

"We were low-class," she says of her years in France studying with French chefs. "You're working with your hands. The only upper-class hand-worker is a surgeon."

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