The kitchen was big and old-fashioned. It had an old Garland range at one end and a wall of pegboard at the other, where pots hung. Paul, whose artwork adorned every wall in the house, had outlined the pots on the pegboard with marking pen so that each had its place.
One night, I saw the kitchen table set for 10 (more than the table held). We had assigned places and I found myself mashed in beside Cuisinart founder Carl Sontheimer, who was not a small man. Julia brought out a roast chicken with Uncle Ben’s rice, which she had been testing. As I told her biographer, Bob Spitz, author of “Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julia Child,” I thought she was serving the first chicken and at least one other would follow. But there was only one. Portions were minuscule that evening, but there was plenty of good French wine, and we had a ball, no doubt due to interesting guests and tight quarters.
Though Julia was a national star, Bostonians considered her their own. They ran into her at the supermarket and she greeted everyone who approached her. Because her phone number was listed, anyone could call and ask cooking advice. At a Thanksgiving dinner I attended one year, she spent the afternoon and evening talking to local cooks worried about their turkeys, as if she were some sort of Butterball hot line. “Take your turkey out of the oven, put it on the counter, and let it sit there,” she would reassure callers in that familiar voice. “It will be fine for a couple hours.”
The simple house in Chateauneuf de Grasse, in the south of France, was eventually bought by Kathie Alex, a protegee of Simca’s, who gives cooking lessons and hosts students there. When I visited in 2000, she served piperade, also a favorite of Julia’s, the dish of eggs, bell peppers, tomatoes, and ham. We drank rosé and ate on the sunny patio under a mulberry tree, dining on Julia’s traditional French pottery, in pretty olive and yellow hues. The plates chip easily. Thrifty Julia had used marker pens to color in where the plates had white cracks; the colors didn’t quite match.
Before Julia moved from Cambridge to California, she hosted a dinner party, but many guests brought the food. She genuinely appreciated everyone else’s cooking efforts. There was much scurrying in her kitchen, while she sat in the garden sipping wine. She had lost her love of the limelight, and told me that she often said when someone stopped her that she was “not Julia Child, but many people say I look just like her.”
That night, she asked a guest sitting with her what was in his glass, which looked more appealing than what was in hers. When he showed her the bottle, she took her full glass and tipped it upside down into a potted plant. “I’ll have some of that,” she said.
Sheryl Julian can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @sheryljulian.