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HBO Max recently released “Julia,” an eight-episode dramedy about the life and work of pioneering chef Julia Child.
While she was born in California and studied culinary arts in France, she and her husband Paul moved to Cambridge in 1961 where they lived for 40 years.
The impact Child brought to Cambridge’s community and its culinary scene is still felt today, if only you know where to look.
HBO’s new series, “Julia,” was filmed in 2020 and 2021 in and around Boston, focused on her first TV show in Boston, “The French Chef.”
For example, crews took over Union Oyster House, transforming it back to the 1970s version Child frequently visited.
“It was one of Julia’s favorite restaurants,” Union Oyster House owner Joe Milano told WHDH. “She loved oysters, seafood. She was kinda the renaissance lady.”
At Savenor’s Market on Kirkland Street, around the corner from the old Child residence, Child’s inscription “Bon Appetit” is still engraved on the sidewalk outside.
Third-generation butcher and owner of the market, Ron Savenor, lit up when speaking about the close connection Julia Child had with the Savenors and their meat market. Ron Savenor’s father, Jack Savenor, ran the butcher shop from the 1940s to the late ‘80s.
“She was a wonderful person,” said Savenor of Child. “I remember as a kid I used to help her carry her groceries home with Paul… It was like family. Her coming over to the house for dinners with my folks or a holiday.”
Child got most of the meats for her shows and cookbooks from Savenor’s, touting the business on television and in magazine interviews. Jack Savenor himself would make regular appearances on “The French Chef.” There’s even a photo of them together in the Smithsonian, where Child also donated her kitchen.
“I’m so humbled by the name that my dad and Julia created,” said Savenor. Savenor’s Market appears in “Julia,” although filming took place on a mockup set, and Ron Savenor was cast as an extra while actor John Fiore plays Jack Savenor.
Another Harvard Square favorite, Harvest, hosted Child for countless dinners over the years. Child became close friends with the restaurant’s original owners, Jane and Ben Thompson, and table 102 in the main dining room’s back corner is still dubbed “Julia’s Corner” to this day, said Chris Himmel, president of Himmel Hospitality Group, which now owns Harvest.
Himmel’s fondest Julia Child memory, he said, was hosting her 90th birthday party at Harvest.
“Getting to experience firsthand such an incredible evening honoring a woman that meant so much to us all was something I’ll never forget,” said Himmel. “Even at 90 years old, Julia still cleared almost every plate of the eight or ten courses we served!”
Himmel Hospitality employee Valerie Nin, the head pastry chef at Grill 23 & Bar, helped with the show’s filming, creating on set one of Child’s favorite desserts—the Floating Island, a cooked meringue floating on a thick custard sauce and topped with spun sugar or caramel.
“It was such a cool experience,” said Nin. “So much work and so much research goes into getting every detail right.”
That attention to detail, especially when it came to the show’s food, was paramount to head food stylist Christine Tobin. Every recipe they cooked, said Tobin, came from Child’s own cookbooks, and was prepared in a special kitchen built right on set.
“It was imperative to me that all foods scripted were from Julia Child’s book,” said Tobin. “I wanted to celebrate her hard work and brilliance in recipe development—her recipes are foolproof!”
The show’s producers were so focused on accuracy, they even called up Ron Savenor to see if he remembered where in her kitchen she kept her telephone. He did remember that tidbit, he said, along with her actual phone number.
Another Julia Child favorite was the original Legal Sea Foods in Cambridge. Located in Inman Square, the no-frills joint opened in 1968 adjacent to the Berkowitz family’s Legal Fish Market.
Child would often stop into the market for fresh swordfish, tuna, or oysters, and sometimes dined at the restaurant, Roger Berkowitz, Legal Sea Foods president and CEO, told Chowhound. The Inman Square market and restaurant were lost to a fire in 1980, but Legal Sea Foods now boasts over thirty locations nationwide.
Lydia Shire, currently the head chef of Scampo at the Liberty Hotel, became close friends with Child when Shire worked at Harvest and other top Boston restaurants in the ‘70s.
“We had so many laughs and fun memories together that it’s hard to even pick out the best ones,” Shire said, adding that along with her adventurous spirit (Child once asked Shire to drop everything and pop over to London for a week, to which Shire, of course, said yes), Child had a kind, generous soul.
“She really asked of herself, ‘What can I do to better the world of food and the life of my family and friends?’” said Shire. “She was really selfless in that way.”
According to Shire, one of Child’s favorite spots to dine in Boston was Peach Farm in Chinatown. “Even though French cuisine had her heart, she really loved Chinese food,” said Shire.
Other known favorites of Child’s included L’Espalier, Brasserie Jo, Maison Robert, and Lumière, all of which are now closed. However, L’Espalier’s Frank McClelland now owns Frank in Beverly, and the nephew of Maison Robert owner Lucien Robert opened Petit Robert in the South End.
“I can’t say a bad thing about her because I don’t have a bad thought or memory about her,” said Ron Savenor, echoing the sentiment expressed by anyone who knew Child during her decades in Boston. “We were a small part of her life, but it was a part that was meaningful.”
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