In another life, I unfortunately knew someone who would constantly use the phrase “My friend _____________ and I…”
The blank would usually be some celebrity or socialite. They might have been in the same room together once in 1999, or they might have seated the celebrity once in a restaurant. It never ended. It was insufferable.
With that in mind, I must confess: I KNEW JULIA CHILD. JULIA WAS MY FRIEND. (Dom, however, was not)
I knew Julia to be a warm and caring person, always sharing her wisdom, knowledge, and celebrity with grace and charm. And, she had illegible handwriting.
This last fact I know, firsthand, because I stood in line at the Century City Mall for hours, along with about 1,000 of her other closest L.A. friends for an in-store “meet & greet,” as well as the opportunity to nab an autographed copy of her latest cookbook.
I set out on a reconnaissance mission the night before. I went into Macy’s (YES, Macy’s! I know…odd!) and asked where the culinary queen would hold court the following day. Turns out, no one at Macy’s – EXCEPT FOR ME – seemed to have any knowledge of her arrival. Managers were called. “Oh yes,” said the floor manager. “She will be signing books in that corner.” “THAT TINY LITTLE CORNER?” I screamed, unbelievably. “YOU’D BEST FIND OUT! THERE WILL BE HUNDREDS OF PEOPLE HERE TO MEET HER TOMORROW!” The manager was unfazed, and seemed happy that I left the store.
The next day, I arrived HOURS in advance. Of course, so did about 500 others!! While my friends went to see a movie, I waited in a long, hot line with several hundred young culinary students, chefs in whites, cooks, foodies, and a few people that thought they were in the movie line. I was approximately the 100th person in line….Well, ALMOST 100. Turns out, in about five minutes after Miss Child arrived, an announcement was made that there were no more cookbooks. They had brought only 100!
I held a strangers place in line, while he ran to the closest bookstore and bought us six copies – three for each of us.
As luck would have it, Ms Child graciously agreed to remain and sign all the new books, even though the event had been staged as a benefit for her pet charity.
As we approached, we were warned by her assistant that we would have only moments. “YOU MUST FINISH YOUR CONVERSATION WHEN SHE HAS FINISHED SIGNING YOUR BOOKS,” barked the handler.
I had one chance to ask Miss Child, the most recognizable and celebrated chef of our lifetime, one question.
The pressure was STAGGERING!! WHAT would I ask?
“Bonjouuuuuur,” she said in a feeble little voice. As she scrawled her name on the first page of each cookbook, I asked…
“Where will you be dining this evening, Miss Child?”
I might as well have asked for state secrets to be revealed! Assistants leaped to her defense, barking that “Miss Child will not be disclosing any information about her dining while in town. We wouldn’t want to insult any of her friends and colleagues that she will not have time to visit.”
And with that, I was whisked away from her presence, three signed cookbooks in hand. I’m going to guesstimate….ohhhhh….45 seconds of meaningful conversation that we would both most likely remember for a lifetime!
I have two of the books to this day. An old friend and gourmand in Philly has the third.
Long after the day of our fateful meeting, I attended a seminar at the UCLA/ LA Times book fair, in which Russ Parsons hosted a panel discussion on Miss Child. Her former assistant related the story about La Super Rica Taqueria…”It was never her favorite place! LIFE magazine was doing a photo shoot for “A Day In The Life.” She did not want to pick a local restaurant in Santa Barbara for fear of insulting the chefs that were not chosen. Instead, they chose a restaurant that she had never been to before. Once the magazine hit, culinary folk lore set in…Julia’s favorite restaurant…and the lines have never stopped.”
A good story. And, I suppose, an assistant of twenty some years would know these things. Clearly, however, she did not share that same friendship that Julia and I would cherish for years to come. Sad, really…
So now I hear there is a little movie being made? I’m sure that they, too, have come up with a few tag lines and quotes here and there…they might have even found a good actress to play Julia. I have no doubt, however, that it will suffer in comparison to my memories…MY FRIENDSHIP…with Julia.
It’s been several years now since that day. I think I might just get out that cookbook and actually COOK SOMETHING…
…for the first time.