Happy 100th birthday!
Today lots of famous food writers will write or post reams of flattering words about you. I know, I’ve already seen them, the New York Times leading the charge with three features about you, one by your friend Jacques Pépin.
Like Jacques, many others will point out, once again, that you almost singlehandedly transformed the sorry excuse for food in the 1960s United States into the bounty and abundance that we see today in nearly every grocery store on every corner. (Except for the food deserts of our inner cities, but that’s worth another meditation, another day.)
And indeed the pundits are mostly right, especially the part about you changing the focus from the lousy food of the early 1960s. I shudder to think of the casseroles, sweet Jello “salads,” and TV dinners, miracles of miracles, that children ate. No wonder the first food revolution took place in the 1960s! The local foods movement of today is nothing new, not at all.
Anyway, I wanted to tell you that a long time ago I decided I was never going to cook French food. It seemed so fussy and HARD. To tell you the honest truth, I felt faint whenever I looked at your Mastering the Art of French Cooking. The recipes went on for PAGES! Instead, I dabbled in all sorts of other cuisines, a bit of Chinese, some Mexican, and LOTS of Italian. But somehow, somewhere, it dawned on me that French cooking forms the backbone and much of the meat of Western cooking. Soon I owned both volumes of Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Just to show you what a sluggard I was, my copy of volume one came out in January 1981, the 32nd printing! Unlike Julie Powell, I never cooked my way through either one, it being impossible to buy things like mushrooms, eels, and endives when I lived in Honduras and other developing countries.
But I certainly stained a lot of pages! Along the way, I fell in love with France, too.
I’m glad that I finally met you, even for a brief moment. Aside from your books and all the TV shows and everything else, the most important thing you ever did was to teach us how to enjoy food and eating and cooking.
And you know what? You really were showing us how to enjoy life, by sucking every ounce of flavor from every moment.
Thank you, Julia! Truly, you were “Our Lady of the Ladle.”*
*TIME magazine coined this phrase in 1966.
© 2012 C. Bertelsen