“I told you my Mom met Julia Child, right?”
“No, you didn’t. I would have remembered.”
“We were at that awesome food store in Cambridge with my parents and my Mom was telling the story …”
“But we’ve never been to Boston together.”
“Really? Are you sure? OK, so when my Mom was a student, she went to this shop to buy meat. She asked the butcher for an inexpensive cut and heard a voice behind her: ‘That’s a very good choice.’”
In those five words, Juila Child conveyed exactly who she was and continues to represent to cooks everywhere. I wanted to honor her on what would have been her 100th birthday with her recipe for one of my favorite dishes, bouillabaisse. Eating simply prepared, fresh seafood always imbues me with a rich sense of being alive. And the fact that bouillabaisse, her recipe attests, can be made just as well with tomato paste and frozen fillets, is testament to why droves of Mad Men-era homemakers took a chance on this towering presence of domestic gastronomy, and dared to serve their Don Drapers boeuf bourguignon and coq au vin, instead of Salisbury steak and roasted drumsticks. Her inimitable laugh assured that no effort at the stove or behind a blowtorch would ever be wasted.
Before I unsheathed my chef’s knife, I watched the first episode of “The French Chef.” I couldn’t believe how much useful information she sprinkled throughout that half hour: how to loosen an onion’s peel (dip them in boiling water with a slotted spoon, and hold them underwater for 20 seconds after a hard boil resumes), how to cut mushroom
stumps (on the bias so they are similar in size to the quartered caps) and even how to pair food and wine (match intensities – robust boeuf bourguignon requires a similar red, not a delicate wine that will get lost in the stew). Success is almost always assured with this tactic; I found myself more relaxed when the meal was on the table and the wine uncorked.
In The French Chef Cookbook, Julia suggests pairing bouillabaisse with “rosé, a strong dry white wine such as Côtes du Rhône or Riesling, or a light, young red such as Beaujolais or domestic Mountain Red.” But I decided to Yank it up bit by pairing the dish with a Sonoma Pinot, the 2004 John Tyler Russian River Baciagalupi Pinot Noir. I’m sure Julia, the master improviser, would approve. The wine recalled a Gevrey Chambertin I drank years ago; only the sassafras on the finish hinted at its New World origins. Surrounded by the delicate scents of tomato, onion and mussels from the bouillabaisse and cherries and clove from the wine, and seated across from the son of the mom who met Julia Child, I felt a communion with all of the loved ones I’ve served, and gratitude to the woman on PBS who emboldened me to cook.