Some of Julia Child's greatest fans can be found among the North American members of Les Dames d'Escoffier International – an organization made up of leading women in the food and wine industries. It was formed in the 1970's in response to the all-male, fine-dining association Les Amis d’Escoffier Society. At that time, say Les Dames d'Escoffier, "there were no prominent women chefs or sommeliers, few female restaurateurs and no women allowed as wait staff in fine-dining establishments."
Not surprisingly, the larger-than-life figure of Julia Child, who'd begun her TV career in 1962, was a source of inspiration. Not only did she love to cook – and eat – she also delighted in drinking wine. A "Saturday Night Live" skit in the '70s featured Dan Aykroyd as a drunken chef who dismembered herself with her own utensils; Child was, of course, the chef being skewered.
Child's husband, Paul, said that on TV, the glass Julia was seen holding often contained water dyed with beef extract, rather than wine. It was he who had introduced her to the delights of French food and wine. Said Julia: "I'd never eaten like that before. I didn't know such food existed. I'd never really drunk good wine before, and knew nothing at all about it. It was simply a whole new life experience."
In honor of the 100th anniversary of her birth on August 15, Les Dames d'Escoffier are holding a swathe of special events. In Atlanta, Georgia, Child's niece, Phila Cousins, and Michel Escoffier, the great-grandson of French master chef Auguste Escoffier, will attend a French-themed cocktail reception. In Austin, Texas, guests at a potluck dinner will dress up as Child (pearl necklaces not compulsory). In Phoenix, Arizona, a cocktail reception will be followed by a four-course dinner featuring recipes from Child’s 1961 cookbook, "Mastering the Art of French Cooking." The book finally reached the top of the best-seller lists in 2009, nearly 48 years after it was published, thanks to the film "Julie and Julia," directed by the late Nora Ephron. It is currently Amazon's top-rated Kindle cookery choice.
Restaurateur Amy Binkley, who has selected the wines for the Phoenix dinner, says the reason for celebrating Child's 100th birthday is simple: "She is the greatest female influence in the modern culinary world."
The menu is as follows:
When a New York Times writer, Frank J. Prial, joined Julia and Paul Child for dinner at their home in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1975, he reported: "They love wine; they drink a lot of it. But they are not about to be carried away by the wine mystique."
The Childs and their guest ate a quiche, accompanied by a 1971 Niersteiner Domtal – "a favorite of Paul Child, who got to know German wines while stationed there during his State Department days." That was followed by a 1967 Côte-Rôtie, served with filet of beef with a Madeira sauce, sautéed artichokes forestière, and an avocado salad.
Prial said Paul Child had an unusual method of keeping track of his wines. Rather than keeping a cellar book, "He uses a large composition board about 2 feet by 2 feet. Every wine he owns is listed on the board, with the number of bottles marked next to it, this way: 'Château Inconnu' 1959: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10.' As each bottle is consumed, he erases a number. Thus he is always able to tell at a glance exactly what wines remain in the cellar and the number of bottles of each."
In 2000, Julia Child received France's highest honor, the Legion d'Honneur, in recognition of her role in popularizing French cooking in America. She died in 2004, two days before her 92nd birthday. Paul Child had predeceased her in 1994.