Monday, August 17, 2009

New Jersey & Julia Child: Perfect Together

By Pat Tanner

With the opening of the movie “Julie & Julia,” there have been a flurry of stories about personal encounters with Julia Child. (See, for example, my colleague Maureen Petrosky’s blog from last week.) So I am tossing my own story into the ring and am proud to say that it concerns that great lady’s intimate connection to the Garden State.

About a decade ago, having more or less fallen into food writing as a sideline, I was contemplating leaving my “real” job to write full time. To help me decide whether to make that move – one, by the way, I have never regretted – I signed up for a food writers' workshop. Among the speakers was Ms. Child.

Before our first writing exercise, each attendee was asked to stand and give a short personal introduction. Sitting in the first row – not on the dais because she wasn’t speaking that day – was that famous face and six-foot-plus frame. When it came her turn, she stood and turned to the room and without a hint of irony said, “My name is Julia Child and I teach cooking on television.” The room erupted, as you may well imagine.

But it gets better. Going down the line, a fellow from the culinary program at Atlantic Cape Community College introduced himself. The next person quipped something to the effect that he was delighted to hear that New Jersey had a cooking school in addition to oil tanks – and oh, yeah - which exit off the turnpike was it anyway.

When it came my turn, I began by saying I write food columns and restaurant reviews for newspapers and magazines in New Jersey because, contrary to popular belief, we do actually have them. After that, many of the attendees made humorous references to our fair state and their connection to it.

When everyone had had a turn, Julia Child stood up to say she had forgotten to add something very important to her introduction. To whit: She also had a connection to New Jersey. Her husband, Paul, was born in Montclair and over the years the couple visited his parents there. I seem to recall that she also attested to the merits of Montclair and the surrounding area.

One more sidelight: When it came time to do the writing exercise, Julia Child completed it along with us students. Without a hint of irony.

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