Saturday, August 14, 2004

Cincinnati visit proved cooking wasn't an act

By Chuck Martin
Enquirer staff writer

"French Chef" Julia Child dies at 91
The first time I met Julia Child, she was sitting on the edge of her bed at Cincinnati Country Club in Hyde Park, fully dressed, hair perfectly coiffed, nibbling wedding cake. Someone had given her the cake the night before and she was carefully dissecting it, crumb-by-crumb.

"At first, I thought the topping was made with some kind of vegetable shortening," she said in that familiar, high-pitched warble. "But I believe it's real buttercream, and it's good."

She couldn't stop thinking and talking about food.

Child, then 86, had come to Cincinnati in 1998 to participate in a lecture series at the Mercantile Library downtown. From the podium, she drew laughs when she railed against the "diet and nutrition people" for ruining the beef industry.

"You can't get a decent prime steak anymore," she said.

For nearly an hour that night, she sat on a stool, politely posing for photos with fans and asking them what they liked to cook.

Child was a parody of herself. That comes with fame. But she also was very real.

She joined me for a breakfast interview that Sunday at the country club, and I watched her order fruit, two eggs, three slices of bacon, toast and extra butter. When the food arrived, she asked the waiter to tell the cook the eggs were wonderful.

At one point, she looked out on the golf course and asked if I played. I said no and then asked if she could swing a club.

"No, don't have time," she said. "As a free-lancer, I still have to make a living."

After all those successful cookbooks and television shows, the food world's biggest cooking icon still wasn't about to slow down.

Soon, Child became anxious about getting to the airport to catch her flight home to Cambridge, Mass.

Before she got into the car, I gave her a small cooler of sausages to take home - for a "true taste" of Cincinnati. She seemed delighted.

A few weeks later, I received a handwritten note from her, thanking me for the wonderful sausages. She sent a note to the butchers, too. I can still hear that warble.


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