Heidi Billotto

Happy Birthday, Julia Child

August 15, Happy Birthday Julia Child.

Julia Child

Child, who passed away in August of 2004 was our nation’s grande dame of cuisine and my personal  culinary hero.

She got her  start at what would become  her lifelong career because she wasn’t afraid to take a chance and then happened to be in the right place at the right moment and made it work. I don’t think even she had any idea of what her eventual  impact would be.

Julia took her passion and ran with it, with wild abandon, to lead the charge to change the culinary world. She brought the style and technique of French cuisine to American home cooks first in a two volume culinary tome, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, VOLs. 1 and 2, which she co-authored. Then, she continued to influence the world via of number of her own television series. It all started with The French Chef produced by Boston PBS station WGBH in 1963 .

Thank You, Julia!

If it wasn’t for the front running efforts and strides that Julia Child took, in formulating one of the original televised cooking shows, in making it easier for home cooks to raise the bar and in simply breaking down a complicated classic recipe, I wouldn’t be doing what I do today.

And, I wouldn’t be sharing my favorite recipe for roast chicken and another for homemade chicken broth at the end of this post.

Julia Child

My Julia Child Story

I’ve told this story many times before, so bear with me if you have heard or read it before. Julia was such an icon, that I think, at least once a year, it bears repeating in print. Ask any food writer, chef or culinary professional and they probably have a Julia Child story.

My Julia Child story started in the mid 1960’s when I was eight or nine. I loved to watch what was then the first television show of its kind, the new Julia’s PBS series, The French Chef.  I wasn’t so interested in cooking at first, as much as I was fascinated by Julia herself, her attitude and her panache; to say nothing of all of the little bowls into which each and every ingredient was placed, the mis en place, ready for Julia to whip into something wonderful. And I loved her flourish as she raised her glass and to toast us all goodbye and “Bon Appetit!”

julia child on set

Inspired By Julia Child

Back then, the home I grew up in in Jacksonville, Florida was set up so that my brother Jaimie and I shared a large bathroom fitted with a lengthy vanity and large wall mirror situated low enough to the counter top that we could see ourselves without having to stand on a stool.

Inspired by Julia, I would often while away hours by taking a few pots and pans and every little bowl I could find with me into the bathroom, cover the sink with Mom’s well-worn wooden cutting board and would pretend to cook, with all of the Julia–like flourish I could muster, watching myself in the mirror just as I had watched my mentor on television.

Several years later my parents gave me my very own copy of The French Chef Cookbook and encouraged me to move from the bathroom to the actual kitchen, where I began to cook for real.

Julia on the Phone….

Fast forward to September 2001. I was living in Charlotte, North Carolina and was teaching cooking classes  and catering and working as a food writer and restaurant critic.  The 40th Anniversary edition of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Julia’s first cookbook, originally published in 1961 had just been released. In promotion for the new edition, Julia Child was available for interviews. I set up the interview and dialed the number the PR people had given me. Low and behold it was Julia’s home and I got her answering machine. In her own unmistakable warble, she explained that “no one was home right now, please leave a message…”  I left my name. Later that day, I came home to find a message on my machine.

“ Hiiiiiideeeee, Julia here…”

My heart raced, I think I may have actually stopped breathing for a moment. She was headed out to dinner with friends but I could call her back in the morning. I don’t think I slept a wink that night.  I saved her message on the mini cassette tape recorder in the machine ( in a time before the world was digital) for months until the tape  finally broke from repeated play.

Heidi Billotto 2003 at The Julia Child Kitchen exhibit at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington DC
Heidi Billotto 2003 at The Julia Child Kitchen exhibit at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington DC

I never met Child in person, but had the great good fortune to interview her over the phone on two occasions. Initially in that first conversation with this culinary icon, I stammered and stumbled over my questions, unable to think of much more than the fact that I was actually speaking on the phone with Julia Child. She was her delightful and unpretentious self and immediately put me at ease. After a while it was like chatting with an old friend. She even asked me for a recipe.

Julia Child asked me for a recipe

“I hear your fried chicken is really quite good down there,” she said. “Would you send me the recipe, if you have a good one?”

Heidi Billotto's much loved and much used collection of Julaa Child cookbooks
Heidi Billotto’s much loved and much used collection of Julia Child cookbooks

I was floating on cloud nine. I mailed a recipe off the next day and still have her number and address in my old paper bound address book.

Julia and Paul and Their Life in France

A native Californian, Julia graduated from Smith College in Massachusetts in the 1930’s. At that time women were expected to graduate to become be a nurse or a secretary or a wife and a mother, but that was not for her.

“I just wanted to have a good time,” she said. And she did. In 1944, she found herself in working in Washington DC in the office of War Information. She was later upgraded to the Office of Strategic Services or OSS, the precursor to the CIA and was sent on assignment to Ceylon, now Sri Lanka, to gather intelligence during World War II. In Ceylon she met the man who would become her husband, Paul Child. Just after the war the Childs moved to Paris, France where he was a diplomat at the American Embassy.

If you have seen the movie Julie & Julia; or so much better still, read the book “My Life In France”, then you know the story, but I am so honored that I heard it first from Julia herself.

Julia told me that she had taken French all of her life, but when she got to France, she couldn’t say a word.

“At least not a word that anyone could understand,” she laughed. “My husband was practically bi-lingual; he was taken for French all the time, but somehow I could just never pull it off.”

And then she found herself

Eventually she found herself looking for something to do and began taking a culinary class set up for housewives at Le Cordon Bleu. Her interest piqued and Julia talked the famous culinary school into admitted her to a training class for former GI’s offered as a part of the GI bill. After six months of classes she was hooked!

“I found something I loved, and I knew this was for me”, she told me. Indeed.

Mastering the Art of the Way Julia Cooks

One of the things I love about the way Julia Child and her editor Judith Jones set up Mastering the Art of French Cooking is that everything begins with a master recipe. From there she talks technique, equipment and ingredients. Each master recipe is followed by several others using the same technique, ingredients and ways to use leftovers in a similar or adjunct recipe.

Julia’s master recipe idea is a very smart way to learn to cook, and lots of other cookbook writers have adapted the same format every since.

Our master recipe today is for roast chicken. Julia, inspired, I’ve taken the liberty to make it local to the Carolinas by shopping at local markets for nearly all of the listed ingredients. You’ll find the where-to-buy with local farms and producers listed in the recipe by each ingredient.

Roast Chicken with a Local Twist as inspired by Julia Child

2 1/2 Tbsp. unsalted butter

I use butter from Uno Alla Volta, available on Saturdays at the Davidson, Charlotte Regional and Matthews Farmers Markets.

1 Tbsp. your favorite current harvest Extra Virgin Olive Oil

My go-to these days is the Kores Estate Ultra Premium Extra Virgin Olive Oil from Olive Crate. This is a Family owned estate Greek Olive oil with North Carolina roots. The owners live in Waxhaw, NC, while family still live at and run the estate in Greece. You can order this wonderful EVOO online here.

1/3 cup each: finely diced local carrots, finely diced local onion and finely diced local fennel or celery!

All of these vegetables are available at local farmers markets in and around Charlotte

1 Tbsp. fresh minced thyme or savory or 1 Tbsp. dried mixed herbs de Province  

If its not in my home herb garden, my go to is the Savory Spice Shop in Southend

The chicken and what to roast it with

One 3 1/2- to 4-pound local chicken, washed inside and out; pat thoroughly dry with paper towels

Find locally raised chickens at many markets around town, some of my Charlotte area go to sources for local chicken are New Town Farms, Honey Tree Farm, Windy Hill Farm, Evans Family Farm Gilcrest Natural Farms, and Clearview Farms.

Coarse Ground Sea salt

Freshly ground pepper, powdered dried sumac

1/3 cup Italian Flat Leaf parsley

¼ cup minced Lovage leaves (or celery leaves)

Six 1/8-inch-thick orange or lemon slices, optional

6-8 think sliced onions

1 small bunch fresh thyme leaves

4-5 fresh or new dried bay leaves

To finish the sauce:

¼ cup white Miso Masters white, red or barley Miso

Produced in Rutherfordton NC, Miso Masters is the largest producer of organic miso in the world and is available locally in Whole Foods and in Earth Fare

1 cup organic chicken stock or vegetable broth

To make your own, follow the recipe below so you can have this readily available in your freezer!

Here is How Julia Child Would Do It…

Preheat the oven to 425.

Saute diced carrots, onion and fennel in a tablespoon of current harvest extra virgin olive oil and cook until softened. Stir in the fresh or dried herbs. Reserve.

Season the chicken inside and out with sea salt, pepper and dried suman. Then spoon in the cooked summer vegetable and herb mix inside the cavity along with handful of parsley and celery leaves and lemon or orange slices slices. You may also add uncooked, unpeeled cloves of local garlic to the caviety.

Massage the chicken all over with 1 tablespoon of the butter, then tuck under the wings tie the drumsticks together

Choose an oven-to-stove roasting pan or Dutch Oven that is about 1 inch larger all the way around than the chicken.

Set the chicken, breast-side up on a “rack” made from thick sliced onion topped with branches of thyme and bay leaves in the bottom of the pan.

During the Roasting Time

Roast the chicken in the oven for about 1 hour and 15 minutes, as follows: After 15 minutes, brush the chicken with one tablespoon of melted butter.

Reduce the oven temperature to 350.

30 minutes later, add 1/2 cup of water to the onions in the bottom of the pan.

At 60 minutes, baste the chicken with the pan juices.

To test for doneness: The drumsticks should move easily in their sockets; their flesh should feel somewhat soft. If not, continue roasting, basting and testing every 7 to 8 minutes, until an instant-read thermometer registers 165.

Spear the chicken through the shoulders; lift to drain; if the last of the juices run clear yellow, the chicken is done.

Let the cooked chicken rest on a carving board for 15 minutes; untie the drumsticks and discard the string. Remove the onions from the bottom of the pan and reserve to enjoy with the meal.

Remove all but 1 tablespoon of fat from the juices in the pan. Add the additional chicken stock or vegetable broth and miso and boil until lightly syrupy, 5 minutes. Use this au jus to nap over each serving of chicken.

Homemade Chicken Broth

1 chicken carcass, leftover from the roast chicken. Keep on any little bits of leftover fat or meat

additional chicken bones or necks, or a package of 3-4 chicken wings, cut into drummette, flap and tips.

2 whole onions, peeled and quartered

1-2 bay leaves

3-4 whole carrots or parnsips ( best to use a combination of both)

2-3 stalks of celery

A couple of teaspoons of whole black peppercorns

1-2 tsp. of whole coriander seeds

water

Place the chicken carcass and any additional bones plus all the veggies, herbs and spices listed here in a large stock pot. Cover with cold water. Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook for several hours, then season with salt to taste.

Allow to cool and strain the broth from the bones and vegetables. Pour into glass jars or freezer containers and cool completely before topping with the lid. Seal well and freeze for up to 6 months.

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