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Mastering the Art of French Drinking
Julia Child changed food and wine in America forever...

By Jonathon Alsop
August 18, 2004

True celebrity is the honor of being known by a single name or nickname. When you're talking basketball, it's Larry, Michael and Magic. In jazz, Miles, Dizzy and Monk. The likes of Cher and Sting aren't even in the same league, because they made up their own mono-names, and that doesn't count.

Julia Child changed food and wine in America forever.Julia Child was known to food lovers and loving fans simply as Julia, her name even spoken slightly the way she would have said it -- JOOL-yah -- with a little lilt and sparkle.

When she died last weekend, the food world felt suddenly somewhat less charming without her unabashed personality. America's favorite chef ate goldfish crackers without shame because she liked them.

Her late husband Paul -- sometimes characterized as disagreeable, but she loved him -- encouraged the naive savante within her. Julia, with her exotic, warbly voice and imposing six-foot-two-inch frame, always came across as both interesting and interested, a kind of enthusiastic co-student on TV.

Obituaries refer to her no-nonsense style, but in fact there was a lot of interesting, unexpected nonsense on "The French Chef" that her unselfconscious aplomb rendered charming. Food lovers have a collective TV memory of seeing Julia drop and recover any number of food items, from ingredients to an entire roast bird and even a flaming dessert once. Whenever that happened, she laughed and picked it up, because what else in the world are you going to do anyway?

When Julia brought French cooking to America, she automatically brought French wine right along with it, both as a cooking and dining ingredient. For many of us, it was the first time anyone had ever approached European wine without intimidation and on a somewhat equal footing.

Although my 768-page copy of her 1961 masterpiece, "Mastering the Art of French Cooking," devotes only five pages to the topic of wine, her show cooked with wine and spirits (the previously mentioned flaming dessert) and served wine liberally.

Last century, I had the honor of volunteering for the American Institute of Wine and Food, an organization founded by Robert Mondavi and Julia Child. Thanks to that, I got to drink a glass of wine and eat a handful of goldfish in Julia's kitchen a couple of times.

It was an unfancy but beautiful and well-used space. I was agog at the magnetic strips on the walls that held her knives, every cook's most precious tool, and I swore that some day I would do the same thing in my own kitchen. Just a few weeks later, her kitchen was dismantled and re-installed at the Smithsonian.

Now that Julia's gone too, it feels like we knew her, because we did. Like all great and precious people, she is irreplaceable.

Mastering The Art Of Julia Child: A Poem In The Kitchen.

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