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Lunch with Julia

Much like the yellowed newsprint photo in my pantry of smiling faces seated around a table, my memory of that gathering over thirty years ago is a bit faded.  But an autographed chef's apron tucked away at the bottom of my kitchen drawer, and the nearly 700 page cookbook inscribed in magic marker to "the duck breast broiler supreme", are tangible reminders of the sweet pleasure of a winter lunch long ago with the remarkable Julia Child.  Seeing the recent film of "Julie and Julia" brought those memories back to the surface once again for me.

It all began as an intriguing proposition - an opportunity to submit recipes featuring Pacific Northwest ingredients to a contest sponsored by a local newspaper.  The timing coincided with a visit to Seattle by Julia Child to conduct classes in classic French cooking at St. Mark's Cathedral. The contest prize winners would be invited to a private lunch with Julia!  It was too inviting to pass up.   I was certainly a novice cook, but I had grown up loving the full flavors of fresh produce from our family garden, the thrill of finding morel mushrooms with my dad, and later having access to wild duck that my husband, Val, hunted in the Skagit Valley.  The challenge sounded like great fun!

While stoking the wood stove to keep the January north winds at bay (that memory is vivid!), I settled on the idea of submitting recipes in two categories - a creamy soup featuring hand-picked wild morels, and an entrée of broiled wild duck breast.  Painstakingly composed and typed on the Smith-Corona, I'm sure the recipes were mailed in barely before the deadline.  Much to my surprise and delight, I was informed that both entries had passed the first step in the selection process.  Step two, however, posed a much more intimidating challenge.  Each of the preliminary winners was required to prepare their recipes in the huge institutional kitchen at St. Mark's for tasting by a panel of judges.  Fortunately, that group would not include Julia!  I retrieved my very last (to this day!) container of morels from the freezer, along with several of Val's carefully filleted duck breasts and found my way to that imposing kitchen full of huge pots and pans and unfamiliar appliances.  I know naivete must have pulled me through that intense preparation phase.  I recall no major mishaps, but I do have to smile when I remember my feeble attempt at a creative "gourmet" presentation involving perky sprigs of parsley.

The remainder of the story is as you might guess - several of us were successful in winning over the judges that day.  Our celebratory lunch a few weeks later was at a small restaurant on Capitol Hill.  My mother, who shared a pleasure and interest in cooking with fresh local ingredients, was my date for the event.  The food surely must have been delicious.  But I know the sweetest prize for all of us was being in the company of not only the incomparable and delightful Julia Child, but her ever-supportive husband Paul.  That charming couple, who still smile in the photo in my pantry, managed with great ease to engage our entire table in a wonderfully comfortable afternoon of lively conversation.  It was all such great fun….and a dream.

I wonder what recipe might entice Meryl to come to lunch….?

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