Please join me as I re-create Julia Child’s very first meal in France, one that she experienced with her husband Paul Child. The story takes place in Rouen, France in November of 1948. I originally wrote this post back in 2007. I resurrect it every year in August, with some minor changes, to celebrate Julia Child’s birthday. She would have been 101 on Thursday.
The text is as she describes her meal to us in My Life in France by Julia Child with Alex Prud’homme, published by Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 2006. The re-creation photographs are ones that I have taken on my travels; some are from France, others from California, a couple are shot in my own home. I use the sepia tone to give the images the feel of a single place some 65 years ago.
Come, let’s travel back in time and enjoy French food and revel in its perfection via Julia…
Julia Child’s First Meal in France
“We passed the city’s ancient and beautiful clock tower, and then its famous cathedral,
still pockmarked from battle but magnificent with its stained glass windows.
We rolled to a stop in La Place du Vieux Marché,
the square where Joan of Arc had met her fiery fate.”
“Rouen is a 2000 year old city located in Normandy on the Seine River
not too far from the English Channel.”
“There the Guide Michelin directed us to Restaurant La Couronne.
It was warm inside, and the dining room was a comfortably old-fashioned brown-and-white space,
neither humble nor luxurious.”
“The waiter is telling them about the chicken they ordered,” Paul whispered,
“how it was raised, how it will be cooked, what side dishes they can have with it,
and which wines would go best.”
“Wine?” exclaimed Julia, “at lunch?”
“We began our lunch with oysters on the half shell.
They had a sensational briny flavor and a smooth texture that was entirely new and surprising.”
“Rouen is famous for its duck dishes, but after consulting the waiter Paul had decided to order
perfectly browned in a sputtering butter sauce with a sprinkling of chopped parsley on top.
I lifted a forkful of fish to my mouth, took a bite, and chewed slowly.
The flesh of the sole was delicate, with a light but distinct taste of the ocean that
blended marvelously with the browned butter.
It was a morsel of perfection.”
“Then came the salade verte laced with a slightly acidic vinaigrette.
And I tasted my first real baguette – Yum!
Along with our meal, we happily downed a whole bottle of Pouilly-Fumé,
a wonderfully crisp white wine from the Loire region.
“We followed our meal with a leisurely dessert of fromage.”
“Paul and I floated out the door into the brilliant sunshine and cool air.
Our first lunch together in France had been absolute perfection.”
“It was the most exciting meal of my life.”
August 15, 1912 – August 13, 2004
chef, mentor, heroine, author, television icon, inspiration, nonagenarian, friend
“The pleasures of the table, and of life, are infinite – toujours bon appetit!” -Julia Child