I have recently seen Julie & Julia. I want it on dvd for Christmas (Rob, if you’re reading this, jot that down). I loved it!
I almost cried. It’s amazing that someone would cry over gourmet cooks’ adventures, hopes, and dreams. However, I wanted to at points. This movie resonated with my own inner Julia Child. Some of it was eerily similar as it matched some things in my own life.
Does anybody reading this know of Nathalie Dupree?
I know her, although she may not remember me. We have a history. Here’s the story.
Shortly after getting married, Rob and I had a ritual on Saturday afternoons. We would watch (he would let me watch and sit with me) several cooking shows on public television. Julia Child’s was an occasional choice, but we watched another without fail, New Southern Cooking with Nathalie Dupree. Rob gave me a copy of her cookbook with the same name and I would sit on the sofa and watch her cook the items from that cookbook. The following week, I would try some of the recipes from the week’s show.
That pattern continued on through a couple more years when I became a mom. I kid you not, but during labor (Christmas Eve of 1988) Nathalie had a marathon of cooking episodes and I was able to watch them in the labor/delivery room. Yes, I was under the influence of some wonderful meds but I was also that appreciative of her recipes, her technique and her quirks. She would often say during a show, “Don’t do as I do, but do as I say.” Invariably that would come out of her mouth after she had just said to do one thing and not done it.
When Robert was a few months past his first birthday, Nathalie had released a new cookbook and was having a book signing at Oxford Books in her hometown of Atlanta. I could NOT resist. With Rob’s blessing, I loaded up the Honda with Robert and his paraphernalia and the lone cookbook I had of hers and I set out determined to meet her and ask her about writing cookbooks. I was thinking of writing one myself and wanted to pick her brain.
I made it to the store, loaded up the stroller with baby, bottles, bags, and my only book and waited in the line. When I finally made it to her I had her sign the newest copy (Nathalie Dupree’s Matter of Taste) I had just purchased along with the other one I had brought. In my first cookbook I had, she wrote, “To Amy, so glad you cooked from this book! Season with joy, Nathalie.” She wrote, “Keep watching the show!” in the other. She was agreeable, pleasant, funny, and relaxed. I felt confident to ask her how she started writing cookbooks and what advice she would give me.
She spent some time talking with me and the number one piece of advice she gave was for me to apprentice under someone. Then, blow me down, she said she was looking for an apprentice and would I be interested? It would require one day a week of my time to test recipes (without pay) in her home for a future cookbook (Nathalie Dupree Cooks for Family and Friends) she would be writing for release in 1991. She gave me her phone number and told me to give her a call when I had made up my mind. (As a sidenote, the kitchen on the cover of that book is the kitchen in her home in Atlanta where I apprenticed. I can still remember the woody smell of her charming home where she entertained people all the time.)
I don’t remember anything after that visit except somehow arriving home, walking into the door of our little house, and telling Rob all about my day and the exciting offer.
He gave me his blessing. I called her and we set up a day to begin the very next week. I had someone who was willing and available to look after Robert on those days I would leave Columbus at 5 a.m. and return home at 7 p.m.
The first day was intimidating as she showed me around her home with her awesome library in a study lined with shelves to the ceiling full of cookbooks, her beautifully bright and efficient kitchen, and her herb garden on the side of a steep slope in her Bungalow’s back yard surrounded by skyscrapers of downtown Atlanta. I didn’t know rosemary from a dandelion. I felt so ill-equipped to do this thing. I was way out of my element. She had 3 recipes for me to try: Canneloni Verdi, Strawberry Mousse, and another mousse I cannot remember. I was introduced to her producer and got to listen to their conversation of upcoming tv cooking episodes as Nathalie prepared a lunch for us of fresh tomato sandwiches with homemade mayonnaise served with a side of cantelope slices. It was a delightful lunch.
I could not get all of the day’s work done. Only the first two recipes were tested. But, boy, were they wonderful! She let me keep the typed copies of the recipes after I had made them and she let me bring a sample home for Rob. At the end of the day, I pulled into my own driveway exhausted and wishing she lived in Columbus or I in Atlanta. The commute was going to be a problem.
I continued on for a few more weeks before I had to bow out of the experience. It was a wonderful thing to be part of, but the sacrifice of time as a wife and mother was just too difficult, even one day a week. I had to let her know I would not be continuing and that I so appreciated her willingness, her expertise, and her graciousness toward me to let me try. I had learned a lot even in that short period of time. I had even gone so far as to learn to de-bone three whole hens and stuff with different fillings, truss them, and bake them in small rectangular loaf dishes weighted with bricks on top. Those were Chicken Ballotine and Chicken Galantine. I have never prepared those since that day. The deboning of the whole birds while keeping them intact was far more time-consuming than I care to remember. My feet, back, and neck were sore for days after that adventure.
While apprenticing, I gained confidence to repel down her slope to harvest fresh herbs as I learned to recognize them. I have tried to grow an herb garden every summer since that experience. I love fresh herbs for cooking.
So, there’s the story. She continued to write books and teach classes (not on tv anymore). I continued to travel down a different path than what I had thought I might that day at the bookstore. I still enjoy cooking, most of the time; and I still go back to those books and cook from them with fond memories.
So, I’m a bit jealous that Julie Powell was able to combine some of my favorite things like cooking (she from Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking) and blogging about it even into book form that grabbed the attention of newspapers and Hollywood. I think it will have even more far-reaching effects as people are drawn back into the kitchen to learn skills or hone skills as they delight in preparing food for their families and friends all over again.
So, thanks Julia Child, Nathalie Dupree, and Martha Stewart for inspiring many of us to get in the kitchen and just try.