By Giovanni Cambizaca
Last week my message was a little somber, so this week I want to lighten the mood and talk about the most engaging cook I can think of. Julia Child was always full of such joie de vie and enthusiasm, even when things went wrong, as they often seemed to do. I always think that she would have been a delightful and inspirational person to cook and eat a meal with.
Julia was born as Julia McWilliams into a wealthy California family in 1912 and passed away at the age of 91 having cheerfully ignored all advice to limit the fat content in her diet. She was the first and probably the most influential figure in the post-war introduction of French food to the American public. Through her TV shows and numerous cookbooks, she dominated the American perception of French cuisine like no one else.
Child had an interesting war in the Office of Strategic Services, with postings to Washington, Sri Lanka, and China, where she met her future husband, Paul Child, also a member of the OSS. After the war, she visited France and she often recalled a meal of oysters and sole meunière eaten in Rouen as “an opening up of the soul and spirit for me.” By 1951 she had graduated from the Cordon Bleu cooking school in Paris and had started work on Mastering the Art of French Cooking with help from two French co-authors. The original manuscript was rejected as being too much like an encyclopedia, but it was finally published in 1961 to critical acclaim and the book became an instant bestseller and remains in print today. She went on to produce nearly 20 books, either alone or with collaborators.
Her first TV show, The French Chef, debuted in 1963 and was immediately successful and went on to enjoy a 10-year run. Other popular shows followed in the 1970s and 1980s, and her TV career continued in the 1990s, often with guest chefs, most notably Jacques Pépin. Her shows were characterized by her ever-present cheerfulness and sang froid, even when she was dropping food on the floor or setting fire to her towel. After watching one of her shows, you came away with the feeling that if this ungainly woman could make this food, then perhaps you could too. She famously said, “the only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking you’ve got to have a what-the-hell attitude,” and she managed to convey this philosophy to her audience.
In 2001, having lived true to her own advice of “find something you’re passionate about and keep tremendously interested in it,” Child moved to a retirement community, and she donated her kitchen to the National Museum of American History in Washington, where it is now on display.
Deb Davis and John Barr are currently in exile in North Carolina with their friends Tim and Suzette Pare. Suzette draws a lot of inspiration from Thomas Keller, and Deb sent me a photograph of cod over spinach in a beurre blanc sauce that Suzette made recently. Bravo! Send me a photo of something you’ve made recently, or a recipe you would like to share to email@example.com
A lot of Julia Child’s recipes are quite technical, but here’s something simple for chicken in a mushroom cream sauce. You could probably cut down on the rather eye-watering amount of dairy and still have a good result, and as always, make any necessary substitutions. If you don’t have onions, try using bacon. The taste is quite similar if you cook it until crispy. So, summon your interior Julia Child, and give this a go.
Julia Child’s Suprêmes De Volaille Aux Champignons
4 medium-sized chicken breasts, boneless and skinless 1 teaspoon lemon juice 1/4 teaspoon salt 1 pinch pepper 5 tablespoons butter 1 tablespoon minced shallots or green onions or yellow onion 250g sliced fresh mushrooms 1/8 teaspoon salt
For the sauce:
1/4 cup chicken stock 1/4 cup port wine or dry white vermouth or dry white wine 1 cup cream salt and pepper 2 tablespoons freshly minced parsley 1-2 cups broccoli or other green vegetable, steamed (optional)
1. Preheat oven to 200°C. Rub the chicken breasts with lemon juice and season lightly with salt and pepper.
2. Heat the butter in a heavy, oven-proof casserole or skillet, about 10 inches in diameter until it is foaming. Stir in the minced shallots and saute a moment without browning. Then stir in the mushrooms and sauté lightly for a minute or two without browning. Season with salt.
3. Brown chicken fillets in the butter mixture until golden; then cover and place into a preheated oven to continue cooking for a further 8 minutes until cooked through.
4. Remove the chicken to a warm platter (leave mushrooms in the pot) and cover while making the sauce.
5. To make sauce: Pour the stock and wine in the skillet with the mushrooms. Boil down quickly over high heat until liquid has reduced by half.
6. Add in the cream and cook over low heat until it thickens slightly.
7. Take off heat and adjust seasoning. Squeeze a little extra lemon juice to taste. Add in the broccoli (if using) and pour the sauce over the chicken.
Garnish with parsley and serve immediately.
So tonight, I will raise a glass in memory of Julia Child and also in thanks for the fact that we are continuing to do well here in San Miguel. We hope you are also making the best of our present situation, and all of us at Le Petit are looking forward to the day when we will be able to meet again.
Abrazos from Giovanni Cambizaca, Maria Eliza y toda la familia at Le Petit Jardin