The famed “French chef,” who introduced America to the wonders of butter and lobster and so many fabulous foods, was born 100 years ago on Aug. 15. As she was a member of Les Dames d’ Escoffier International, it was only fitting that the San Antonio chapter of Les Dames would throw her a party.
The party, Simply Celebrating Julia, was also the group’s main fundraising event for 2012.
The more than 250 people who first gathered in rooms adjoining the ballroom at the Éilan were greeted with the bubbly pink Pierre Sparr Cremany D’Alsace Rosé and treats from a series of tasting stations. Members of Les Dames offered demonstrations, from making French bread to the Burgundian delicacy, gougère, and from green olive tapenade to pissaladière, the famous onion tart with olive and anchovies.
After bidding on silent auction items, guests moved to tables set in the ballroom. Two large screens started the celebration in earnest with clips from Child’s famed “The French Chef” television series. While Child was serious about cooking, she also managed to entertain — or the series would possibly have never gotten off the ground.
And she still got laughs from her audience — whether she was wiggling the tailbone of a large goose (plucked for cooking, of course) or grabbing a large power saw to attack a particularly thorny problem. She made it all seem doable, and maybe even fun.
The guests of honor were celebrity chefs Sara Moulton, star of “Sara’s Weeknight Meals” on PBS and Stephan Pyles, considered a pioneer of Southwest cuisine. Both chefs had reminiscences about Julia to share.
Moulton, who worked with Julia as an assistant on her show, said that no matter how much Julia learned, she “never stopped learning.”
She also never stopped sharing her love of food with anyone. Believe it or not, “Julia Child was listed in the phone book,” says Moulton, and she took people’s calls, answering their questions about what they were preparing.
She wasn’t a feminist as much as she was a “Julia-ist,” and that meant “she never, ever let anything get in her way,” Moulton said.
Pyles said the chef “loved to drink and eat — and drink.”
Her love of butter was known to one and all, but it may surprise even the heartiest gourmand that Child wanted “butter with her foie gras,” he said.
The luncheon was prepared by Dames and a series of chefs. Appetizers included gougères from Lauren Browning, Nancy Fitch, Ana Martinez and Rashin Mazaheri, while the Pissaladière were from Rollie Blackwell-Devlin and Naylene Dillingham. Baguettes were from Jenny Mattingsley and Kim Scandrett, while Cynthia Guido and Cathy Tarasovic made the tapenade. Pork Rillettes and were from Hinnerk von Bargen of the Culinary Institute of America, San Antonio.
The seated portion of the meal included dishes from several of the city’s chefs. It began with a lobster and caviar éclair from Andrew Weissman of the Weissman Restaurant Group, followed by Cabernet-smoked sturgeon salad with poulet egg and black truffle was from David Gilbert, head chef of Sustenio, which is in Éilan. Damian Watel of Bistro Vatel provided the duck roulade with roasted apple and a calvados sauce, while Weissman closed out the meal with Valrhona Chocolate pavé and crème fraîche ice cream.
A skit, live auction, talks and presentation of this year’s Les Dames scholarship winners were also part of the event. Event chairs were Pat Mozersky and Julia Rosenfeld. The co-presidents of the San Antonio chapter of Les Dames are Linda Triesch and Leslie Horne. For more information on Les Dames, visit their website here.
Story and photos by Bonnie Walker and John Griffin.