Before the Food Network existed and the word "foodie" was tossed around like a football made of organic kale, there was Julia Child.
Julia, who would have been 106-years-old today, simultaneously elevated home cooking and made French cooking seem more accessible with her cookbooks and TV series. As a pioneer of cooking shows, she helped steer Americans away from TV dinners and into the kitchen where she made dishes like boeuf bourguignon look oh-so-easy and delivered one witty one-liner after another on life, love and food, of course.
I have hazy childhood memories of watching this woman armpit-deep in the cavity of some capon, looking as un-self conscious as anyone could possibly look with their arm inside a bird. When Dan Aykroyd parodied her on Saturday Night Live, I was 10, laughing myself silly and I'm sure very pleased with myself for "getting" the impersonation.
Her larger-than-life personality and sing-song voice was perfect fodder for the show. "Save the liver from your chicken ... you can make a chopped liver and shape it into the bust of a friend," Aykroyd mimicked.
But in real life, Julia was responsible for plenty of perfect phrases. Here are some of my favorites:
1. "The only time to eat diet food is while you're waiting for the steak to cook."
2. "I enjoy cooking with wine. Sometimes I even put it in the food..."
3. "If you're afraid of butter, use cream."
4. "People who love to eat are always the best people."
5. "It's so beautifully arranged on the plate — you know someone's fingers have been all over it."
6. "Always remember: If you're alone in the kitchen and you drop the lamb, you can always just pick it up. Who's going to know?"
7. Child quoted Oscar Wilde when she said, "everything in moderation...including moderation."
8. "The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking you've got to have a what-the-hell attitude."
9. "Find something you're passionate about and keep tremendously interested in it."
That last one especially resonated with me. My infatuation with cooking kept growing as I got older. I got a pasta maker when I was 12 and a Cuisinart for my high school graduation present. A handful of years later when I was in my 20s, I was a cookbook editor, working on the American version of the latest edition of "Larousse Gastronomique," which is one of the most indispensable food reference books among chefs and serious home cooks. No overstatement. I was in charge of getting an assortment of culinary luminaries to sing the book's praise, and we would print the best of these quotes on the cover of the new publication.
The quotes came in fast and furious — it is truly a very beloved tome. My stretch goal? Julia Child, of course.
Surely the woman who discovered her love for French cuisine in her early 30s and made it her life's work to illuminate French cooking for Americans would be willing to jot down a few words of acclaim for this revered book?
10. "I was 32 when I started cooking. Up until then, I just ate."
But it was a well known fact that Julia Child never gave book quotes. As one might imagine, it could have become her full time job to blurb books, so she simply made a no-quote policy. But surely she would make an exception for this bible of French cooking? I reached out to a friend, who had been her producer for years.
"Julia doesn't give quotes," he said.
I talked some more. Okay, I think the more accurate word is wheedled. Hey, in the words of Julia herself:
11. "The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking, you've got to have a what-the-hell attitude."
My friend shrugged in a can't-hurt-to-ask way. So, I sent Julia Child an advance copy of the soon to be published book. A couple of weeks later, I was in my office, the phone rang, and I picked up.
My heart almost stopped. It was the unmistakable voice of none other than Julia Child (unless it was Dan Aykroyd calling to prank me).
"Is Katie Workman there? This is Julia Child."
(I KNOW IT'S YOU, JULIA CHILD! WHO ELSE COULD POSSIBLY TALK THIS MUCH LIKE YOU, EXCEPT MAYBE DAN AYKROYD?)
I stammered through a short conversation, where she not only agreed to give a quote ("If I were to be allowed only one reference book in my library, "Larousse Gastronomique" would be it, without question."), but thanked me for asking her to contribute. I was floored.
After that, we became very close friends and baked tarte tatin together frequently. (No, we didn't. That was the only time I ever spoke to her). But then she sent me this note, which I promptly framed, and look at often.
Later in life, when I turned 40, I decided to leave book publishing and became a cookbook author and food writer. My first book "The Mom 100 Cookbook" was published in 2012, and my second, "Dinner Solved!" came in 2015. In it I had to use my favorite quote of all time: "A party without cake is just a meeting." Now, it's not confirmed that Julia said this quote, but I still love it anyway.
It's not fair to say I miss someone who I never really met, but I do. Happy Birthday, Julia Child!
Larousse Gastronomique: The World's Greatest Culinary Encyclopedia, $64, Amazon
This article was originally published Aug. 15, 2016.