Julia & Me

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I recently saw a trailer for the movie Julie & Julia, the Julia Child movie starring Meryl Streep. It reminded me of my encounter, more than 20 years ago, with the famous TV chef.

I was a 20-something reporter for Women’s Wear Daily in Washington, D.C., during the Reagan administration. One of my jobs was to report on White House state dinners. The events were tightly controlled; reporters were kept behind velvet ropes as the guests (famous people from all walks of life: movies, sports, business) filed in for dinner. During the meal, we were herded into the press room. But after dinner, we were allowed into the state rooms to watch the entertainment and mingle with the guests while they danced.

Julia Child was a guest one night, so I went up to her and asked for a review of the meal she’d just eaten. She was blunt. “It was dreadful,” she trilled in that famous Julia Child voice. “The veal was tough and the asparagus was overcooked.” The coup de grâce? “It was like airline food,” she said.

I had my scoop, which appeared in Women’s Wear Daily the next day and was picked up by almost every newspaper in the country. Nancy Reagan, I heard, was not amused. Word got back to me that Julia Child had been banned from the Reagan White House.

Mrs. Reagan evidently thought it was bad form to criticize the food at your host’s house. Maybe she was right. I simply thought Child was being refreshingly honest.

Many people in the food world have their own stories about their brushes with the famous Julia Child. From what I hear, everybody who ever met her fell in love with her for her kindness, generosity and openness. When the movie comes out Aug. 9, I’ll be at the multiplex, remembering the Julia I once met.