To Julia Child: ‘Cook and Nifty Wench’
The writer reminisces about an evening of poetry and haute cuisine spent with the late Julia Child.
“Accept from me, your ever-loving mate,/This acclamation shaped in fourteen lines/ Whose inner truth belies its outward sight. . .”
I asked if I might read something. I explained that there was a sonnet that I had so admired, both for its warmth and technical perfection that I’d cut it out long before, and which now seemed appropriate. “O Julia, Julia,” I began, “cook and nifty wench . . .”
I was perhaps three lines into the poem when a puzzled expression came over her face. She knew the work was familiar, and then she realized exactly what I was reading. “Puzzled” became “curious” as she looked at me more closely. Abundant on the walls of the home she would soon leave were Paul Child’s very good paintings. And here out of the blue was a total stranger reading his work to her, bringing him even more vibrantly into the room. She smiled.
“For never were there foods, nor were there wines/Whose flavor equals yours for sheer delight . . . ”
Julia Child served so many, always her husband, certainly the many friends and acquaintances who ate her meals, and then the millions who followed her on television and through her books. Later we would drive down to Boston in a vehicle that was ludicrously large—except for the ludicrously large woman seated beside me that evening in its passenger seat. (Spurning a seatbelt and her personal safety, Mariana knelt just behind the center console.) At Hamersley’s Bistro Julia would be treated as a god; Gordon Hamersley himself was at our table moments after arriving and apparently so confident in his kitchen that he never returned to it.
If you look up Paul Child, Wikipedia will tell you later in its description of this unusual and remarkably artistic man, “He was also a poet whose works celebrated Mrs. Child, his favourite subject.” “C’est vrai!” they might have exclaimed to each other. “How true!”
“O luscious dish! O gustatory pleasure!” I could barely recite the end to her without blushing myself. “You satisfy my taste buds beyond measure.”