Chef Robert Del Grande on Julia Child

James Beard Award-winning chef Robert Del Grande is a longtime friend and supporter of Da Camera. His newest venture is The Annie Cafe and Bar, opening September 1. Del Grande shares his recollections of chef Julia Child, the subject of Lee Hoiby’s Bon Appetit! Soprano Abigail Fischer portrays Child in Da Camera’s opening night concert, September 21 at Wortham Center.

Julia Child: Kindness, Integrity, and Salt

My impression, having known her and worked with her, was that Julia Child imagined a recipe as sheet music. She would say: the recipe must work as written – measurements must be accurate. Perhaps she imagined a metronome. Where would music be without measuring time? She might have said: the metronome of cooking – half cup, quarter cup, eighth cup. You can tap your foot to it!

I can reduce her immense influence on me to two things: first – say what you think but always be gracious and kind; and second – integrity means doing the right thing even when no one can tell. Thus, a brief story.

I was doing a live television cooking show with Julia. Live television means you get one chance to get it right. You must be sure the dish is finished when the segment segues to commercial. Imagine managing all those culinary moving parts while Julia Child is standing next to you, asking impromptu questions that she felt might educate the viewer.

My dish turned out well and was finished just as the segment was concluding.  Julia delivered a nice farewell – possibly ending with ‘bon appetit’ – and the show went to commercial. I relaxed. Then, Julia pick up a spoon and tasted the sauce. She looked a touch puzzled. She said: I think the sauce needs a little salt. I glanced over at my untouched ramekin of salt: I forgot to add the salt! So I added a pinch. Julia re-tasted the sauce and proclaimed: now that’s delicious!  Then, she gently reminded me: next time we do a television show, don’t forget the salt; it makes all the difference!

Television cameras cannot taste salt. But for Julia, that was beside the point. I can hear her say: it must be right! The recipe must work as written! And I’m certain she was thinking: even when no one can tell.

Later, Julia wrote me a note to thank me for working with her.  She signed it: Love, Julia – your fan. Her signature was followed by a parentheses: (and I mean it!). Such a cherished memory.