I will always be grateful to Julia Child, because her success made the field of cooking a legitimate career pursuit for bright intelligent young people at a time when it was still considered vocational training for those not college bound.
My three brothers and I knew practically from birth that college was a definite in our future. There was no question of taking time off after high school. We were on track starting in nursery school. So imagine my parents’ surprise when I returned home after college and took a job in a trendy Georgetown restaurant in Washington, D.C. Not quite what they had in mind for a newly minted art history major.
The hours were terrible, but I loved learning new skills. When I complained after a couple of months that the waiters were making triple the money I was, my father sat me down, looked me sternly in the eye and said, “If you want to be a galley slave the rest of your life, go right ahead, but I urge you to write to Julia Child, write to food editors, and find out how they got to where they are.”
So I did. I wrote to Julia. I wrote to Anne Crutcher of The Washington Daily News, and to William Rice of The Washington Post. All of them wrote back with the same advice: Go to cooking school, preferably in France. And both Child and Rice recommended La Varenne, a new school that Anne Willan, a colleague of theirs, was opening.
My father, a Francophile from his years in France during World War II, couldn’t get me on a plane fast enough, and in no time, I was either in class at La Varenne, or roaming Paris for the best croissants and pains aux chocolats.
When I finally returned to the United States, and ended up in New York, first working at a small food-centric public relations firm, and later at Gourmet magazine, my parents were singing a different tune. Now they had something to brag about. Even though I spent my days cooking in a test kitchen, I wasn’t a galley slave. I was an editor. A food editor. And work didn’t seem like work because I loved what I was doing. Thank you, Julia!