Paul Child, the man behind the "French Chef," took his turn in the spotlight Sunday when the Southern California Culinary Guild staged an exhibit of his paintings and photographs at the Santa Barbara Winery.
Child, 87 and in frail health, came early to view the exhibit in privacy with wife Julia and to greet a few longtime friends. The show included about 60 photographs and eight paintings chosen from works stored at the Childs' Montecito residence. "They're as good as I remember," said Child, responding to praise with the dry humor for which he is known.
In one poignant moment, the couple paused before a small painting of a tree laden with hearts instead of fruits. The caption: "A Valentine for Julia."
Photographs ranged from an artful study of a wall and shadows in Venice to romantic scenes of young lovers in Paris and Venice, a misty landscape of Roquefort, France, and whimsical shots of long underwear strung out to dry in Carros, a village in Southern France, and a line of aprons in Venice.
Julia Child appeared in a number of photos, including one of a joint cooking demonstration with the late James Beard. The most arresting, perhaps, was a sensitive study of Julia in a cowl-necked blue dress holding an amber cat. Taken in 1954, seven years before publication of the blockbuster "Mastering the Art of French Cooking," which Julia co-authored, and nine years before "The French Chef" debuted on public television, it gives no hint of the fame to come but simply shows a lovely woman.
"He has a magic eye," Julia observed. Much more than a hobbyist, Paul Child photographed the steps of food preparation that were copied by a sketch artist for both volumes of "Mastering." And his photographs illustrate such later books as "The French Chef Cookbook" and "From Julia Child's Kitchen."
"He's responsible for everything I did," said Julia, who was encouraged by her husband to study French cooking. "We worked together very closely."
Biographies of Paul Child distributed at the reception indicate that he was one of a set of twins born on Jan. 15, 1902 in Richmond, Va., to Bertha Cushing, a singer, and Charles Triplet Child. Charles Child died six months later, and the family returned to Bertha's family home in Boston. In the 1920s, Child accompanied his mother and siblings to Paris, where he took up the study of art and photography. Later, Child turned to teaching, first in Europe and then in the United States.
During World War II, Child was sent to China, India and Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) by the Office of Strategic Services. He met Julia, who also worked for the OSS, in Kandy, Ceylon, and they were married in 1946. When Child's OSS department was incorporated into the U. S. Information Agency, the couple moved to Washington. Next, they were sent to the American Embassy in Paris, a posting that made culinary history.
Child resigned from the agency in 1961 and used his leisure to concentrate more fully on painting and photography. "He's a one-man art factory," said Julia, pointing out that her husband is also skilled in etching, wood carving and cabinet making.
Although he has had some small exhibits, Child has received scant personal recognition. Mostly, he has remained in his wife's shadow. At a meeting early this year, the Santa Barbara Chapter of the Southern California Culinary Guild brought up the idea of a party in his honor. Harry Bell, co-chairman of the event with Sally Eagle, recalled Julia's reaction: "Harry," she said, "Nobody ever thought of doing anything for Paul."
When planning the menu, Eagle asked Child for his favorite foods. He responded that he just liked to eat, Eagle said. And he told her, "People who don't like to eat are as queer as hell."
With this broad mandate, Santa Barbara caterer Stephen Singleton produced a menu of eclectic, West Coast-style foods. These ranged from brie topped with sun dried tomatoes, garlic, basil and pine nuts to won tons stuffed with spinach, pepperoni and cheese. Santa Barbara Winery wine maker Bruce McGuire matched the dishes with recent releases. The exhibit, mounted by Steve Semple, a Santa Barbara photographer, was set up amid the wine casks and tanks and was videotaped for the Childs.
Members of the guild and the American Institute of Wine and Food came from throughout Southern California to attend the showing.
One guild member, Fayellen Spillane of San Diego, voiced her appreciation of Paul Child's role in his wife's career. "It took a lot of guts to do what he did, put himself in the background and be very supportive. I just kind of admired him. He always seemed to be there," she said.
Julia Child's own tribute appeared in "The French Chef Cookbook," published in 1968, and needs no updating. In the acknowledgements, she wrote: "Paul Child, the man who is always there: porter, dishwasher, official photographer, mushroom dicer and onion chopper, editor, fish illustrator, manager, taster, idea man, resident poet, and husband."
BRIE WITH SUN DRIED TOMATO TOPPING
2 pounds Brie