DANA POINT -- Julia Child, TV's famous "French Chef," received this year's Bon Appetit magazine lifetime achievement award Sunday during a gala dinner at the Ritz-Carlton, the culmination of the hotel's seventh annual World of Wines weekend.
A lively and opinionated octogenarian, Child ate every course with zeal, just as she would when she would prepared them herself on her seminal television program. No matter that this time the food was prepared by five famous French chefs brought in especially for the occasion. This is a woman who loves food, a woman who has devoted her life to promoting good eating. Anyone who goes out to dinner in this country owes her.
About 150 of Orange County's most loyal foodies turned out to be pampered by such chefs as Michel Richard of Citrus in Los Angeles, Hubert Keller from Fleur de Lys in San Francisco and Vincent Guerithault of his eponymous restaurant in Phoenix, who prepared such dishes as duck foie gras with black beans, lamb chops roasted with shallot and thyme and a magnificent chocolate feuillantine with a crunchy bottom. Meanwhile, the evening's master of ceremonies, wine writer Anthony Dias Blue, provided anecdotes, descriptions of the dishes and information about the chefs.
It was only fitting that, in this so-called "Year of the Woman," Child was selected for honor. (Saturday night, at another banquet in the hotel, the ageless Dinah Shore had been given the magazine's Bon Vivant award.)
Child basked at the head table, where she was seated with previous award recipients Robert Mondavi and The Times' Robert Lawrence Balzer, as a steady stream of well-wishers and fans came by to pay respects.
Despite the elitist context of the black-tie affair, Child always has been a populist chef, emphasizing the simple things. She taught millions of viewers how to make a proper omelet, how to truss a chicken, even how to whip cream. Since 1961, when she collaborated with Simone Beck to produce a book called "Mastering the Art of French Cooking," people have been used to hearing her oddly modulated, stentorian contralto on public television..
When it finally was her turn to get up and speak, she called for a panel of food and wine consultants to serve at the White House, so that state dinners would uphold firmly established culinary traditions.
"These dinners belong to the people," she said. Bill Clinton, take notice: If you are planning on serving grits to France's Francois Mitterrand, you'd better make sure there is a good sauce gribiche on the side.