The to-do list goes something like this: Scale way back on all earthly possessions, ridding yourself of books, pots and pans. Move to a much smaller place 3,000 miles away. And slap your name on a restaurant. It's a pretty ambitious schedule if, say, you've just graduated from college. Darned amazing if you're 89 years old. Yet this--and more--is what Julia Child has on her plate at the moment.
The grand dame of the American table has spent her last summer at her Cambridge, Mass., home and is moving permanently to what she calls her "cute pad" in Montecito. But first, on Nov. 18, Child will preside over the opening of the first restaurant ever to bear her name (though she has no commercial interest in the venture), Julia's Kitchen, in Napa at Copia: The American Center for Wine, Food & the Arts.
Over the years, countless commercial ventures have wooed Child hoping to use her name--purveyors of cookware, stationery, bread--and she's consistently turned them down. Copia is the exception. "It's the first and last time I'll ever do something like this," she says.
Copia is the brainchild of Napa Valley vintner Robert Mondavi and promises to be a cultural center/theme park--just short of thrill rides--for anyone in love with the arts and crafts of eating and drinking. The $55-million complex expects to draw more than 300,000 visitors a year, offering a wiggy melange of edible gardens, art exhibits and wine tastings, plus film events, live music, classes in demonstration kitchens and more. "It's a wonderful concept," says Child.
Copia's centerpiece is a restaurant bearing Child's name, or at least part of it. Still leery of dipping a toe into commercialism, she's playing it safe and delightedly points out that the eatery is not called Julia Child's Kitchen. Oh no. "I only gave them one of my names," she says. "It could be any Julia. So I'm saved."
Meanwhile, she looks forward to a quiet life in her Montecito home, complete with a small garden and several fruit trees. Child's retirement here is, in fact, a homecoming. As a girl, her family left its Pasadena residence each summer to estivate in a house on the property where Montecito's Biltmore Hotel now stands. In 1980, she and husband Paul bought a place in nearby Santa Barbara, where she filmed her PBS show "Dinner at Julia's." Those programs featured Child hiking the hills for mushrooms and peering into crab pots and searching out fresh seasonal ingredients for her table. Likewise, Julia's Kitchen in Napa overlooks the very gardens and small groups of fruit trees that will supply its tables with just-harvested produce.
When she's in Santa Barbara, you'll find Child at her favorite food haunts, searching out perfect produce at the Saturday farmer's market downtown, great cuts of meat at Whitefoot Meat Market and succulent seafood at Kanaloa Seafoods. And there's at least one more item on her list of things to do. Copia is planning a big bash for Child's 90th birthday next August.
Onion Soup From Julia's Kitchen
2 medium onions
1 leek, white part only, washed and chopped
1 quart vegetable stock
1 healthy pinch of saffron
4-5 sprigs of tarragon, tied with kitchen twine
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 cup of butter
Sea salt and cayenne pepper to taste
1 tablespoon Pastis or Pernod
6 ounces fresh rock shrimp
4 sprigs chervil
2 tablespoons chopped chives
Peel onions and place in an aluminum foil pouch with olive oil and season with salt. Seal foil. Place on a baking dish and bake in 300-degree oven for 21/2 hours, until very soft. Melt a tablespoon of butter in a sauce pan and sweat leeks until very tender. Add stock to leeks and bring to boil. Turn off heat, add tarragon and saffron to liquid. Cover pot and steep for 30 minutes. Remove the tarragon from the liquid. Place onions in a blender with the liquid that was released from the onions inside the pouch. Add leek-and-saffron liquid to blender and puree. Stop blender and check seasoning, adding salt and cayenne pepper to taste. Add the Pastis or Pernod and remaining butter. Blend until butter is incorporated and pour soup back into a sauce pan. While soup is reheating, saute the rock shrimp and divide into four bowls, garnish with the chervil and chives. Divide the soup among the bowls. Serve.