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Thanks, Julia, but Where are the Women?

Michel Richard has assembled a “dream team” to cook a dinner honoring Julia Child for her contributions to French cooking. It includes the world’s finest French chefs, including five with three stars from Michelin and more than 60 American masters. But to some people, this dream is turning into a nightmare.

“Merci Julia!"--a benefit for the American Institute of Wine & Food’s Education Fund--will be held at the Ritz-Carlton in Marina del Rey on Feb. 7. There will be a French market, appetizers prepared by the participating chefs, a five-course dinner and entertainment.

The three-star chefs flying in from France are Paul Bocuse, Roger Verge, Alain Ducasse, Michel Troisgros and Michel Rostang.

The American list is equally impressive, reading like a Who’s Who of American cooking.

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Included are New York chefs David Bouley (Bouley) and Daniel Boulud (Restaurant Daniel); Vincent Guerithault of Vincent in Phoenix; Jean-Louis Palladin of the Watergate Hotel in Washington, and Angelenos Patrick Healy of Xiomara and Ken Frank of La Toque. Restaurateurs include our own Gerard Ferry (L’Orangerie) and Bernard Jacoupy (Lunaria) and New York’s Sirio Maccioni (Le Cirque). There will even be cookbook authors like Jacques Pepin and Pierre Franey.

Thanks to such corporate sponsors as Air France, Moet & Chandon, American Express and Villeroy & Boch, the benefit is expected to raise $50,000 at $350 a ticket.

“Michel is the brain behind this,” says Cora Gail of Richard’s Citrus restaurant. “He had lunch with Julia and told her how impressed he was with all she’s done for French cuisine. He told Julia he wanted to throw a party for her, and she liked the idea.”

But there are those who are less thrilled about the event. “Good old Julia is going to be with all these male chauvinists,” says the legendary French-born Madeleine Kamman. “The mere fact that I haven’t been invited is absolutely grotesque,” adds the outspoken former chef, who runs a master’s course for professional chefs at Beringer Vineyards in the Napa Valley. “How about Lydia Shire. Has she been invited? How about Anne Rosenzweig? Deborah Ponzek? Have they?”

No. Nor was Bernadette Millet, president of Club Culinaire Francais, a Los Angeles-based club of more than 100 French chefs, bakers, restaurateurs and purveyors, and chef-owner of Bernadette’s Restaurant in Montecito. In fact, the official “Merci Julia!” roster includes just two women.

“Here we are having this great event for a great woman,” says one famous female chef, who asked not to be named. “Doesn’t it even occur to the people organizing the tribute what it’s about? It doesn’t seem to matter who they are honoring. It’s just ‘let’s have all our pals come over for a party.’ ”

“It is most surprising that we are honoring a woman and there are practically no women who are cooking or coming to the event, " agrees Rosenzweig, executive chef at New York’s stylish Arcadia.

Two months ago Millet had lunch with Child and asked why she hadn’t been invited. “She told me Michel was in charge of the invitation list,” says Millet, who has known Richard since the day she arrived from France to cook at Ma Maison. “He is a good friend, but a macho guy,” she says. “So many are in those kitchens.”

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Carrie Nahabedian, executive chef at the Four Seasons in Santa Barbara, one of the two invited women (the other is restaurateur Maguy Le Coze of Brasserie le Coze in Miami), disagrees: “I’ve worked for the toughest Frenchmen around and have never had a problem. No one should feel slighted.”

In fact, Richard insists he invited four other women. “I don’t remember their names,” he says.

“I find the whole thing totally preposterous, anyway,” Kamman says. “They are all going to wear their toques and are all going to cross their arms on their chests and put perfectly disgusting food on the table. And that’s c’est la vie. There’s not much you can do about it.”


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