Dinner in Julia’s Kitchen

We learn what wines work with asparagus
Aug 20, 2009

All the attention to Julia Child right now—as I wrote some of the coverage in Wine Spectator’s September issue and now saw the movie—brought back memories for me. Last week I blogged about my first dinner with her. But going through what I have written about her over the years, I turned up an occasion when I visited her in her Cambridge, Mass., home.

Through the 1980s and early 1990s, I wrote a menu story in Wine Spectator every month, delving into how to cook for wine and how to match wines for what you cook. Mostly I created the menus myself, but two or three times a year I would feature a chef or well-known food personality. For June 1991, it was Julia.

She invited me to her kitchen, and actually put me up for the night in the upstairs guest room. Seeing the house pictured in the movie Julie & Julia brought that memory flooding back. Most of us know her kitchen, which she used as a set for several of her later TV series, especially the ones with visiting chefs.

I came in through the back door, which leads right up to the kitchen. Walking into that kitchen was like visiting a living shrine. The copper pots and pans hung on the pegboard wall, the professional stove in the corner surrounded by cooking implements poking out of ceramic containers, all familiar from so many hours on television.

Julia and I had gotten to know each other, mostly from our involvement in the American Institute of Wine and Food, which was a prime push of hers at the time. She always had wine questions for me, and seemed interested in my take, which she found to be less snobby than that of a lot of wine folks. I liked her approach, too. She was analytical without being fanatic. As she said in our interview, “You don’t solve anything by telling (the uninitiated) that any wine they like would be fine. Some are definitely better than others.”

That’s what we discovered as we tasted through a range of wines I had  brought to try with her menu. She made asparagus with lobster chunks and mayonnaise to test the theory that no wine can match with asparagus. She marveled at how steely, tart wines such as Savennières and Chablis mellowed and matched well with the dish, better than wines that tasted better by themselves. For a lamb stew, it turned out we liked all the wines, including a Zinfandel, a Côtes du Rhône, a Chinon and a Pinot Noir. In the end, she deemed the Zin and the Rhône good enough but loved the way the food brought out the best in the Chinon. The Pinot Noir? “It’s such a wonderful wine, it may be too good for such a peasant dish,” she said.

For dessert, she baked sand cookies and poached pears in syrup. She loved an apricot-rich late-harvest Riesling by itself, but thought of it as a dessert in itself. Better was a light, spritzy Moscato d’Asti, its own pear and litchi flavors a nice companion to the pears.

Aside from tasting great, the menu was as practical as anything I ever published. Everything on it, literally every element, could be prepared up to a day ahead. The asparagus and lobster and that dessert are served cold, and the stew only needs to be reheated (and like most braised dishes is better the next day). The most difficult task was to open the wines.

Eating the food and drinking them, that was easy. And unforgettable for me.

Cooking

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