The Original Top Chef

Restaurants offer up special dishes in honor of Julia Child — and, yes, wine is on the menu

August 9, 2012

The National Museum of American History will reopen Julia Child’s kitchen from Aug. 15 to Sept. 3, 2012, in honor of the late chef’s 100th birthday.

On Aug. 15, which would have been Julia Child’s 100th birthday, tributes will undoubtedly pour in from Food Network personalities and “Top Chef”-testants. But when Child — who died in 2004 at 91 — first began sharing her cooking lessons with TV audiences in the 1960s, those sorts of culinary VIPs did not yet exist. Julia Child was the celebrity chef.

In her honor, restaurants nationwide have organized Julia Child Restaurant Week (Aug. 7-15), sponsored by the Julia Child Foundation for Gastronomy & the Culinary Arts and her publisher, Alfred A. Knopf. Here’s what to expect from four D.C. restaurants.

Marcel’s

The special at Marcel’s is designed for two: whole roast tarragon chicken with assorted sides, all made from Child’s recipes ($85 prix-fixe for two).

Chef de cuisine Paul Stearman marinates the chicken with garlic, lemons and herbs, then stuffs it with those ingredients and roasts it atop onions. Sides include carrots braised in butter, mushrooms in Madeira sauce and asparagus simmered in onions.

There’s also gratin daphinoise, a baked casserole of potatoes, cream, butter, garlic, thyme and Gruyere cheese. Child would have approved, especially of the gratin, Stearman believes: “She always liked to say, ‘Whether baked or fried, roasted or boiled, I never met a potato I didn’t like.’ ”

Marcel’s, 2401 Pennsylvania Ave. NW; 202-296-1166. (Foggy Bottom)

Café Dupont


Cafe Dupont is serving peach tarte tatin, a spin on one of Child’s favorite desserts.

With a three-course prix-fixe meal with wine pairings ($50 per person), Café Dupont’s specials riff on Child’s French-influenced recipes.

First, there’s parfait de foie de poulet (chicken liver parfait), followed by canard a l’orange (orange-glazed roast duck).

Dessert, however, is a deviation from Child’s apple tarte tatin (upside-down tart); executive sous chef David Fritsche uses peaches instead of apples, taking advantage of the fruit’s seasonality, and serves it alongside amaretto ice cream.

Fritsche, 28, who was raised in Switzerland, wasn’t familiar with Child until he moved to the U.S. four years ago. “I admire the passion she had,” he says. “Sometimes she tried to do things and it didn’t come out the way she wanted it to. She said, ‘It didn’t work the first time, but let’s try it again.’ And that’s pretty much my philosophy as a chef.”

Café Dupont, 1500 New Hampshire Ave. NW; 202-797-0169. (Dupont Circle)

Ris

Chef-owner Ris Lacoste, who viewed Child as a mentor, is serving foods tied to her memories of the celebrity chef. The prix-fixe specials ($35.12 per person) run through both Julia Child Restaurant Week and D.C.’s regular restaurant week (Aug. 13-19). The menu will feature sole meuniere (trout sautéed in brown butter), which Child ordered at Lucky’s restaurant in Montecito, Calif., when she dined there with Lacoste in 2003.

Lacoste will also plate her own meatloaf (which she served at her Cambridge, Mass., restaurant, Harvest, when Child ate there) alongside Child’s — a “dueling meatloafs” course, says Lacoste, who still has Child’s number programmed into her speed-dial. “What I would love to see is for some people to like mine and some people to like hers,” she says. “But if they all like hers better, I’d love it.”

Ris, 2275 L St. NW; 202-730-2500. (Foggy Bottom)

Central


Central’s “Chicken Julia” includes a classic roast bird.

Chef Michel Richard is serving “Chicken Julia,” a roast chicken with ratatouille (vegetable stew; $24 per person), paired with an Echezeaux wine. Richard frequently cooked on Child’s TV shows, including “Baking With Master Chefs” and “Cooking With Master Chefs.”

“She was a darling lady, a wonderful lady. It was always, ‘Bonjour, bonjour, Michel!’” Richard says, imitating Child’s distinctive voice.

He shares Child’s love for a well-cooked bird and follows a simple recipe, using garlic, herbs and lemons as stuffing. Richard’s ratatouille, containing tomatoes, bell peppers, zucchini and onions, was also taste-tested by Child herself — he once served it to her on a hot summer day in LA.“It’s so refreshing and light,” Richard says. “She loved it.”

Central, 1001 Pennsylvania Ave. NW; 202-626-0015. (Federal Triangle)

Getting to Know Julia

It was a lucky break: A friend working at an Italian trade board asked Bob Spitz to help escort Julia Child on a trip to Sicily. Their 1992 journey provided much of the material for Spitz’s new biography of Child, “Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julia Child” ($30, Alfred A. Knopf).

“We traveled through Sicily for a month, doing nothing but eating and talking” about her life, Spitz says. “Nothing was off-the-record, and she wanted to talk. It was fantastic.”

Going out to eat with Child for three square meals per day was a highlight. At restaurants, “Julia did a couple things that were really funny,” Spitz says, such as visiting the kitchen to see how food was being prepared before the first course was even served.

“I always said to her, ‘How do you stay so trim when you eat so much food?’ ” Spitz recalls. “She said, ‘I always divide what’s on my plate in half, and I eat half.’ And she did. She ate one half and then she ate the other half as well.”

Unlike many of today’s celebrity chefs, Child didn’t seem inaccessible to her fans, and she was widely recognized when she and Spitz traveled in Italy. Her charisma and unforgettable presence were key to her success, Spitz says. “She was beloved because she was completely natural. She didn’t believe in pre-packaged food and she wasn’t pre-packaged herself.”

Spitz will sign copies of “Dearie” on Wednesday at 2:30 p.m. at the National Museum of American History, 1400 Constitution Ave. NW; 202-633-1000.

The Kitchen Is Open

From Aug. 15 to Sept. 3, the National Museum of American History will reopen its exhibit of Julia Child’s kitchen. Lifted in near-entirety from Child’s house in Cambridge, Mass., in 2001, the kitchen is a sight to behold for pegboard fanatics (and ordinary cooks, of course). The exhibit has been closed since January; after it closes again Sept. 3, it will reopen eventually as part of a show at the museum about food and drinks in America.

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