"WHAT'S the first line?" asks Julia Child.
"I have no idea," answers Russell Morash, her producer.
"This is a caramelized fanned out paired pear half," she ad libs. Wrong. "A pair of pear halves." Nope. A phone rings. A dog barks. Another time she calls it an apple.
"That's a burn," booms Morash. Start again.
Julia Child stops to wipe the counter of her New England-style kitchen in the hills of California. She takes a swig of seltzer. Then stares straight into the camera held by a young man perched on wooden wine cartons, and gives it another try.
After four years of making do with reruns, Julia Child's Boston video gang has gathered again, this time in Santa Barbara, for "Dinner at Julia's," a 13-week public television series to air in the fall. It's a half-hour show with a new format, with new video techniques, and after 20 years of producing award-winning cooking shows on a shoestring, this time it has a million-dollar budget. But thank goodness, it's the same old Julia.
Everyone has always paid a lot of attention to the way the food looks, explained Julia Child, looking bigger than life as she stood next to a hand-made Julia Child doll hanging in the TV kitchen of the $3 1/2 million rented mansion. This time around she suggested they also pay attention to the way she looks. So Child now has a "dresser," Debbie Wait, who at that moment was arranging the star's collar and tugging her striped overblouse, then turning to straighten the collar and give a wink to Child's husband Paul. He also spends his days on the set, with a camera around his neck and his earlier photographic art propped on the mantel. Between takes Wait, officially called makeup and wardrobe stylist, fluffs Julia Child's newly cropped curls with a pick and touches up her lipstick.
"We've youthened her," explained Wait of 70-year-old Child. Wait said that she had chosen vibrant colors, what she calls "fun clothes" for Julia Child's television wardrobe of traveling clothes, cooking clothes and dinner party clothes. With lamb, purple--which is "dressy." Chicken is semi-casual--or "cazh," as Wait says it.
This new television series is meant to be a food and wine magazine, a "documentary on American food and current techniques," as Morash calls it, with recipes only incidental to the gathering of the food, discussion of wine, cooking techniques and showing how the food is used in a real dinner. The food will be what Child calls "classically based modern."
"We feel that people are sophisticated enough and there are enough books around that we don't have to tell people how to chop an onion," said Child. The first show began at a chicken farm, the second at the butcher's, the third on a shrimp boat. Each half-hour show takes an entire week to film. Shopping segments are filmed on Tuesday after a Monday of planning. Wednesday they get down to the cooking. Thursday is the most complicated day.
The guest chef--one each week, ranging from Washington's Jean Pierre Goyenvalle to Los Angeles' Wolfgang Puck to James Beard--arrives and makes his dish, which will be the hors d'oeuvre at the dinner party. A wine expert comes to film a segment, Morash sampling the props and Child sipping on camera, afterwards commenting, "This is the way to do television."
Child films one-minute "tips"--how to fold a napkin, how to chop an onion (sophistication notwithstanding), how to make pie dough with a food processor ("It's amazing," she says to the cameraman; "have you gotten one for your wife yet?"), to air on commercial television.
And late in the afternoon the guests arrive for the show's culmination, a formal dinner party--"the feast," as it fondly called by the staff--starting with a cocktail hour in the living room and moving to the dining room for three courses with the guest chef's dish, Julia Child's main course and dessert and the wine expert's wine, served by culinary school waiters to the Childs and their eight guests. The dinner may go on to 11 p.m.
By day the mansion is inhabited with camera crews, luncheon caterers and staff totaling about 20; by night with Russell Morash; his wife, executive chef Marian Morash; daughters Vicki and Kate; and a big fluffy dog named Sam who barks at every visitor whether or not the cameras are rolling.
Julia Child, who now spends winters in Santa Barbara and the rest of the year in Cambridge, Mass., drives from her apartment a half hour down the road, arriving on dinner party day with a bag of two eggplants and a box of Pepperidge Farm puff pastry, which draws a laugh from her gang as they decide to try it out. It is immediately clear that this group--the Morash family and food designer Rosemary Manell--have worked together so long they have blended into team as smooth as caramel. Russell Morash, in stained and streaked jeans and blue workshirt, serves as both director and standup comic. He keeps a running patter of directions, jokes and occasionally immobilizes everyone by blasting the whistle he wears around his neck.
Child is wearing her usual cooking outfit--striped overblouse, navy blue apron tied around her waist, burgundy suede jogging shoes. The guest chef, Moncef Meddef of Boston's L'Espalier restaurant, is already cooking lobsters and buttercup squash for his Lobster Espalier.
The dinner guest crisis has been solved; the financial backers who demanded last-minute invitations to the dinner party and thereby bumped other guests have canceled out anyway, and the original guests happily reaccepted. The pressure for the four weekly dinner party invitations is alleviated by inviting more guests for the cocktail hour, who can watch the videotaping from the kitchen and nibble leftovers, then leave with a Dinner at Julia's apron.
Ken Davis, the director of food service, has done the first shopping of the day. Since the neighborhood grocery had only instant rather than regular grits, it is decided to make the grits souffle' with instant because, "This is a show for people," said Davis.
The food for the show plus transportation and "paper towels," as Davis put it, cost $1,000 a week; the cost would be higher but the lamb, shrimp, wines and such are donated by the producers who are glad to have their products shown on television. And people bring Child delicacies: giant wild mushrooms, live baby abalone. Enough food must be on hand not only for the dinner party and filming but also an extra 30 to 50 percent to compensate for having to reshoot cooking segments. Catered lunches for the crew add $600 to the weekly budget.
Since the high points are outlined but the specific lines ad libbed, the filming has an impromptu air: Legs of lamb that won't cut right (even after Morash himself sharpens the knife). The announcement that they are down to the last leg of lamb. Julia Child puts on her glasses to examine the string tying the lamb, and all hold their breath while she starts to carve. Associate producer Avra Friedfeld mocks, "This is like the cop shows when they only had two cars to crash and they blew it." Child continues discussing lamb on camera while the staff devour it behind the scenes.
Then there's the caramel that bubbles into hideous lumps.
"It looks ghastly," moans Morash. "If you can save this, Julie . . ."
Julia Child never misses a beat as she confides to the unseen audience, "It looks awful at this point, which is normal." She covers the pan to let it simmer, takes a break to watch the tape and give it a hearty laugh, then returns to the stove to fuss over the caramel as the crew swirl around her. The pears are done but the tape needs reloading, so there is an emergency call for "more sizzle." Marian Morash rushes butter into a pan to make it sizzle. Timing the food to coincide with the timing of the taping is a constant problem. "Simmer, covered, until the camera is reloaded"--that's the kind of recipe the show requires.
Manell suggests, "We're going to have to have another credit line: Sizzle by Marian Morash."
To everyone's relief, the caramel does turn out beautifully smooth. The segment ends with Child arranging puff pastry, caramel, pastry cream, pears and whipped cream on a plate--but not without endless retakes of rearranged pastry tops and conferences over the placement of whipped cream, not to mention drips of caramel on the plate. She wipes off a drip with her finger and licks it, asking if anyone has seen her purple towel so that she could wipe it the way chef Henry Haller does it in the White House. "I wish we were going to get him. Do you think we could get him?" she wonders.
They now begin to worry whether they are going to run out of caramel. They are down to the wire, and there is a splatter of caramel on the plate. Child wipes it off with the purple towel she has found, looks the camera straight in the eye, and declares that's the way they do it in the White House.
Russell Morash explains that such a show without a script couldn't be done with an actor unfamiliar with the subject, but it is possible in this show because Julia Child knows her subject so well.
And except for Child's script, the details have been carefully planned. The name of the show: It had to have her name in it, and Morash wanted to aim it at evening viewers. "Many stations think of cooking as daytime fare," he said; "so we thought, 'Let's make it as absurd as possible to run it in the daytime.' " Thus "Dinner at Julia's," which they expect--and hope--will become as much a punch line as "It's always somethin'."
Then there was the butter. "We spent a lot of time choosing butter," explained Marian Morash. Everything Julia Child cooks must taste good, even if it is not going to be eaten. For her filmed "tip" on piping mashed potatoes she used fresh potatoes, not instant, and seasoned them properly, though they only went--repeatedly--into a pastry bag for decorating. She frequently dips a finger into a sauce to taste whether it is right, nibbles the raw dough.
This show, unlike Julia Child's earlier ones, is shot in half-minute to 1 1/2-minute segments with a single hand-held camera, which can practically poke right into the saucepan. Its wide-angle lens allows the viewer to see from the position of the cook, to get in as close as the eye sees. It also allows stopping to wipe up spots of gravy, thus making "very perfect TV," says Morash, suitable for watching over and over on home video tapes. According to Morash, this is the only production company in America filming long stretches with a single camera. The old shows were filmed in ten-minute segments with two cameras.
At 5:30, with cocktail guests arriving, Julia Child goes to change into filmy purple--it being lamb night. Waiters in black tie pour wine and pass stuffed mushrooms as a piano plays. Fur coats are shed, cheeks kissed. Meddef, the Boston chef, is getting nervous in the kitchen: "Where are the lobster 'jimmies'?" he asks of the bits of coral for his garnish. He is worried his dish will get cold before it is served. Guests are ushered into the dining room but a sump pump interferes with the videotaping; they have to leave the table and start again from the living room. A chill settles over Meddef as he worries about it settling over his Lobster Espalier.
Davis asks of the staff watching the party on the kitchen television monitor, "Please let me know when they are low on wine," and rushes over to supervise the waiters. "I think I'll use closed circuit television to monitor my next restaurant," he quips as he disappears.
It has been decided to put only the silverware for each course on the table at a time, so nobody is caught on national television using the wrong fork. And after the first week the cameramen learned that you don't want to shoot any plate after a diner has begun to work it over.
Davis directs the dessert service, "Desserts going out. Two at a time, no fingers on the plates."
The show is over, the last shot from outside the bay window looking into the warm and lively party. In the kitchen Marian Morash puts lamb sauce into plastic freezer containers and labels it. Just as at dinner parties all over this land, the guests get up to leave, thank the hosts, praise the food. And then they gather in the kitchen around the television monitor to watch "Dinner at Julia's." MONCEF MEDDEF'S LOBSTER ESPALIER (Lobster With Buttercup Squash Bavarian and Chardonnay Sauce) (4 servings) Salt, white pepper, fresh ground nutmeg 2 tablespoons vinegar 4 1 1/2-pound maine lobsters* 8 ounces peeled, seeded buttercup squash (substitute other winter squash) 1/4 cup whipping cream 1/2 beaten egg 2 yolks Few drops fresh lemon juice 2 tablespoons chopped shallots 1/2 cup fish stock 1 cup chardonnay, good California variety) 2 tablespoons whipping cream 9 tablespoons butter 1 dozen snow peas 8 small chanterelles (or shiitake mushrooms) Sweet butter and chives for saute'eing Several sprigs of fresh chervil
Bring 8 quarts of water seasoned with salt and vinegar to a boil. Drop lobsters in, turn off heat and let stand for 15 minutes. (Since lobster has such high protein content, a "passive" cooking is far better for its texture than "active" cooking). Peel squash and cut in coarse chunks. Place in a medium saucepan, cover squash with water, season with a pinch of salt and 2 turns of fresh ground white pepper. Bring water to a boil and let cook at high until squash is soft, about 15 minutes. Drain squash well and transfer to a bowl; mash squash with a fork. Pour 1/4 cup cream into squash and add egg and egg yolks. Place mixture in blender at high speed until silky smooth.
Line 2-ounce muffin tins with waxed paper on bottom; butter the sides. Adjust seasonings of the squash mixture with a little more salt and pepper if needed and add 2 pinches of fresh ground nutmeg, as well as a few drops of lemon juice. Divide squash mixture between muffin cups, place them in a pan filled with warm water and bake at 350 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes or until set.
Place shallots, fish stock and chardonnay into a saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat and cook until reduced nearly to a glaze. Reduce heat to very low. Add 2 tablespoons cream and whisk in butter piece by piece. Season with salt and white pepper, strain and keep warm. Add a little fish fumet or water if sauce is too rich.
Blanch snow peas in boiling salted water for 1 minute. Strain and keep warm. Clean and saute' chanterelles in little sweet butter, season and sprinkle with a little chopped chives.
Drain lobsters, de-shell and keep warm.
Unmold squash bavarians and set in center of 4 warmed dinner plates. On bottom center of each plate place half tail with claw astride, snow peas turned on one side of bavarian, chanterelles on the other. Spoon sauce over bavarian. Top with chervil sprigs.
*Note: If the lobsters are female, you may chop up the roe and pass through a sieve. You will have wonderful looking tiny little red eggs, which you may sprinkle over the dish as a finishing touch. ROAST RACK OF LAMB (6 servings) For the lamb: 6 1/2-pound whole leg of lamb 1/2 cup each sliced carrots and onions 2 whole garlic cloves For the mustard coating: 1 clove garlic 1/2 teaspoon salt 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme 2 to 3 tablespoons prepared dijon-style mustard 3 to 4 tablespoons light olive oil or fresh peanut oil
Score top of the lamb lightly--making shallow crisscross knife slashes in the covering fat. To make the mustard coating, mash 1 clove garlic and the salt together in a small bowl, mash in the thyme, then beat in the mustard and the oil.
Lay lamb on rack in roasting pan with its less presentable side up; paint this side with mustard coating, turn lamb and paint coating over the rest of the lamb. Reserve 2 to 3 tablespoons of the mustard mixture to flavor your sauce after roasting, if desired. Insert meat thermometer, its point reaching the thickest part of solid meat. Strew carrots, onions and garlic around the meat. This may be done hours in advance and refrigerated, but for accurate timing leave lamb out at room temperature for at least 2 hours before roasting.
Roast lamb in lower middle level of oven at 400 degrees for the first 15 minutes then reduce to 350 degrees and cook for 1 hour and 15 minutes more, or to a meat thermometer reading of 140 degrees for medium rare. The meat will be pink and juicy. No basting or turning is necessary. Adapted from Julia Child's books. CARAMEL PEAR TARTS (8 servings) For the pastry (or substitute any short crust or puff-pastry base): 3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour 1 cup plain bleached cake flour 6 1/2 sticks chilled unsalted butter 1 1/2 teaspoons salt 1 cup iced water For the pastry cream: 2 cups milk 6 egg yolks 1/2 cup sugar 1/2 cup all-purpose flour 3 tablespoons butter 1 tablespoon vanilla extract (substitute 1/2 tablespoon vanilla and 1 or 2 tablespoons rum, kirsch, orange liqueur, cognac, strong coffee, etc.) Pinch of salt 2 or more tablespoons whipping cream (if needed) For the pears: 4 pears For the caramel: 1/2 cup sugar 1 cup butter For garnish: Dollops of whipped cream (optional)
All the elements of these tarts can be made ahead, and should be assembled at the last minute.
Make the puff pastry: Place the flour in mixing bowl. Rapidly cut the sticks of chilled butter into lengthwise quarters, then into 1/2-inch dice, add to the flour--if you have taken too long to cut the butter and it has softened, refrigerate bowl to chill butter before proceeding. Add the salt. Blend flour and butter together rapidly, if by hand to make large flakes about an inch in size. By machine the butter should be roughly broken up but stay in lumps the size of large lima beans. Blend in the water, mixing just enough so that dough masses roughly together but butter pieces remain about the same size.
Turn dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Rapidly push and pat and roll it out into a rectangle in front of you--12-by-18 inches. It will look an awful mess. Lightly flour top of dough and with pastry sheet to help you, flip bottom of rectangle up over the middle, and then flip the top down to cover it, as though folding a business letter. Lift dough off work surface with pastry sheet; scrape work surface clean, flour the surface lightly and return dough to it, settling it down in front of you so that the top flap is at your right. Lightly flour top of dough, and pat, push and roll it out again into a rectangle; it will look a little less messy. Fold again into 3 as before--each of these roll and fold operations is called a "turn," Roll out and fold 2 more times, making 4 turns in all, and by the last one the pastry should actually look like dough. You should see large flakes of butter scattered under the surface of the dough, which is just as it should be.
Wrap the dough in plastic, place in a plastic bag, and refrigerate for 40 minutes (or longer) to firm the butter and relax the gluten in the dough. Give the dough 2 more turns, beating it back and forth and up and down first if chilled and hard. Let the dough rest another 30 minutes if it seems rubbery and hard to roll; then it is ready for forming and baking. (Dough may be frozen after the first 4 turns, although it is easier to complete the 6 of them before freezing. Defrost overnight in the refrigerator, or at room temperature.)
Roll dough 1/4-inch thick and cut into 8 4-by-2-inch rectangles, reserving the rest for another use. Bake at 450 degrees for 10 to 12 minutes, or until puffed and brown. Set aside or wrap and store until ready to assemble tarts.
To make the pastry cream heat the milk in a small saucepan. Meanwhile, start beating the egg yolks in a 2 1/2-quart heavy-bottomed stainless or enameled pan gradually pouring on the sugar and continue beating for several minutes until thick and pale yellow. Beat in the flour to mix thoroughly. By dribbles, beat in two-thirds to three-quarters of the hot milk; set rest of milk aside. Stir custard mixture over moderately high heat and beat with mixer or whip, reaching all over bottom and sides of pan--and do not worry about curdling the egg yolks; they are in a flour-based sauce and will come to no harm. The custard will begin to show signs of lumping as a boil is reached; beat vigorously to smooth it. The cream should be very thick, like a heavy mayonnaise, but if it is too thick and stiff, thin out with droplets of milk thoughout the cooking.
Lower heat to moderate and stir with wooden spoon, again reaching all over pan, 2 to 3 minutes more, to cook the flour. Remove from heat, and beat in the butter, a tablespoon at a time, then the flavoring and salt. Spread plastic wrap upon surface to prevent a skin from forming and chill. Taste carefully before using, and if it's too stiff beat in a little fresh cream by dribbles; the custard, however, should remain thick so that it will hold in a pastry shell.
Peel and halve pears and scoop out the seeds and the string but leave on the stem. Slice the pears thinly but not all the way to the top. They stay whole but the slices fan out.
Make the caramel by boiling sugar and butter in a skillet, stirring occasionally. Let bubble until mixture turns a light caramel color; be careful not to let it burn. The mixture will begin to curdle, but it will smooth out later. Carefully arrange pears in skillet with the caramel and cover. Cook over very low heat for 8 to 10 minutes, occasionally basting the pears. Remove and let cool. The pear juices will have combined with caramel to thin and smooth it. Remove pears and set them on a flat pan, fanning them out; and leave them until ready to serve. Boil down the caramel until it thickens into a sauce.
When ready to serve, pour a pool of caramel on each dessert plate. Halve puff pastry horizontally and put the bottom half on the plate. Dollop a spoonful of pastry cream on each puff pastry bottom. Fan out a pear half on each. Set the puff pastry top at an angle to the bottom so the pear shows. If desired serve with a dollop of whipped cream on the side. Adapted from Julia Child's books.