Friday, March 28, 2008

A Chat with Julia Child's Nephew

By APRIL LISANTE Philadelphia Daily News

For the Daily News

SHE WAS brining, roasting, kneading and sautéing when Emeril Lagasse was in diapers, and Rachael Ray wasn't even a gleam in her parents' eyes.

At a time when cooking wasn't cool - and certainly not on television - Julia Child single-handedly pioneered a new gastronomic course for the world. But the familiar, larger-than-life persona of her celebrity years had humble beginnings as a shy, awkward, sometimes inept culinary student.

Though she is known mostly for the television fame she gained late in life, her love affair with French cooking began as a lark, a thirtysomething's determination to learn a few dishes to please her new husband.

Some of her most intimate culinary experiences as a young woman are captured in the memoir "My Life in France" (Knopf, $25.95), based on Child's dictations to her great-nephew, Alex Prud'homme, in the days before her 2004 death from kidney failure at age 91.

Prud'homme also used old letters, photos and handwritten recipes from Child and her husband, Paul, that passed through the family for decades to recreate Child's years in France, from 1948 to 1954, when she learned to cook.

She went to France with her worldly husband, a U.S. State Department employee who was 10 years her senior. Child's efforts to remedy her ineptitude in the kitchen and her lack of knowledge of French cuisine sparked an obsession that produced, well, historical results.

Prud'homme's book, published in 2006, has just been optioned by Sony Pictures for a movie starring Meryl Streep as Julia and Stanley Tucci as Paul. Nora Ephron - no slouch in the kitchen herself, and writer/director of films such as "Sleepless in Seattle" and "Heartburn" - will write and direct the film, scheduled for a 2009 release.

We chatted with Prud'homme, a freelance journalist and novelist who lectured at the Free Library of Philadelphia last month about the book, the movie and life with Child.

Q: Julia sort of fell into cooking, and in the book she is almost like an alien landing on another planet when she arrives in France. Tell me about what that was like for her.

A: These are stories she'd always talked about - the five years of her life when she was living in France with Paul after the war. She arrives not speaking French and not able to cook more than pancakes. And in typical Julia fashion, she signs up for French lessons. She becomes obsessed.

After a year, she signs up at the Cordon Bleu [cooking school] and learns to cook and how to teach and how to shop in the French way, which means not just buying a piece of meat wrapped in plastic. It means talking to the butcher and asking him about the weather and his daughter.

This was an important life lesson for her and for me. There are lessons embedded in these stories. We try not to hit the reader over the head with them, but they are simple and they can be applied to life. Take time, do things carefully, and, above all, have fun. It's a simple statement, but profound . . . I think it's going to be one of her enduring legacies, this positive, rigorous approach to life . . .

Q: Why are only the years from '48 to '54 the focus of the book?

A: This was the moment of epiphany for her. She arrives as a blank slate in her mid-'30s, she doesn't know what she wants to be when she grows up. She is with her husband, a sophisticated man, and he takes her to this important place at this moment in history.

Q: In the beginning of the book, she talks about her first meal in France when she arrives. It is bizarre to hear Julia Child talk about not knowing what a shallot is, or hearing about her shock that they drank wine at lunch.

A: She always referred to this meal [in the town of Rouen] in a dreamy way that she'd play in her mind over and over. One thing that was fascinating was how memory works. She was 91 at that point when she was talking about it, and her health was not great. Sometimes she could not remember what she did the day before, but she could remember specifics from 50 years earlier - the texture and taste of food and people and places she had seen.

Q: Did you get to know her well from this book-writing process?

A: I thought I knew her pretty well, but when you spend intense time going over things from 50 years ago . . . yes.

Q: What was it about French cooking in particular that drew her?

A: I could never get her to articulate what it was about French food that rang her bell. She loved Chinese food second best, but there was something about French food. We talked around this question, but she said it is the seriousness with which the French take the food - the ritual, the rules and the great pleasure in it.

Q: In the forward of the book, you mention that she and her husband talked about writing this book for a long time, and that you waited a long time for her to agree to do it. How did you finally convince her? Do you think it was her husband's death [in 1994] that convinced her?

A: The book is dedicated to Paul, and his photos illustrated her book. He had already experienced Paris in the 1920s as an artist. He really encouraged her [to learn to cook]. He pushed her. He was a teacher and important influence on her life. She was hoping to meet his high standards, but she took it and ran for it.

At first, I had a hard time getting her to tell me these stories . . . I'd say, "Julia tell me about your first building in Paris where you stayed." She'd say it was a building. It was odd because here's a person who spent her life on the stage performing, but she was actually a modest person who never talked about herself. She never got around to writing the book because she didn't want to toot her own horn.

Q: You were able to write the book mainly because of the letters Paul sent to your grandfather, his twin brother, during these years in France. How was it having all these letters to work with?

A: Paul was a wonderful writer, very descriptive. It was almost like he'd written these letters for us to use to write this book 50 years later. I felt like a pirate discovering a pile of gold coins. I was able to unlock Julia by reading her sections of Paul's letters and it would sort of transport her. . . . I think it was just luck that we were able to work on this thing together. Paul's stories got her going.

Once we got her ideas down on paper, I would go out to Santa Barbara and we'd do interviews in her little apartment from January 2004 to August for a few days each month. [Julia died two days after she and Prud'homme had met about the book for the last time.]

Then I took another year to finish the book and essentially be a ventriloquist. I had to take off my journalist hat and take on her voice. I just used stories she wanted to use. The tone we wanted to set was you [the readers] are sitting at a café table with Julia, and she is telling stories about her life.

Q: What do you think Julia would want the book to convey?

A: She was always modest and would downplay her evolution in American gastronomy. . . . She wants to inspire people. She wants people to love food and cooking and do it with others - to take food more seriously and to take the time to do it right. And above all, have fun.

Q: Are you excited about the movie?

A: Sony Pictures has optioned it and combined it with a book written by Julie Powell ["Julie & Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen," Little, Brown & Co.]. Powell spent a year recreating every recipe from Child's "Mastering the Art of French Cooking." I am happy about that. I think Julia would be pleased. *

Second Helpings Celebrates 10 Years!

2008 marks the tenth anniversary of Second Helpings! Thanks to the great support of people like you, we are able to continue providing vital services to organizations in the Greater Indianapolis area. To celebrate our tenth year we are spreading the news about our mission of eliminating hunger and empowering people. Look for us in the following:

April issue of Indianapolis Woman magazine

Radio spots on 92.3 WTTS during the week of April 21, May 5, June 9, and June 23.

Television spots, in limited markets, during the week of April 14, April 28, June 2, and June 16 on the following networks:

History Channel
Discovery Channel

Don't forget to continue checking us out on the Web at!

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Taking "Customer Service" To a Whole New Level

TACOMA, Washington (CNN) -- At a time when she really needed a miracle, Annamarie Ausnes found one in an unusual place.

Last fall, Ausnes, 55, was one of nearly 75,000 Americans in need of a kidney. Today, she is recovering from a successful kidney transplant -- thanks to her local Starbucks barista.

Sandra Andersen only knew Ausnes as her upbeat morning customer who always ordered a short cup of coffee. What Andersen didn't know was that Ausnes suffers from a genetic kidney disease called polycystic kidney disease. When both of her kidneys began failing, she was placed on a kidney transplant waiting list.

"I was kinda losing a little hope," said Ausnes. Her next step would be dialysis.

"I'd read the statistics. People have been waiting on dialysis for many, many years before a donor comes forth. I felt like the control was being taken away from me," Ausnes said. "But I did have control over one thing, and I knew how to pray. And I just started praying for someone; for God to please send me an angel."

Andersen recalls one particular morning last October when her customer's normally cheerful demeanor had changed.

"I could tell that she just wasn't feeling real well," said Andersen. "So I asked her what was wrong."

Across the counter, Ausnes confided in her barista: Her kidneys were failing rapidly and no one in her family was a match. Without hesitation, Andersen said she would test for her.

Ausnes remembers the moment vividly.

"She threw her hands up in the air. She said, 'I'm testing. I'm going to test for you.' And it was a complete shock to me."

Even more so because Andersen didn't even know Ausnes' name. Andersen can't explain it either.

"I just knew in my heart, I can't tell you why. I knew I had to find out as much info as possible," recalls Andersen. Watch Ausnes recall how she met her "miracle donor." »

After getting her blood tested, she signed a release to become an organ donor and began an interview process to move forward. Then the day came when she was able to break the good news to Ausnes.

"She walked in to get her short cup of coffee. I said, 'I'm a match,' and we both just stood there and bawled," said Andersen. "From that day forward we knew this was gonna happen."

On March 11, Andersen and Ausnes underwent a kidney transplant at Virginia Mason Hospital in Seattle, Washington. The surgery was successful.

"We are doing well!" Ausnes said Monday night. "We're moving slower but we feel good. I talk to Sandie every day, and sometimes I sit here and bawl because of what she's gone through for me."Watch how Andersen's gift became 'A kidney named Rose.' »

Andersen says her kidney started working faster in Ausnes than the hospital expected.

"Annamarie is doing better than me! I'm just trying to do too much," laughs Andersen, explaining why she's tired. "We're just excited to get together for lunch sometime soon!" Watch Andersen and Ausnes describe the best kind of donor »

Sunday, March 16, 2008

A New Disease To Watch Out For...

A woman calls her boss one morning and tells him that she is staying home because she is not feeling well.

"What's the matter?" he asks.

"I have a case of anal glaucoma", she says in a weak voice.

"What the hell is anal glaucoma?"

"I can't see my ass coming into work today."

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Second Fridays, Second Helpings

Following the success of the Broad Ripple Music Festival, a series was put together with the purpose of combining music, raising money and awareness, and building new venues for music.

Come join Second Helpings as we celebrate the first Second Friday, Second Helpings concert series on March 14, 2008.

Chris Haskett will kick off the series, located at the Upper Room, along with PJ Christie and Lance Drake, at 10:00 p.m.

Date: March 14, 2008
Time: 10:00 p.m.
Location: The Upper Room, 929 E. Westfield Blvd. Indpls. In. 46220 (Above the Broad Ripple Steakhouse)
Cost: Free; accepting donations of cash and pasta for Second Helpings

Second Helpings, Inc
1121 Southeastern Ave
Indianapolis, Indiana 46202-3946

Friday, March 7, 2008

Happy St. Baldrick's Day

The Indianapolis Jaycees are sponsoring a benefit concert to raise money for pediatric cancer research through the St. Baldrick's Day Foundation.

100% of all donations will go to the St. Baldricks Day Foundation.

The St. Baldrick's Day Concert sponsored by the Indianapolis Jaycees will be held on Monday, March 24th at Indianapolis Fireman's Union Hall at 748 Massachusetts Avenue from 7pm until 10pm.

The evening will include Algren, a great band from the Chicagoland area, ComedySportz as the Master of Ceremonies, and the infamous head shaving ceremony.

The head shaving ceremony is an act of solidarity supporting children with cancer. St. Baldricks Day is an event to raise money for pediatric cancer research.

Algren can be heard online at

In order to make this event a success, we need your support. The event is open and free to the public, but donations are welcomed. This is a 21 and over event.

For more information please call Traci or Michael at 490-9285 or e-mail .

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

"My" Chef is Up for Lifetime Award

Indy can be proud to claim several top chefs.

One such chef is Ralph Comstock, who teaches at Ivy Tech's Culinary Institute. He recently received the Central Regional nomination for the American Culinary Federation's Hermann G. Rusch Lifetime Achievement Award.

The accolade follows Comstock's 2005 induction as a fellow in the American Academy of Chefs, the foundation's honor society. The award recognizes chefs who, according to the foundation, have "advanced the culinary profession and ensured the enrichment of students, our members."

The winner will be identified in July at the group's national convention in Las Vegas.

Asked if he'd be gambling in Vegas, Comstock said, "I'd feel lucky to simply be there. I never dreamed in a million years I'd be recognized at the top of the chefs' association."

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Padded Resume Costs Chef TV Show

New York -- Robert Irvine, host of the popular Food Network series "Dinner Impossible," has lost his job following allegations that he padded his resume.

Irvine had claimed that he helped design Princess Diana's wedding cake, worked at the White House and graduated from the University of Leeds. But an article was published in the St. Petersburg Times last week that cast doubt on his claims.

On Friday, the Food Network announced they were not renewing his contract with the show, and released the following statement:

"We looked into the situation and found that, as Robert has already admitted, there were some embellishments and inaccuracies in his resume. The few and minor incidents of the inclusion of these embellishments into 'Dinner Impossible' have been removed. The show is, and has always been, completely accurate in the depiction of the cooking challenges faced by Robert. We will continue airing both old shows and the new season of programs currently in production. We have not renewed Robert's contract for future seasons but will fulfill our contractual obligations.

We rely on the trust that our viewers have in the accuracy of the information we present, and Robert challenged that trust. We appreciate Robert's remorse about his actions, and we can revisit this decision at the end of the production cycle, but for now we will be looking for a replacement host."

At the same time, the network also released a statement from Irvine, who expressed remorse for his actions:

”I was wrong to exaggerate in statements related to my experiences in the White House and the Royal Family. I am proud of my work as part of the Guest Chef program in the White House, the opportunities I had on the Royal Yacht Britannia and my culinary accomplishments, and I should have stood on those alone, without embellishment.

I remain committed and enthusiastic about my work with Food Network and other future endeavors. I am truly sorry for misleading people and misstating the facts.To all my family, friends and loyal fans, I will work tirelessly to regain your trust and continue to use my show and life to benefit the less fortunate."