On Sept. 10, 2001, WGBH's Emily Rooney interviewed Julia Child at her Cambridge home before she left the Boston area for California. Jared Bowen was the producer on the segment and shares this remembrance. Greater Boston reairs the interview on Aug. 15 at 7 p.m.
The medium-sized grey house on Irving Street in Cambridge was remarkably regular: small driveway, unassuming front door, smallish yard. I suppose I assumed that the house Julia Child lived in — and more importantly cooked and filmed in — would be as striking as her outsized spirit. But that was my only disappointment on a sunny late-summer morning when I arrived with our television crew to shoot an interview with the cooking legend. I was producing the shoot for Emily Rooney and Greater Boston. Child had just announced that after half a lifetime spent in Cambridge, she was moving to Santa Barbara to be closer to family. This was to be a farewell interview. I could not have been more excited to be there. It was Sept. 10, 2001.
I remember distinctly walking into her home, which was at once cozy and a bit grand (much tastier than the exterior). There was a lot of dark wood, books and antique furniture. Brilliant paintings by her late husband, Paul Child, hung on the walls. The lady of the house was upstairs. It was a short walk from the front door to the kitchen in the back of the house. Yes, that kitchen, with the pale blue-green pegboard walls where her pots and pans hung in spaces outlined by Paul decades earlier. Here was her massive Garland stove, the tall counters she had raised to suit her 6-foot-2-inch frame, the side pantry one never saw on television and a gorgeous wooden table in the center of the room. There was a King Arthur Flour magnet on the refrigerator. (I recall that because for a second I thought about stealing it — remember I was young and apparently kind of a punk too.) Cute little pictures and sayings about cats dotted the space. Julia’s kitchen was so homey, warm and historic. Being there felt totally surreal.
With our lighting and cameras set, Julia Child came downstairs by way of a small elevator. Then 89, she was slightly stooped and had difficulty walking, but she was classic Julia. She greeted everyone with grace and kindness in her distinctive lilt. I hung back — intimidated and uncommonly starstruck. The interview was lovely. She told Emily that it was the youthful Jack and Jackie Kennedy who turned the tide for food in this country with their elegant White House dinners. She attributed her success to the fact that she never “tried to be fancy." Asked about Dan Aykroyd’s famous "Saturday Night Live" impersonation, she told Emily she didn’t believe she really sounded “like that.” She disclosed that she was giving her home to Smith College “for a very nice tax write-off” and while she had agreed to donate her kitchen and all of its contents to the Smithsonian, she thought it was a “nutty” idea.
The interview over, Child turned her attention to me. “Do you cook?” she asked. At that point I didn’t cook anything that didn’t come out of a box. Even worse, I was prone to having cereal or Doritos for dinner. I demurred and she told me I just needed “a good woman” to cook for me. I loved her for that. I offered that my one culinary conquest was in cooking scrambled eggs. She advised me to cook them slowly and add milk at the first signs of curdling. I was dumbstruck — Julia Child was offering me unsolicited cooking advice in her kitchen! She made my day glorious. Child was fascinating and friendly and so, so dear. Life felt sublime, until the following morning, when I watched terrorists take down the World Trade Center in New York City and spent the next month and a half reporting on the horrors of that other sunny, late-summer day of infamy, 9/11.
When we finally aired her interview on Greater Boston in early November 2001, I wrote Child a note explaining how much I’d admired her, how much I enjoyed spending time with her and how poignant that day had become for me, given what unknowingly loomed before us. To my surprise and delight, I received a very sweet note in return. She “enjoyed the Greater Boston piece” she wrote and I was heartened.
My favorite anecdote from that day is what Child had for lunch as we departed. The queen of French cooking in America dined on a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with a side of Cheez Doodles. It’s that simple detail that is the reason why I will always be madly in love with Julia Child.