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La Chanterelle Chefs Celebrate Julia Child at 110

La Chanterelle
On Julia Child's 110th birthday, the chef-instructors at Endicott's La Chanterelle restaurant and nontraditional classroom discuss the enduring appeal and legacy of the icon of French gastronomy.
By: Sarah Sweeney

Whether you’re a top home chef or a novice cook, there’s something about Julia Child that still resonates in our collective imagination.

Decades after The French Chef tantalized TV viewers from Boston’s WGBH studios, Child is more present on our TVs than ever. In March, HBO Max debuted the series Julia, the Food Network premiered its new show The Julia Child Challenge in April, while 2021 saw the release of the Ron Howard-produced documentary Julia.

Child’s wit, warbling voice, and unbridled confidence in the kitchen made French cuisine seem accessible to just about everybody, and even now, she’s still breathing new confidence into a generation of gastronomes.

August 15 would have been her 110th birthday, so we chatted with General Manager and Culinary Arts Instructor Ryan Blodgett, Pastry Instructor Rebecca Doyon, and Service Management Instructor Kayla Richards from Endicott’s nontraditional classroom and restaurant, La Chanterelle, about Child’s career, impact, and enduring popularity.

Interviews have been edited for length and clarity.

What was your first exposure to Julia Child? Did you ever watch The French Chef while growing up in the area?

Kayla Richards: I was a freshman in culinary school and had a chef instructor who had us research Julia Child and quoted her often. “Find something you’re passionate about and keep tremendously interested in it” is a quote of Julia’s that’s stuck with me. My passion for cooking and wine has only grown throughout my years in the industry, and now as a professor. I’m grateful to now be able to share these passions with my students.

Rebecca Doyon: Growing up, I’d never heard of Julia, and it wasn’t until I moved to Massachusetts that I overheard a friend talking about her episode, “The Lobster Show,” and I was so intrigued! I was instantly fascinated with her charm, knowledge, and wit.

Ryan Blodgett: I watched The French Chef almost daily with my grandfather! He was recently retired when I was young and spent his days walking to pick me up from school. When we’d get home, we’d make lunch and watch the show.

What influence did Julia Child have on your early life in food and on your career in hospitality?

KR: As a female chef, it was empowering to see women like Julia Child in a mostly male-dominated profession. Julia blazed the trail, so to speak, for other women like me to be taken seriously in the food world.

RD: Once in the industry, Julia’s story, struggles, and especially her successes, became an encouragement to learn more about food as a professional, not just as an interest or hobby. She pushed boundaries while remaining her quirky, unique self, and that really helped to develop my confidence that I could do the same.

RB: Learning about Julia’s role as an Intelligence Officer in the Office of Strategic Services (a precursor to the CIA) during WWII before beginning her culinary career was fascinating. Being in the U.S. Navy, I find the culinary arts are a great escape and means to switch gears and channel focus elsewhere to create a product that will both help people and make people feel good! I can only think that maybe she had a similar approach to using cooking as an outlet and means of therapy.

HBO Max recently aired Julia, a biographical look at Julia Child’s life, and the Food Network also debuted The Julia Child Challenge. What is it about Julia Child that endures all these years later and still resonates with audiences?

KR: I would say her willingness to showcase the fact that “gourmet cuisine” is possible to create, even if you’re not a classically trained chef. She once said, “No matter what happens in the kitchen, you should never apologize,” which surely helps people understand that mistakes happen, but to keep trying.

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RD: Her personality in the kitchen and her ability to stay true to herself while working is how she connected with audiences—she never set herself apart from her audience. This industry is known for higher-level chefs who present with arrogance and a loss of touch with their customers. Julia never did that. Learning to cook, especially expertly, can be intimidating, but Julia’s personality and her teaching ability absolved that intimidation and I think that’s why audiences still connect with her kitchen charm.

RB: Julia’s approach and appearance made viewers comfortable, kind of like a “Hey, I can do that too feeling” when they would watch her.

Have you ever prepared one (or many) of Julia Child’s classic recipes? Tell me a bit about that experience and the occasion.

KR: One of my favorite winter comfort meals is her boeuf bourguignon. Perfect for a relaxing winter night to warm the soul. Best shared with friends, family, and a delicious glass of red wine!

RD: My favorite (thus far) is her coq au vin, simply because it was the first recipe of hers that I’d ever tried. I was a newlywed and starting to learn how to cook. Her instructions were easy to follow. It came out fabulous. I was stunned.And, let’s be honest, Julia cooking with and sipping on wine as she goes is always hilarious and this particular dish of hers brings back fond memories!

RB: I still use Julia’s boeuf bourguignon recipe to this day, though not as frequently as I would like! Typically, in colder months, whether for a holiday or just a full Sunday of watching football, the recipe and steps outlined require concentration but also a lot of fun with the ingredients, yielding one of the best products ever.

I feel strongly that Julia Child would’ve loved the La Chanterelle concept. What would you serve her if she lived to be a guest?

KR: Her favorite staple meal: French onion soup. This was also her last meal before her passing. I’d top it with a scratch-made Gruyère crouton, fresh rosemary, and sage, and serve it with an acidic, earthy, and medium-bodied red wine like La Chanterelle’s Nebbiolo, Le Filere, 2016.

RD: I’d prepare something that carries a historical value with it because her focus was on sharing with the world how to create classic dishes that fed both the body and the soul. Crème brûlée, apple Tatin, or maybe an American classic such as a berry buckle or apple pie. There was nothing pretentious about Julia, so the food must reflect that.

RB: I don’t think that the particular dish would be as important, but rather that she’d want to go from student to student tasting everything they’re making and enjoying the overall process. But I’d try to replicate her boeuf bourguignon and see if she likes it!