BOSTON — Wednesday would’ve been master chef Julia Child’s 100th birthday. The former Cambridge resident and icon is being celebrated by foodies and at restaurants around town.
Cooking pioneer Child is famously remembered for dropping things while filming her popular television show, “The French Chef,” but also for her playful attitude and penchant for making hilariously irreverent comments. A favorite of mine is, “the best way to execute French cooking is to get good and loaded, then whack the hell out of a chicken.”
Child’s arc as a chef is as unique as her haughty laughter. She didn’t become a professional cook until she was in her early 30s. Some believe this comparatively late start fed into her legendary status as a master of French cuisine.
Her turquoise Cambridge kitchen is on display at the National Museum of American History in Washington D.C.
Child died in 2004, just two days before her 92nd birthday, but she continues to inspire contemporary food artists everywhere, including 38-year-old Mary Dumont. She’s the executive chef at Harvest in Harvard Square, where Child was a regular and close friend of the original owners.
“They designed a lot of the pots, pans and sets on her show,” Dumont said.
Child’s favorite table is still in Harvest’s dining room, and Dumont said fans are already clamoring to eat where the celebrity chef once ate.
To honor Child’s legacy, Dumont created a prix-fixe menu inspired by Child’s sensibilities and repertoire. For Dumont, Child was a major game-changer and a force to be reckoned with.
“She carried herself in such a way that people stood to attention,” Dumont said. “And I think that’s really admirable, especially at a time when there were no female chefs, let alone very many television chefs that were doing anything of that sort. She was quite the person to watch.”
Like a lot of us, Dumont grew up watching Child wield knives and aggressively pound dough on “The French Chef.”
“Her voice was transcendent through the room,” Dumont said. “She was real and raw and I think that was the major attraction that people loved about her.”
Dumont believes Child was ahead of her time in many ways. Not only because of her gender and her casual understanding of TV as a medium, but also with her ideas about food.
“It was well before ‘farm-to-table’ was a term or a notion that was thought of in food and she was kind of quietly promoting that without it ever really being a word,” Dumont said.
In addition to a salad Nicoise, Dumont said Harvest will serve one of Child’s favorite desserts: Queen of Sheba cake.
Many other area chefs are celebrating Julia Child’s birthday Wednesday and throughout the week.