My Lifelong Love of Julia Child Led Me to Her Favorite Restaurant, Chez Georges In Paris
I've always had a thing for Julia Child. Although most of our encounters took place via the Sony Trinitron in the library of the house I grew up in, in West Hartford, Connecticut, I did actually get to meet her under the most unlikely circumstances.
In the years immediately following my graduation from Parsons School of Design, like so many other aspiring fashion designers, I had a string of Seventh Avenue worker-bee jobs ranging from picking up pins for the legendary Pauline Trigère to designing a Valentino diffusion collection made in Korea to working for a company that made cloying cabbage rose chintz party dresses for Lord & Taylor.
I was a horrible employee, and many times found myself “in-between engagements.” It was during one of those “in-between” periods that I sublet my Upper West Side apartment and hightailed it back to my parents’ house to figure out my next step. It was summer, so no one was hiring.
My mom had a subscription to Connecticut Magazine, and they were running a recipe contest. First prize: a group lesson with Julia Child. Now, even though I have written cookbooks, I’m not a great cook and I was an even worse one back then. But I knew that Julia was a big cheerleader for new, artisanal American food products.
A unique American Golden Whitefish caviar, one that could be frozen, had just come to market under the Tsar Nicoulai brand. I thought that Julia would love this, so I concocted an appetizer using Pepperidge Farm frozen puff pastry, a “mousse” of whipped cream, cream cheese and chives that looked more like Grasshopper Pie filling, and heaps of that glistening golden caviar topped with a sprig of fresh dill. And wouldn’t you know, I won!
The class took place onstage at New Haven’s Long Wharf Theater, and Julia didn’t disappoint. I’ll never forget her unique,
Prior to baking, as she cut open a steam hole and painted on an egg wash, she said, “It really looks like a disembodied something, doesn’t it?
I never saw her again in person, but our relationship continued over the airwaves and later through books, videotapes and, ultimately, YouTube. Of course, I loved the film Julie and Julia, especially the depiction of the collaboration with Judith Jones, the legendary Knopf editor. In retrospect, that’s probably what inspired me to write cookbooks myself.
I have dined several times at Harvest, Child’s favorite Cambridge, Massachusetts restaurant, a bazillion years ago, and openly wept when I saw Julia’s kitchen reassembled at the Smithsonian. But I had never been to her “Ground Zero” restaurant in Paris—Chez Georges—until a few years ago. Supposedly, this is where she had one of her early encounters with sole meunière, and the rest is history.
The handwritten menu at Chez Georges
So on a frigid, dark January night, a group of us met there for dinner. Slightly shabby, even a little grimy, the room regardless had the most marvelous golden glow—from decades of nicotine, I assumed. I had heard that Chez Georges had become a sort of tourist trap, but that night, while filled with Americans, there was also a great deal of French being spoken.
I also would not have called the Americans there your typical tourists. At the next table: filmmaker Wes Anderson and actress Tilda Swinton. We loaded up on escargots, céleri rémoulade, piles of
The Chez Georges dining room
Subsequent visits have been equally memorable. And while there may be a few more burned out light bulbs and cobwebs each time, the food continues to impress. The waitresses, classically clad in black uniforms with black tights, range from brusque to charming, depending on the night. But each one is generally unflappable and expert at tossing a salade frisée aux lardons.
I asked Brigitte, who has now become our favorite waitress, “Is it really all Americans? Do any Parisians dine here?”
“Fifty-fifty,” she responded. “And now, many Japanese and Chinese.”
Still, there is no “English menu”—only the handwritten French one that looks like hieroglyphics to me, with deliberately ruled lines drawn through unavailable dishes. Prices remain modest, while portions are surprisingly large by French standards. It’s practically impossible to be a member of the clean plate club at Chez Georges, no matter how delectable and airy the sauce béarnaise is or how irresistible the
Salade Frisée aux Lardons
True to form, Chez Georges still attracts its share of Americans. We’ve been chatted up by a cute couple from Memphis and were fascinated to see a large table of Mormon missionaries chow down with gusto. But
“Do you come here often?” I asked the expat.
“Every time I’m in Paris, at least monthly,” he replied. “I used to live around the corner. I wouldn’t have dinner anywhere else.”
Chez Georges depuis 1964
1, Rue du Mail, 75002, Paris
*This story originally appeared on Townandcountrymag.com
*Minor edits have been made by the Townandcountry.ph editors