Julia Child home in the south of France
Julia Child’s home sits in the south of France and was unknown to me until some friends proposed to spend a week there. The house was for rent, not belonging to Julia anymore but kept in its original shape-especially the kitchen.
Off we went in the morning of December 6, my husband and I driving from Verona-Italy. The drive across the Padana Valley is boring and sometime foggy but the sky clears over the Appenini mountains and at sea reach the temperatures suddenly becomes mild and the sky brighten up. After some road work witch slowed us down in Italy we finally got to Chateneuf-France and to Julia’s house. It was about 4.00 pm and there was enough light to see the surroundings: the house is a typical French house from the south with lavender shudders and stone walls. The two bedrooms overlook the front yard with a wisteria pergola and the large table below, a swimming pool at distance. As you enter a large open space is the hall, dining room and living room altogether. In the back is the kitchen, square with a side door opening to the back yard (the best entrance when you come home after grocery shopping) and a nice central island and walls full of storage space. On one long wall there is a panel holding all possible tools for cooking. Above all there is a shelf that goes all along the 3 walls filled with beautiful objects, I presume the objects Julia was affectionate to, some antique, some statuettes of cats and ducks peering over curiously. Memories of Julia’s shopping in France at flee markets?
At around 5.00 pm our friends from Zurich arrived. They brought joy and happiness to the house and to us-we hadn’t seen them since July. For that evening I prepared risotto with radicchio, an Italian recipe so no offense for Julia’s adoration for French cuisine.
So on the first evening we munched on the charcuterie and great cheese and warmed our stomach with risotto with radicchio and mascarpone cheese. As for dessert I made a Mascarpone custard to go with the Pandoro, the typical star-shaped Christmas cake from Verona. The following morning we precipitated to a bakery in Valbonne a nearby cute French town in search of Valbonnaise bread mentioned by our hosts. The next stop was at the supermarket; Steve bought a variety of fish: he wanted to surprise us with his Bouilabaisse from Julia’s recipe. That afternoon the kitchen was filled with laborious people preparing delicious dishes: Jana patiently cleaned the scallops, Steve initiated the fish stock and was around the stove for the most part, besides when we asked for more wine (he was the official bottle opener) and for some toasts, Linda a friend from Texas and I prepared the bread crumbs, garlic and parsley for topping the scallops. In the end we all sat around the table and savored baked scallops on their shells, bouillabaisse with ruille, delicious, finished up on the rosè wine and open more bottles of French Chardonnay. The next day we visited Grasse, the perfume capital, strolled around the narrow streets and visited the dome and from a terrace nearby we were able to see Mediterrnean the sea. I had planned to prepare lasagna Bolognese that evening. For that I had brought some fresh pasta from home ready to use. I had also bought some ground meat for the ragu in the local supermarket .I prepared the ragout and Linda helped with the bechamel sauce. We made a large casserole of lasagna, then baked it for about an hour. It came out nice and velvety and we couldn’t help to have a second serving, that with a glass of Brunello di Montalcino . We happily sat and chatted and tasted our delicious food and talked about Julia. There are many things I discovered about her during those days: various books about her were spread on the large coffee table in front of the fireplace and on our side-bed tables. The morning we left, we only stayed for three days, Linda prepared a wonderful breakfast; a large casserole containing potatoes and scrambled eggs, to go with croissants, jam and butter and French coffee. Thank you Linda, you made us go for many hours with your nourishing food!
Here is Jana’s contribution to the story and more about the Julia Child and her stay in the south of France.
The house itself came about because of Julia’s longtime friendship with Simone Beck, one of
the co-authors of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volumes I and II. Julia and her
husband Paul built it in 1963, on land owned by Simone Beck and her husband, near their own
house. Julia called it La Pitchoune, or “the little one”, and nicknamed it “La Peetch”. Every
year, until 1991, Julia and Paul returned to La Peetch, and they invited many friends from the
culinary world to share its amazing ambiance. Cooking, conversation, and camaraderie
happily occupied their time. In 1991, upon the passing of Simone Beck, and with Paul’s health
failing, Julia decided to give up the house. In 1993, and to this day, the house has become a
mecca for culinary enthusiasts the world over, ourselves included, offering cooking classes
and vacation rentals. The onsite caretaker told us that part of the surrounding property is still
owned by the Beck family, with many neighbors occupying surrounding homes. Apparently, all
those nearby are well aware of and continue to embrace the house as an homage to the great
era of Julia Child and her culinary expertise. While we were there, there was a constant parade
of adorable neighborhood dogs, as well as Lulu the cat, who visited us, clearly knowing that
delicious food came from within—they would come right into the house when we left the front
doors open to enjoy the warmth of the Provencal afternoons. We obliged them with many
tidbits and lots of affection. They added quite a charming element to our time there.
In the spirit of Julia’s love of France, and her time with Paul living not only in Paris but also the
seaside city of Marseille, where fresh fish and seafood are readily available, one evening, we
prepared her recipe for Bouillabaisse with Rouille Sauce, found in Volume I of Mastering the Art
of French Cooking. If you do not have access to the cookbook, please see the links below for
an adaptation of the recipes: