November 28, 2021

Taste your way through Julia Child’s Santa Barbara

She may be best known for her life in France or for her years in Boston where she filmed over 200 episodes of “The French Chef”, but Julia Child was a Californian girl through and through. Born in Pasadena, the oversized chef and culinary advocate spent a fair amount of time in Santa Barbara in her later years, ultimately making the central coast city her permanent home.

I read every word Julia Child ever wrote, spent countless hours replicating recipes from her “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” and grew up with marathons from her show on PBS before you even watch the frenzy. But as many times as I’ve been to Santa Barbara, I had never visited Julia Child’s Santa Barbara, the places she loved when she lived there. With the release of the new documentary “Julia” on November 12, it seemed like a good time to get in the car and go.

Once there, it took me about two minutes to find what I was looking for.

She may have passed away in 2004, but Julia Child’s legacy is all over Santa Barbara – not just through the Julia Child Foundation headquartered there, but through the impression she made on the city. It seems everyone I spoke to had a story about “Julia”. (It’s never ‘Child’, not because everyone knew her on such a familiar level, but because everyone who met her, by all accounts, immediately felt like they had her. made.)

People talk about where she liked to eat, which, for someone who said, “People who love to eat are always the best people,” was a lot of places. They talk about seeing her at the Santa Barbara Saturday Farmer’s Market. They talk about her visits to the Costco food court (Julia had a soft spot for their hot dogs) or the Riviera Theater for a morning.

“She always wanted to go to In-N-Out Burger,” said Eric Spivey, president of the Julia Child Foundation for Food and Culinary Arts, who was a longtime friend of Julia. Regarding his choice of meals, he said, “It wasn’t always expensive. “

“His game was to have breakfast [at home] and go and go and have lunch and dinner elsewhere, ”he said. “Until the very end, Julia was, ‘Let’s go do something, let’s have fun.'”

He and Child met in the early ’80s at a foodie event in Santa Barbara, but reconnected in the late’ 90s when she moved there permanently. “The last four years of her life Julia and I had spent a lot of time together,” he said. “We shared the same birthday and her husband was deceased and she had no children. And so I had the honor of spending a lot of time with her.

In March 2020, the Santa Barbara Culinary Experience (part of the Julia Child Foundation) had planned a weekend of events to celebrate Child’s legacy in the city. They sold more than 2,000 tickets, Spivey said, for what the foundation hoped would be the launch of a nationally recognized culinary event. This would honor Child, but also continue the work she has done as an activist to make the culinary field accessible to all, through regional cuisine tastings and educational events.

March 2020, however, had other plans. The event was postponed for a year and was held as a virtual celebration in March 2021. The in-person festivities are postponed to May 2022. But in the meantime, Santa Barbara Culinary Experience has published “Julia Child’s Guide to Santa Barbara”, a menu designed for people like me who want to retrace their culinary steps. There isn’t a single classic French restaurant on it.

But that’s the trick. Julia Child did not like French cuisine. She loved the food, period. In his later years, his television shows after “The French Chef” and his books after “Mastering” were devoted to regional American cuisine. It wasn’t about bringing new foods here, but about enjoying and showcasing what we already had, which people in other parts of the country might not be familiar with.

So what she would eat in Santa Barbara had more to do with the place and the people than the marching band. The child did not start his vacation in Santa Barbara for his food. She went for the climate – like many of us, including me. She traveled to escape the harsh Boston winters, especially as her husband Paul was ill in his later years and needed warmer weather. Santa Barbara didn’t have the kind of food scene it has now, where the Michelin Guide gushes (and distributes stars, for the very first year) on everything from the city’s Mexican restaurants to its vegan dishes.

The places Child spent his time served food very well, but no frills. She loved Santa Maria’s BBQ at Hitching Post II and Alisal Guest Ranch in the Santa Ynez Valley. She would go to Stearns Wharf for soup at the Santa Barbara Shellfish Company. She loved the tacos at La Super-Rica so much that she covered them in the national media and inspired a “New Yorker” article about the place, which still regularly has a queue for its walk-in service. .

Julia Child during a 1990 photoshoot in Hopland, Calif.

George Rose / Getty Images

“One of her great strengths and beauty was that she brought French cuisine and very good food… and made it accessible,” said Margaret Huston, who regularly hosted Child at the Montecito Cafe, the restaurant she owned. with her husband Mark. “I think that’s why she particularly liked us, because we did the same thing in a different way. We had a restaurant, but it was very affordable as the prices were affordable and we always have something like a Cobb salad, but we also had goat cheese pancakes.

The Hustons are both classically trained chefs who still employ more European and slow preparations in their dishes at their Jane restaurant in Santa Barbara, which they opened when the Montecito Cafe lost its lease. “It’s great, but it’s not complicated. It never has been, ”Huston said. “She was like that too. The food she made was pretty classy, ​​but it wasn’t difficult.

At Jane’s, there’s a letter hanging on Julia’s wall, singing the praises of Mark and Margaret. “Which is of extreme importance,” Child wrote, “his food is wonderfully good to eat – fresh and original, but classic basic.”

At the Montecito Cafe, Child would order the burger – she was always looking for a good burger – or in the evening, fish or duck. This burger is still available at Jane’s, along with a veal cutlet that Child loved, and these goat cheese pancakes with smoked salmon and caviar.

“She would always come back and talk to my husband Mark about the food,” Huston said. “She was always asking questions, a very curious person. And she was really interested. This is what made her such a hit with everyone. I don’t think she had any enemies anywhere. Everyone loved her because she really cared about other people, their food, what they did, how it was cooked, where you got it, all kinds of things.

It wasn’t just at the Montecito Cafe that Child struck up a conversation with the chef. Whenever she ate in the restaurant, Spivey said, “Julia wanted to go out in the back, in the kitchen to talk to people. … She wanted to talk in the dishwasher to the executive chef, everyone. So it wasn’t just that she wanted to talk to famous people.

And everyone, it seemed, knew her. “She would get up and walk to the back of the house,” he said, “and people would get up and start cheering for her.”

Eggs Benedict at Jeannine in Montecito, a Julia Child favorite.

Eggs Benedict at Jeannine in Montecito, a Julia Child favorite.

Julie tremaine

It turns out that I had been, during my explorations of the city, to most of Julia’s favorite restaurants on the map. So when it came time to eat, I went off the menu, to the Jeannine Restaurant and Bakery in Montecito, a place I had heard Julia liked to have lunch.

Jeannine’s is a gorgeous little cafe on the main drag in Montecito, with white fences covered in flowers and, on that October day, the perfect amount of sunshine. I ordered inside, trying to put myself in Julia’s shoes and order what she would order. Eggs Benedict and a mimosa seemed appropriate, and as soon as I had my food I knew I was right. The mimosa came in three distinct parts – a fraction of champagne, a small jar of fresh orange juice, and a glass of champagne filled with strawberries and blueberries – all in a “bucket of bubbles” on ice. Eggs Benedict, perfectly plated on Jeannine’s blue and white porcelain, were topped with the platonic ideal of Hollandaise, light yellow and delicately sparkling and fragrant with the tiniest hint of lemon. Julia would have loved it. Me too.

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