This Wednesday, August 15th, is Julia Child’s 100th birthday. Many in the food world have a “Julia” story, a casual encounter, a recipe learned, executed and conquered or memorable culinary experience. This is mine.

Dinner with Julia Child during her last visit in the mid-nineties to the Aspen Food & Wine Festival.


When I was in my 30s, living in Ames, Iowa, and obviously quite full of myself, I donated a French dinner for six to a charitable auction. The chef would be moi. I would serve the gourmet feast in the winning bidder’s home.

May I admit to many adult What-Was-I-Thinking moments?  This was one.

Unfortunately, on that night my item was near the end, the bidders full of drink, and the dinner sold for $600.  Today, not so much. In the early Eighties, a big chunk of change. My cooking experience?  Three French cooking classes and ownership of “Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volumes 1 & 2.  Before leaving the Auction, we set a dinner date. I had six weeks and no clue.

To lessen my anxiety, I wrote a letter to Julia explaining my predicament, imploring her to help with the menu and, because of the dinner date, requesting an answer within two weeks. (Yeah, I also cannot now believe I gave Julia Child a deadline!)  I had every confidence she would answer my plea.

She did.

Julia’s long letter, now safely framed, was a personification of that extraordinary woman and a testament to everything she represented. She offered no specific food choices but rather she suggested a general food plan, explaining how to successfully prepare, prep, cook and serve it. Her letter to me could be summarized by one of her favorite quotes, “The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking you’ve got to have a what-the-hell attitude.”  How did she know that advice was exactly what I needed to hear?

In the end, the dinner, a smashing success, was the front-page article in the following Sunday’s Des Moines Register’s Society Section. However, lesson learned, I have never done that again.

Fast forward to Aspen,  where we moved in 1988 when Michael retired from medicine.  Julia often visited the annual “Aspen Food & Wine Festival” in June. When I would catch a glimpse of her, at a cooking class, a book signing or lecture, I would always run over to remind her of the letter and thank her again. She’d always be charming, as she was to everyone, but probably, with her busy schedule and hectic life, had no recall.

In the mid-nineties, Michael and I had dinner with Julia during ironically what was her last visit to the Aspen festival. She loved the festival but could no longer tolerate the altitude. For me, it was one of Life’s special moments.

Over the past thirty years, my personal life and culinary skills have been enhanced and made fuller, thanks to Julia, Lydie Marshall and Dorie Greenspan. With Julia leading the charge, through her doggedness and determination, she showed American women how to “Do Better” and “Be Better” in the kitchen and in Life. Lucky me, I was one of those women.  Lydie and Dorie, with personalities of their own, soon joined the cause. Julia-Mold-Broken. My Life would have been lesser without her in it.

We all have our own vision and expectations of Afterlife and this is mine. I just know that in the past month my Michael has hooked up with Julia and Paul and they are drinking freshly squeezed orange juice in crystal glasses every morning and enjoying perfectly sliced Casaba melon when they wish.

I miss you all.





  1. says

    I want to join that afterlife party… an eternal French meal. My Julia story happened to my sister-in-law when she lived in Cambridge, MA in the late 1980’s. Her husband is from Hawaii so they decided to have a pig roast. They got the pig and didn’t have a clue what to do with it. Someone said they knew how to get in touch with Julia Child. She was delighted by the thought of a pig roast and came over with a complete kitchen to rescue them.

  2. says

    I love that afterlife vision – just finished rereading My Life in France and every time I read it it just gives me such a sense of comfort. A real-life love story that’s about more than just love between the two of them but really their love of life. Also, based on my blog name, I think I need to own a print of that pic you put at the end! 🙂

    • Mary says

      I’ve always loved the name of your Blog, Maggie. And, after knowing you, it definitely fits your personality perfectly. Go to PBS and definitely buy that Poster.

  3. Renee Deutsch says

    I was very fortunate to be invited to a dinner for 8 with Julie cooking in a private home. She was delightful , her cooking was adding a pound in a half of butter to a small amount of chicken breasts. We had a lovely dinner and conversation as I spilled a glass of red wine all over her, (she was a great sport and laughed it off) easier than we all took the butter off.

    • Mary says

      Thanks, Renee, I’ve never heard that story. Sounds like quite an experience. I appreciate your sharing that. Yeah, we both spent our Aspen years trying to take those “good meals” off our hips! Miss you, Renee.

  4. says

    Mary – based on the snippets you share, I get the sense you have had a very intriguing life.
    And, I am certain that those glasses of orange juice and slices of melon are accompanied by a plate of warm croissaints – with generous helpings of butter.

  5. says

    Mary, what a lovely story and entertaining post. It seems that there is an endless number of stories about Julia Child, quite amazing! Whenever I remember the times that I have met well- known cooks or bakers, at a cake competition, a huge food fair or a book signing, I must say that I was always tremendously disappointed, must be their European roots or something but I do not remember even one of them being nearly as gracious as Julia Child seems to have been all her life! Great post, Mary! Have a great Monday!

  6. says

    Love this! And Love Julia Childs with a capital “L”! My favorite part of “My Life In France” is when she tells of serving an awful luncheon to a friend–but she didn’t apologize. Julia states that a cook should NEVER apologize for a dish–even if it doesn’t turn out. In the spirit of Julia, I haven’t apologized for any food mistakes since!

  7. says

    Oh wow – you got to meet Julia!!!!! How wonderful! And that photo of you is just gorgeous. I wouldn’t be game to offer to cook anyone dinner as an auction prize – so kudos to you.

  8. says

    Mary, I so enjoyed reading this memory of your dinning with Julia! You are a brave woman to auction off dinner for 6! I could never do something that would cause me so much stress…I would make everyone around me miserable!! Such a nice tribute to Julia!

    • Mary says

      Kathy, It did cause me stress, you have no idea. And, I did manage to make everyone around me miserable and disrupt out family life for 6 weeks. Plus, my girls had to be the Servers at the dinner. I was not the Mother of the Month, that’s for sure. Never again.

  9. says

    Aw, I love this post, Mary…and your prediction for the afterlife! I believe that Michael is with Julia and all his loved ones who have passed, too…watching over you. And I’m in awe of all your encounters will Julia…especially the letter and dinner party in Ames. You have me curious about where you lived and who attended…wondering if my parents knew any of the guests. I hope you’re celebrating Julia’s birthday with something delicious. xo

    • Mary says

      A local bank president purchased the dinner, Liz, and invited 4 other people of his choice and insisted my husband and I join them as well. I was up and down all night. I will pull out the Register article and come up with the names. I am curious also. I am sure your Parents will know many of the people we knew in Ames. It was the Johnny Orr-era when we lived there.

  10. says

    That’s one heck of a story. I think it’s remarkable that you wrote directly to Julia Child and that she answered (by the deadline, no less).

    And you’re right, $600 was a real chunk of change in the 80’s.

  11. Mary Berglund says

    Loved that story, Mary. Had no idea that you and Julia connected several times. And didn’t realize you ever lived in Ames and that your benefit French dinner made the DM Register. Where are you now—hoping it is in Colorado!

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