Jeff has always been a fan of Julia.
“I followed Julia Child, I was geeky kid, sure, I loved sports too, but I also liked watching her show, and Mastering the Art of French Cooking one and two are still culinary bibles,” said Jeffrey Paige, chef and owner of Cotton restaurant in Manchester.
Cotton is one of 100 restaurants nationwide to pay special tribute to Julia Child on her would-be 100th birthday (Aug. 15) — the only New Hampshire restaurant participating in JC100, a celebration of Child’s life involving writers, chefs, bookstores, fans and a restaurant week. From Friday, Aug. 10, through Wednesday, Aug. 15, Cotton will be celebrating Child with a menu of specials (in addition to the regular dinner menu) featuring dishes prepared by Paige, from cookbooks by Child. Paige said he considered Julia Child one of his “most treasured friends.”
Paige cooked for a birthday luncheon for Child (her 78th birthday) in 1990. Child, Paige and food editors from the Boston Globe (Gail Perrin) and Worcester Telegram & Gazette (Barbara Houle) toured the farm with farmer Ken Ryan. Paige likened the experience to being in a local rock band meeting the Rolling Stones.
“Julia loved tomatoes, and August is peak tomato season,” Paige said. “I followed this woman, who was such an inspiration for me. ... When we met, I was tongue-tied.”
In 1994, Child invited Paige to tape a segment of Good Morning, America featuring his cookbook The Shaker Kitchen, Paige said.
By the 1990s, Child was a culinary legend. By the time she died two days before her birthday in 2004, her long-running cooking shows, including The French Chef, had popularized the medium, and her line of cookbooks published between 1961 and 2000 were must-reads for a nation of cooks.
After the meal in Litchfield, the pair maintained a relationship until her death. Paige would send letters to her in California during the winter and visit her for informal diners in Boston. Despite her fame and high-profile dinner guests, Paige says that Child instilled in him and her audience a can-do attitude.
“I still think people today are very intimidated by cooking. She really tried to demystify and teach people,” he said.
The Shaker Kitchen, Paige’s second cookbook, is a collection of 100-plus recipes in that same vein of tidiness and simplicity.
“Not to knock restaurants, but there is something special about cooking at home,” Paige said. “These days, we are always working, people get together at Thanksgiving or Christmas, but her thing was to get people to cook all the time,” he said.
When he first met her, Paige said, one of Child’s best pieces of advice was to not stress out. Food is versatile, and dishes are salvageable, and Julia preached a “learn from your mistakes” attitude, he said.
“Life happens and just goes on,” Paige said. “She liked [her cooking] to be fun and educational at same time.”
Paige’s personal favorite book of Child’s is The Way to Cook, a 1989 book that came with instructional videos. He had her sign it in 1990, and treasures his copy because of its timeless relevance.
Knopf Publishing Co., which published many of Child’s books, partnered with PBS and several celebrity chefs for the JC100 event. The idea, according to Paige, is to reach out to more than 1 million people and get people to celebrate her life by cooking her recipes. He said chefs from all over the country, including Emeril Lagasse, Thomas Keller and Alice Waters, will all be featuring Child-inspired menus culled from a list of the 100 greatest Julia Child recipes.
Visit www.pbs.org/food/julia-child-100-birthday for recipes, stories and social media links.
Since Child’s death, Paige has been celebrating her life through smaller events, even celebrating the release of the movie Julie & Julia with “Jeff & Julia,” but JC100 is the first large-scale event he will particpate in. The specials menu will feature some of Paige’s favorite dishes by Child and others the two prepared together. Paige is holding some surprises but has announced a few: For starters, he’ll make vichyssoise, cold potato and leek soup, and local heirloom tomato salad with sweet onions, crumbled bleu cheese and aged red wine vinaigrette. A main course of Shaker pork roast with firecracker applesauce and boeuf bourguignon will be served one night. And for desserts, he’s planning crème brulee and profiteroles with vanilla ice cream, chocolate sauce and toasted almonds.