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Denise Vivaldo

Denise Vivaldo

Posted: August 13, 2009 10:13 AM

Julie & Julia

What's Your Reaction?

I haven't gone to see the movie about Julia Child and Julie Powell yet. I was invited to a showing but to be honest I am ambivalent about it because I knew Julia Child. I've been blessed to meet her, thrilled to eat with her, and honored to work with her. She was one of the most honest women I ever met. Julia was so funny but not necessarily intentionally; it was just the way her words came out.

When I put out my hand to introduce myself the very first time, I said, "Hello, I'm Denise from Los Angeles," and she replied "I'm Julia from Pasadena." And when she asked me what I did, I said "I'm a food stylist." Her response, "Oh dearie, I don't like most food stylists, they muck around with the food! Do you muck around with the food?" I ducked my head, ordered more champagne and didn't make eye contact with her bright baby blues.

Like thousands of women who have a career in the food industry today, she influenced me. She taught me. I adored and admired her.

I did read Julie Powell's book years ago and I hated it. I thought the writer came off as a whiny child, piggy-backing on Julia's fame to sell a book. I saw no talent for food or cooking. I have been rereading the book this week to see if I feel differently now that Julia is gone. Nope, still feel exactly the same.

And, maybe because I've lived in Hollywood too long, even the title offended me. Julia should have been given top billing.

I don't want to rehash what Russ Parsons so brilliantly wrote in his L.A. Times article, "Julie, Julia and Me: Now it Can Be Told." Just let me say that he writes about the fact that Julia Child was not impressed with the blog and, by the way, Julia's feelings were not a secret, she had told many of her friends.

Instead, let me tell you a little something about my experiences with Julia.

I first met Julia because of Stephanie Hirsch (her assistant of 16 years). I was seated next to Stephanie at an IACP conference dinner. We got along like a house afire. I became Stephanie and Julia's roommate at IACP conferences for several years. You can't imagine the look of disappointment on people's faces when they knocked at the door to our hotel suite and I was the one who opened the door, not Julia. People would actually push past me as if I wasn't there, demanding "Where's Julia?" I'd try explaining that she'd be out in a minute and, no, I was not holding her hostage, but their suspicions remained until Julia arrived.

Do you know what always impressed me about Julia? It was that she always did the very best possible job she could because that was who she was and that as what she was made of. She didn't whine or complain; she did what she needed to do and got on with it. And she was grateful for her life.

I assisted Julia on several book signings. She would not leave until she had signed a book for every person that had stood in line, even when her fingers got completely stiff. Always polite, she'd thank me for bringing her cold water but nary a word about having to pee. She's sit there until she was done. She was a trooper.

If she was cooking something in front of a television camera and discovered something wrong with a pot of soup, or with anything else on the set, she fixed it. She didn't nitpick, she didn't order others around, she just did it. She was determined that everything be right. If a producer or director made a suggestion about the food or changing a procedure, she'd simply say "Yes, but I think I'll do it my way."

I have an original black and white photo of Julia taken on the set of The French Chef, shot by Paul Child. In it, she's squeezing a suckling pig in her arms, getting him ready for the roasting pan. The photo radiates pure joy. Even the pig looks happy. Every day I walk past that photo and say "Thank you, Julia. Bon Appétit."

 

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