Julia Child was many things — an author, an educator, a television personality, an excellent cook, and a missionary for good food for all. She was more than just television’s The French Chef — she was the most significant emissary for French cooking of the 20th century. Her extensive knowledge (she had studied at the finest professional culinary school under strict chefs in Paris after World War II) and her naturally expansive and encouraging personality made her the perfect person to demystify for Americans the power of French technique and the wonders of French cooking at a time when frozen and processed food was the norm.
So for a Bastille Day tribute to Julia, I’ve imagined a menu filled with dishes that are Provençal, simple and summery, served buffet-style.
Cold poached lobster, split in half, tails removed from the shell to make it easy to eat and then put back into the shells for decoration, and arranged on a large platter for the buffet with a tarragon mayonnaise and served with a dry rosé or Brut Champagne.
A large lettuce-lined bowl, filled with rows of fresh cut bell peppers; lightly blanched, tender-crisp haricot vert; sliced fresh tomatoes; hard-boiled eggs; sliced marinated shallots; olives; mushrooms simmered in herbs and served chilled (champignons à la grecque); and a lightly marinated white bean or lentil salad. Her advice was to dress the white beans or lentils while warm and toss with a garlic version of the dressing for her salade Niçoise.
Julia would likely have served a pain français, a classic French loaf, or even a pain de Seigle — a rye bread — but for Bastille Day, the bread I would love to see is unique.
It is known as “Equality Bread.” After the French revolution, the peasants, who had been relegated to adding wood shavings to their meager rations and hadn’t seen true wheat flour — much less refined cake flour — for years, were again able to eat bread. The bread that was made after the storming of the Bastille on July 14, 1789, was a white bread made up of 75 percent wheat flour and 25 percent rye. It only seems fitting to serve it at this occasion.
A refreshing tart made with fresh lemons, either a classic tarte au citron with fresh whipped cream or a lemon soufflé tart, topped with candied lemon slices.
For the dessert and cheese course: A bowl of fresh plums and apricots or ruby cherries and strawberries (depending on what's freshest) would adorn the table and be served with a variety of French cheese, from soft and runny to stinky as all get out, along with simple biscuit crackers and glasses of chilled Sauterne or a sweet Château d’Yquem.
In a little twist, on another small plate I would include her Cognac-laced Roquefort cheese balls, which are traditionally a starter (amuse-gueule au Roquefort), and serve it with full-bodied Meursault or Bordeaux in small glasses next to the small plate, just to pair with the Roquefort. That tidbit could be eaten with a sip of wine at any point in the meal— and somehow I could hear her exclaim, “Oh what fun!”
What fun indeed.
Get Julia's Cookbook: Mastering the Art of French Cooking