In addition to a special menu and putting on a "Good Time" evening at Ris in Washington, D.C. that will raise funds for the museum, chef Ris Lacoste hosted screenings of "Cooking for Julia" last week at a Washington theater. The 28-minute documentary is near and dear to her heart, chronicling what it took to execute a 90th birthday dinner for Child and 160 guests at 1789 in Georgetown, where Lacoste was executive chef from 1995 to 2005. The event was planned to coincide with the opening of the kitchen exhibit in August 2002. Child died two years later, just shy of her 92nd birthday.
Lacoste was 26 when she first met Child in Paris. "I was a secretary for Ann [Willan] at LaVarenne Ecole de Cuisine," she says. Child came to her cooking school graduation. Their lives would intersect again and again, both in France and in the United States. Small moments are easy for her to conjure: Sharing a meal in 1983 with the Childs at Au Bon Accueil on the Montagne de Beaune toward Savigny les Beaune in the Cote d'Or, Burgundy, the young chef was taken with the way Julia grabbed a handful of frites and plopped them on the paper placemat, a la blotter.
If she can do that, I can do that, she noted. Lacoste remains active in the American Institute of Wine and Food, co-founded by Child in 1981.
"I was struck by her graciousness, no matter the venue," Lacoste says softly. "She could smile at the millions who approached her. Her memory was so fine-tuned. She could connect every single person she met.
"And I learned, most importantly, from her, to approach things as a student."
Come November, the National Museum of American History will unveil "FOOD: Transforming the American Table, 1950-2000." The installation will highlight food production, preparation, distribution and consumption, underwritten by three major donors and ongoing fundraising.
Julia Child's kitchen is the entry point. Rightly so.