Sunday, April 24, 2011

A Foodie Stumble Through Washington, D.C.

For those of you who live under a rock and could not guess where I was from the out of focus  obviously professionally shot photo of me in the mysterious, Plexi-glassed kitchen, I was in the Smithsonian standing in front of Julia Child's Kitchen....and I was squeeing myself.

Julia's Kitchen for those of you who cannot make it there; here is a higher quality slightly more professional photo tour of its awesomeness.

What was I doing in Washington D.C. you ask? Lobbying for better food labeling, food handling/processing, or clearer marking of genetically modified foods? Sadly no. Instead, I was learning about a doctoral program, seeing the campus, and generally trying not make a fool of myself with the folks that will be deciding what I do for the next 5 years of my life. While Jon and I were there, we decided to take in some sights as well.

The last time I went to D.C. I was not the bumbling fool well-versed culinary genius standing before you wait...that's a lie. I was exactly the same. I just didn't know that I would fall ass-backward into blogging about it at that time. That's why I was not so keen on visiting the kitchen over say...the memorials the last time I was there.

This year, I had exactly 2 things that I wanted to see: Julia Child's Kitchen, and the Jaleo Restaurant. Jaleo was a restaurant I first heard about while watching Iron Chef. Jaleo's Executive Chef, Jose Andres, smacked down my future baby's daddy (and apparent upstairs neighbor), Bobby Flay, during battle goat. When I heard that Andres' restaurant was in D.C., I just had to go. I don't travel to New York or Las Vegas (where Flay and many other challengers have a lot of their restaurants) so I feel like this was one of the few opportunities I would have to eat at Iron Chef quality establishment. More on that later.

This moment is for Julia...

It's too bad it's behind greasy, smudged Plexi-glass.

Me: "How's the picture look?"  Jon: "Great! Totally in focus and everything!"

Notice the clock says 12:20. It is always lunch time in Julia's kitchen.

 Every pot has a purpose.

There were quite literally a MILLION people in there trying to see it. I didn't realize that so many people were interested in seeing her kitchen. Getting these three pictures with no one else in them was enough to get about 1,000 piss-faced, hurry-up scowls. That's okay though. This was my moment with Julia. The first thing that struck me was the color of cabinets; Tiffany Blue. My wedding was in Tiffany Blue, the hovel is decorated in Tiffany Blue, I am at one with Tiffany Blue.

Tiffany Blue is the worst color to try to match for weddings, just fyi. If you are a perfectionist bride, choose another color for the love of God or you will be bald from stress and broke because you practically have to custom dye everything.

The next thing that struck me was how low the stove was. She had the cabinets raised because she was exceptionally tall for a woman. If you do the flash tour linked above, you will notice that it appears a good four inches or so lower than her cabinets. That may not seem like much, but if you are constantly bent over like that, you are going to throw out your back. Here's a picture of it, but it doesn't quite capture the disparity in height. Perhaps that why she had a stool perched there on the other side. So she could sit while she fussed over pots.

 (C) Jeff Kubina
Of course, this range was an incredible improvement over her earlier stoves, like the one seen here.

Another thing that struck me, which I guess it shouldn't have being that I was in a museum and all, was how well used everything appeared. The pots and pans were battered and scorched, jars were full with peeling labels, utensil handles were bent. It reminded me of walking into my grandmother's kitchen as a child. It just goes to show you how blinded by media perceptions we (meaning I) really are. When you watch cooking shows on TV you see nothing but brilliant counters with shiny pots, pans, and appliances. See Exhibits A, B, and C below.

Still too exited to be talking about radishes, Rach.       Image (C) CelebPulp
Chef Anne, I hate to categorize you in the same universe with R.R., but when you say, "big meat" you scare me a little and make me think dirty thoughts. I hope this does not affect our potential future BFF-ness  (Image probably (c) of Food Network)
The Anti-Christ. No explanation required. Image found here.

Another thing that surprised me is how cluttered and random the kitchen appeared. Again, I shouldn't be because Julia actually lived and cooked in that kitchen, putting things in places that were convenient for her regular use. Not like today's TV chefs that have everything symmetrical and neatly stacked/contained. (Review the above if you don't believe me).

Julia really loved knives, but she did not own a knife block. I thought that was interesting. She instead chose to have her knives within easy reach on a magnetic strip. Julia Child was, in fact, childless. Good thing though, so she did not have to worry about any emo neighbor kids getting ahold of her knife collection. Just an interesting observation.

Go cry somewhere else emo kid.

One thing she thought every cook should have was a mortar and pestle. Don't ask me why. I'd probably just end up dropping it on my foot or something, but here is hers.

"An Essential Kitchen Tool"

Another, more surprising, component of the exhibit talked about how Julia didn't start cooking until later in life. And, like myself, she was not always successful. I think it was quintessential Julia to want to teach others and show that she had lots of obstacles to overcome to achieve what she did. It makes one feel almost as if she were your friend instead of some soulless celebrity cook

I am not alone.
What touched me the most about the exhibit was the obvious love between Julia and Paul. It was thick in the air like a peppered, white gravy. So much love passed in that kitchen, and as you can read from the picture above, she admitted that there would be no "French Chef" without her beloved Paul. I would not be "The Project" without my beloved Jon, either.

It was a great experience and I found myself welling up with tears as we walked out. The exhibit moved me, and I can't tell you why. It was like being at a celebration of life for a recently departed friend. It's exactly the same way I felt when I watched the end of Julie and Julia, the movie. You see the Smithsonian kitchen kind of fade into the the actual kitchen, with Julia cooking away and Paul coming in with a package that turns out to be Julia's first published cookbook. Julia has changed the lives and inspired many servantless, American cooks like myself. I was just lucky enough to see a small glimpse into her every day life.

Thank you Julia, for everything.

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