In this week's ongoing Mastering The Art of Julia series – partly started in anticipation of this summer's Nora Ephron-directed Julie & Julia, starring Meryl Streep as the food world's warbly-voiced Julia Child – we talk to STREET's Susan Feniger about the time she and Border Grill/Cuidad partner Mary Sue Milliken were given a lesson by Child on how to really fill up a day.
“Back in 1993, Mary Sue and I were two of sixteen chefs to appear on “Cooking With Master Chefs” with Julia. We started filming at Mary Sue's old house literally at five in the morning. We did a curry of spinach and eggplant and Thai melon salad. At this point, Julia wasn't on camera. We'd be filming and she'd be sitting in front of her computer, typing full speed ahead, sort of giving input and talking, then going back to typing. At around 1 p.m. we took our break and she had a beer with lunch. She was how old then? At least 80-years-old. At 5 p.m. we broke for the day. We all had a glass of wine and decide to meet Julia back at her hotel at 7 p.m.
She was staying at the Ritz Carlton in Marina Del Rey. When we showed up, there was a baby grand in her room and she had someone there – a friend? who knows? – playing the piano and singing. We all had a glass of wine, then we were on to Border Grill for dinner. There was fifteen of us and we had some margaritas, and probably wine with dinner and we eat in typical fashion where Mary Sue and I order a million plates, way more food than you can ever eat. And we're eating and eating and eating. Now it's honestly about 11:30 pm. Everybody was ready to go. We're all like, “Okay, we've been going since 5 am. We want to go to bed.” But Julia convinced everybody to stay for after dinner drinks, for glasses of port and sherry. I think we probably walked out of Border Grill at one in the morning. The next morning we were getting up to film again at 5 a.m. We were all exhausted but Julia was bright and shiny and ready to go. She was just the cheeriest.
One time, maybe two years before she died, she was being honored for something and Mary Sue and I were the emcees of the event. And she comes in, she's in a wheelchair and sort of hunched over a bit. And I go up to say hello to her and she's so incredibly clear, asking how things are going at the restaurant, just completely 100% in tune: 'What's on your plate?' she wanted to know because she knew we weren't doing TV then. 'Are you going to be doing more?' she asked, then kept saying that we really should. There she was in a wheelchair, not in very good health. It should have been all about her but there she was, focused on Mary Sue and me.
There's a picture that ran in the Los Angeles Times. It's of me, Mary Sue, Nancy Silverton, Amy Ferguson-Ota standing in the kitchen at City restaurant “with Julia. She's towering over all over us. It was taken so many years ago. I've got that picture framed and it's on my wall. She was such a lovely woman, so fun and funny and generous.”
To watch a video of Julia Child talking about Susan Feniger and Mary Sue Milliken, go to the Prime Video Cut here. (Note how Child keeps herself amused with her pronunciation of the word “India.”)