Julia Child might have been America’s sweetheart, but in New England, she was Boston’s darling. She famously lived across the river in Cambridge, Mass. with her husband, Paul, for 40 years (until 2001) in a house at 103 Irving Street (with two pantries that she loved).
The idolized chef and best-selling author of several cookbooks, including “Mastering the Art of French Cooking,” frequented Boston and Cambridge’s best restaurants and food markets. And Boston’s celebrated chefs and butchers, too, became treasured friends and mentees of the larger-than-life, revered Julia Child.
Now, 14 years after the Queen of French Cuisine’s death, her presence is still felt here—if only walls could talk. Sam Adams and Paul Revere might have been Boston’s trailblazers for freedom. But Julia Child led another revolution in this town—a food revolution that changed the culinary scene here, and in America, forever.
One of Child’s best friends was Jack Savenor, owner of Savenor’s, a prized neighborhood butchery and market, just blocks from the Child’s Cambridge residence. It’s easy to spot Savenor’s—Julia autographed the sidewalk in front of the store, carving “Bon Appetit” into the wet cement.
Not only was Savenor a special friend, he was her butcher, and she bought all of the meat, as well as produce, at his market (it is still there, and there is a second location in Boston). Jack died in 2000 and today his son, Ron, owns the business. Ron, too, was a treasured friend of Julia’s, or “Julie,” as he called her.
“Julie loved meat, admired meat, and often told me she wanted to be a butcher,” says Savenor. She used to tell me, “Every woman should kiss her butcher.”
Savenor said that when his dad passed away, Child was devastated. “She had had lunch with him just two weeks prior,” says Savenor. “They had a wonderful friendship, she would often come over to the house for dinner. She was always just lovely.”
Child was especially supportive of female chefs in Boston, says Savenor. “She was really interested in women becoming chefs. It wasn’t a women-dominated industry and she was especially friendly with Lydia Shire and Barbara Lynch and other up-and-coming chefs who she had a long-standing friendship and rapport with.”
Savenor says she also loved and respected Mary-Catherine Deibel and Deborah Hughes, co-owners of Upstairs at the Square, now defunct in Harvard Square. “She loved that restaurant, she would go there all the time. A big fan, to say the least.”
“Yesterday, I was in Cambridge and I was walking my son’s dog in Julie’s neighborhood, and I paused in front of her house for a minute. I even still remember her phone number. And I still have customers who come in and say, ‘I’ll never forget when I saw Julia Child here,’” he says. “She put us on the map.”
Savenor’s Butcher & Market is located at 92 Kirkland Street in Cambridge and 160 Charles Street in Boston; www.savenorsmarket.com.
A favorite of Child’s, Harvard Square’s Harvest opened in 1975 as a pioneering restaurant for its time—and it’s still a favorite of Boston locals and tourists looking for a modern New England menu.
“Julia will always be our very favorite neighborhood regular guest, always sitting at Table 102 in ‘Julia’s Corner,’” says owner Chris Himmel. “Harvest was truly her ‘neighborhood spot’ and she was always incredibly supportive of whoever the chef was at the time.”Julia’s go-to meal at Harvest? “One of the dishes that I remember Julia ordering several times was the Cast Iron Liver & Onions,” says Himmel. “She enjoyed the comfort food classic with a glass of our finest French wine by-the-glass.”
If Julia were to visit Harvest today, she would opt for something different, suggests Himmel. “Being that one of Julia’s most memorable shows was her episode ‘To Roast a Chicken,’ I would like to think that she would really enjoy our current Harvest Executive Chef Tyler Kinnett’s take, which includes a Giannone Farm Chicken served with black truffle agnolotti, slow roasted vegetables, celery root, and cranberry.” Himmel says the dish is a celebration of Julia’s past, while demonstrating “through technique and seasonality” how far we’ve come in American cuisine thanks to her influence.
Julia was much more than just a patron at Harvest. “Julia’s classical French training, coupled by her passion for sharing her love of food, served as inspiration to original Harvest owners and close friends Ben and Jane Thompson, who sought to open a neighborhood restaurant influenced by the same values and principles that helped develop Julia’s love affair with food during her tie living in France,” says Himmel. “I think Julia felt part of the fabric of what made Harvest such a pioneering restaurant for its time.”
Himmel thinks that Child would be wowed by the food scene in Boston today. “While I don’t’ think Julia thought of Boston/Cambridge as a food town on par with cities like New York of Paris, I think the food scene certainly held a special place in her heart,” he says. “Her special relationship with pioneering chefs like Lydia Shire, Gordon Hamersley, Jody Adams, Chris Schlesinger and Jasper White are testament to the love that she had for the local food scene and the influence that she had and still has to this day.”
Harvest is located at 44 Brattle Street in Cambridge; www.harvestcambridge.com.
Julia also loved fresh fish and seafood, and when she was in town, she would visit the fish market at Legal Sea Foods in Inman Square in Cambridge. “She loved swordfish and tuna; oysters certainly; grey sole; and once I was able to find her monkfish here in the States, that became one of her favorites,” says Roger Berkowitz, president and CEO.
Aside from buying her fish at Legal, she would also dine there with Paul or with friends, about twice a month, says Berkowitz, and sometimes in the other Legal Sea Food locations in Chestnut Hill and Kendall Square. She would often choose the mussels, oysters on the half shell, raw clams, swordfish and salmon, says Berkowitz. “She always ordered the chowder, too.”
Berkowitz says he thinks that Child was pleased to see the food scene evolving in Boston. “Things were just beginning in the late 60s and 70s,” he says. “And now, I think she would be very happy to see Boston equated with the better food cities in the U.S.”
There are 19 Legal Sea Foods locations in the Boston region, with another six smaller outposts in Boston’s Logan Airport; www.legalseafoods.com.
It’s no wonder that the chef who introduced French cuisine to America would dine at some of Boston’s most respected French restaurants, including L’Espalier, Maison Robert and Brasserie Jo.
Lumière, a modern French restaurant in the Boston suburb of Newton, was also a preferred spot. Child was a fan of chicken, especially dark meat, and she successfully convinced chef/owner Michael Leviton at the time to serve half a chicken rather than just a chicken breast. She would tuck into the dish: Roasted Farm Chicken (mashed Verrill Farm sweet potatoes, pearl onions and Lumiere beef bacon, chicken jus), says a restaurant spokeswoman. Today, the restaurant is owned by Chef Jordan Bailey and a similar dish is on the menu—Roasted Half Chicken (whole roasted carrots, prunes, pistachios, Kalamata olives, broccoli rabe, oregano and tzatziki).
Located at Washington Street, West Newton; www.lumiererestaurant.com.
Journalist, author, blogger. Boston Globe, OpenTable, USA Today, CNN, TravelChannel. Author, Co-author Murder, She Wrote novels. Do what your heart tells you.