Deanna and Julia: Parkite remembers adventures in French cooking
September 4, 2009
When "Julie & Julia" landed in theaters last month, Parkite Deanna Gerber was one of the first in line to purchase her ticket. The film, which interlaces the story of a modern-day Internet blogger with the life of famed chef Julia Child, brought back vivid memories for Gerber.
She went straight home and rummaged through her boxes of keepsakes, searching for an account she wrote about her own interaction with Child and how she personally mastered the art of French cooking.
In 1975, Gerber was running a small catering business and teaching French culinary classes in New York. In her spare time, she dreamed of expanding her knowledge of the food she loved.
"For years I had one fantasy travel to France, study the grande cuisine at the apron strings of the world’s finest, and experience, firsthand, what fois gras, crème fraîche and truffles really taste like in their native land," she wrote in her narrative.
Planning the trip and finagling her way into the kitchens of acclaimed French chefs wasn’t a simple feat. "I didn’t know where to start," she says. Aside from the names of the culinary confections she taught, Gerber didn’t even speak French.
A family friend heard about her ambitions and gave her a phone number for Julia Child, who was living in Boston at the time. Gerber dialed the number, and, "in the voice that Meryl Streep so skillfully imitated in the film," Child answered, she recalls. "We had a very lengthy conversation. She gave me numerous suggestions, from restaurants to visit, to outdoor markets, to finding professional cooking supply stores in which to purchase knives."
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Gerber and a fellow food-lover departed for France in June of 1975 and spent 18 days exploring the country and its culinary culture. They stayed with different families and had the opportunity to eat and assist in some of the country’s most renowned restaurants.
Gerber recounts savoring multiple-course meals at La Renaissance in Rive de Gier, taking photos in the kitchen of Madame Point in Vienne, exploring the outdoor market with the chef of Chez George in Lyon, and helping out in the kitchen at Les Freres Troisgros in Roanne. It was there that Gerber met Jean Troisgros, who would become a close friend and mentor.
Child also helped Gerber get in touch with Simone "Simca" Beck, a co-author of "Mastering the Art of French Cooking," and Beck agreed to arrange private cooking lessons in her apartment outside of Paris, "It was a very small kitchen and just the three of us all day long for two days," Gerber says. "She was wonderful. She could not have been more accommodating."
Other highlights of the trip included baking bread at the Chateau de Trelogue and touring the kitchen at Aurberge d’Ill in Illhauersern. "It was an amazing experience," says Gerber.
Her admiration for the French and their attitude toward food led her to plan another trip the next summer, the second of several excursions throughout her life. She worked again with Troisgros and experienced other restaurants that were rated as some as the best in the world. She also had a chance to attend Le Cordon Bleu, the same cooking school at which Child launched her career in French cuisine.
A few years after returning to New York, Gerber attended a gala held in honor or Child, where she finally had the opportunity to meet her and thank her for all that she had done. "She was just like in the film," she says. "She was just a very humble, lovely, generous woman."
Gerber currently operates a catering business in Park City called Cooked-to-Order. For more information, call 615-9277.