Today we say Happy 100th Birthday to the dearly departed Julia Child.
Julia's influence on the American palate is so vast it's hard to illustrate. Without her passion, determination and expertise, it's difficult to imagine when or even if our American cuisine would exist.
By sharing the classic techniques of French cooking, she opened our eyes to the possibilities of food.
In Oklahoma City, chef John Bennett counted Julia among his friends. Along with his best friend, chef Robert Dickson, who worked at The Cellar at Hightower in Oklahoma City and Legend's in Norman, Bennett was introduced to Julia in 1961 by James Beard.
There's a picture in their yearbook of Beard shaking hands with Dean Paul Fairbrook with a smiling, unidentified couple standing in the wings. That couple is Paul and Julia Child. You can read the full account in chef Bennett's story.
Bennett and Dickson's friendship dates back to a shared French terrine de foie gras packed in a handsome ceramic crock, and it continues to today. During a recent visit to Oklahoma City, Dickson was gracious — and brave — enough to be interviewed alongside chef Bennett.
While the lifelong friends disputed each other on certain details of their first meeting with Julia and Paul Child via the late, great Beard, they agreed on the result, which was a friendship that lasted a lifetime.
They also agreed their friendship with Julia helped them immeasurably as they traveled across France as nascent chefs looking for instruction — and free meals. They also agreed their chosen vocation wouldn't have been the same without Julia's infectious enthusiasm for French cuisine and the preparation of it.
Oklahoma's resident top chef, Kurt Fleischfresser of The Coach House and Western Concepts, agrees. In fact, he's in such agreement that he and chef David Henry will prepare a special dinner Wednesday hosted by chef Bennett and inspired by Julia Child.
In Monday's paper, we carried a recipe for Child's famous Bouef Bourguignon, which hopefully you've already made and are ready to eat tonight if you can't make it to The Coach House. Bennett prepared a classic Salade Nicoise to accompany that Bouef Bourguignon. He said availability of ingredients makes it possible to use seared fresh tuna rather than canned and pee-wee Dutch boiling potatoes rather than their larger cousins. His adaptation of Julia's original recipe follows.
Needless to say, but I'll say it anyway, bon appetit!
Julia's Salade Nicoise
1 head of living Boston lettuce, large, washed and dried
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1½ pounds fresh haricots verts, trimmed, blanched in boiling salted water, refreshed in ice-cold water, and dried on paper towels
2/3 to 1 cup salad dressing, such as the lemon vinaigrette, recipe below