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Oklahoma City chef's friendship with Julia Child helps build his career

DAVE CATHEY Modified: August 5, 2009 at 9:35 am •  Published: August 5, 2009


A memorable feast
A few weeks later, Bennett and Dickson arrived at 103 Irving St., where they cooked from galley copies with Julia.

They used a buffalo iron to make spinach, Steak Diane, potatoes gratin Dauphinoise and a Charlotte Malakoff with strawberries, homemade lady fingers, almonds and "lots of butter.”

A strawberry sauce was intended for the dessert, but the two upstarts wanted to put their own touch on it.

"We sent them out to the garden to be served, and when they were gone, we made a rich, buttery semisweet chocolate sauce with framboise eau-de-vie (a raspberry brandy) we found in the pantry instead of the strawberry sauce.”

While the dessert was a success, it was the opportunist’s first misstep.

"Paul was really mad when he found out we’d used the framboise,” Bennett said. "He said, ‘That was a very rare bottling I brought back from France and was saving it for a special occasion with our friends the DeVotos!’”

Bennett assured him they’d only used half a cup amid his profuse apologies.

Nevertheless, a friendship lasting more than four decades was forged.

A museum to call home
Bennett now resides in Oklahoma City with a little white dog named Riley in a home that serves as a museum to kitchen artifacts and his epicurean life of eating, drinking and merriment.

Among the treasures are photos with Beard, menus from The 21 Club in New York, original artwork by LeRoy Neiman and enough antique kitchen gadgetry to serve as an evolutionary chart for the food service industry — chafing dishes, pepper grinders, crumbers, tea and coffee services.

Bennett graciously spent an afternoon sharing his stories, letters, effects, a delectable homemade cake embedded with fresh peach slices, and a pot of coffee.

The letter he and Dickson took with them to France is protected in plastic. A number of other missives from Paul and Julia, dating from 1962-2003, are kept in a leather-bound folder embossed with a schooner in gold leaf.

One letter thanks him for a fish mold he sent as a gift. That mold now is part of the Julia Child display at the Smithsonian Institute on the Peg-Board where Julia kept many of her cherished tools.

When Bennett isn’t working on his ostensible memoir or pampering Riley, he does private dinners and parties for friends. A few times a year he does special dinners at local restaurants.

He will welcome Dickson from South Carolina for a special dinner at the Grand House in October.

As I left Bennett’s home, he pointed out a striking rosebush in the center of his cobblestone walk.

"Did you see these?” he said, motioning to a small butter-color rose blossom that somehow had battled through an arid July to remain wilt-free and offer its aromatic licorice scent. "It’s a Julia Child rose.”

He carefully cupped the blossom named for his friend and put his nose to it. His eyes momentarily pierced a memory he didn’t share — a pleasant one.

About that time, the mailman stopped at Bennett’s mailbox. Bennett shook my hand and quickly made off to see what new letters had arrived.

See Bennett’s rosebush and his dog, Riley. Read how Bennett had Kaiser’s ice cream shipped for the wedding party for Julia Child’s niece. Read more of the conversation with Julie Powell.

Upcoming event
Bennett’s lifelong friend Bob Dickson, owner of Robert’s of Charleston in South Carolina, will be a special guest hosted by Grand House Asian Bistro, 2701 N Classen, on Oct. 8.

The film
"Julie & Julia” opens Friday. It stars Meryl Streep, Amy Adams, Stanley Tucci and Chris Messina. Look for a review of the film in Friday’s Weekend Look.

John Bennett’s career highlights
Bennett worked almost seven years at The Cellar in the Hightower Building downtown before moving to the Skirvin and Christopher’s.

He moved to San Francisco in the early 1970s, where he worked at Jack’s and La Petite Ferme.

Returning to Oklahoma City, Bennett opened Grand Boulevard, where Flip’s now stands, then began a string of consulting jobs, special events and his own product line.

He helped design the kitchen and menu for The Greystone in Edmond in the 1980s and Nonna’s in 2000.


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