I’ve never been much of a cook. With that disclaimer now out in the open, I will admit to having watched my fair share of cooking shows—in the 1970s. With two workaholic parents, I spent quite a bit of time in front of the television, and one of my favorite people to watch was Julia Child. I’d never heard a voice like hers, particularly from a woman built like a linebacker. More than that, I was enchanted by the combination of her silliness and warmth. Julia was an original, and nobody has been able to hold a candle to her. Until now.
It seems that the mold that made Julia wasn’t completely broken. Meryl Streep has managed to put it back together again to create an absolutely winning performance in the new movie Julie and Julia. But as fabulous as La Streep was in the film, so, too, was Paris. The city looked absolutely resplendent on the big screen. Although Julia and her husband Paul lived in Paris for several years in the late 1940s and early ’50s, the magic here is that Paris hasn’t changed much. Fashions have changed, yes—as has the way people move around Paris. But against the backdrop of progress, Paris is as Paris has been. And that makes it easy to follow in the footsteps of Julia Child and relive her glorious years in Paris.
If you want an authentic start to this Child-ish reenactment, set off to Rouen (a 90-minute train ride from Gare St. Lazare) and have lunch at La Couronne. This is the historic restaurant (which claims to date back to 1359) where Julia Child had her first taste of proper French food—briny portugaises oysters followed by Dover sole in butter sauce. “It was the most exciting meal of my life,” she wrote in My Life in France. Many others have agreed, including John Wayne, Sophia Loren, Princess Grace of Monaco and Serge Gainsbourg.
When she arrived in Paris with her husband, Julia couldn’t cook, didn’t speak a word of French and wasn’t sure what to expect. Of course, she took to the city like butter. The Hôtel Pont Royal (7 rue Montalembert in the 7th) is where Julia and Paul stayed until they settled into their apartment at 81 rue de l’Université (or “Roo de Loo” as they called it) and Julia began her quest to master the art of French cooking. She enrolled at the Cordon Bleu cooking school, which was, at the time, located in the 7th arrondissement near the École Militaire but is now at 8 rue Léon Delhomme in the 15th. The school offers day- and week-long courses for visitors. There’s even a one-day program that pays homage to the woman who brought French cooking to America. For 165€, you can learn to cook some of Julia’s recipes or, for only 45€, watch a demonstration followed by a tasting of dishes like lamb stew with spring vegetables and chocolate mousse.
If you want the full Julia Child Paris experience, stop by E. Dehillerin, the shop where Julia stocked up on all of her kitchen tools. The store, located at 18-20, rue Coquilliére (which also turns into 51, rue Jean-Jacques Rousseau) in the 1st arrondissement offers aisle after aisle of shelves packed with pots, pans, molds, whisks and other specialized cooking implements (meat saws and duck presses, for instance). In the film, Julia is seen roaming the store with her long-time collaborator, Simone “Simca” Beck—but the film doesn’t even begin to convey the sheer immensity the shop.
The Childs were also regulars at Le Grand Véfour, one of Paris’ oldest and most elegant restaurants perched next to the Palais Royal, and Lapérouse, another Paris institution in the 6th. When they weren’t splurging on these expensive restaurants, the Childs started their day at Les Deux Magots (6 pl. St-Germain-des-Pres in the 6th), indulged in wine and oysters across the street at Brasserie Lipp (151, Bouvevard Saint-Germain) and, for sandwiches and beer, visited La Closerie des Lilas (171, Boulevard du Montparnasse).
Of course, it was more than the food that so enamored Julia. She was devastated when Paul’s posting at the embassy ended, and even though their next stop was the beautiful Marseille, Paris had become her home. But no doubt she’d find great joy in knowing that the places she loved so much were still thriving all these years later—and being enjoyed by those who loved her so much.