Caption: Cutting the ribbon on the Gourmet test kitchen in 1999. From left to right: Charlie Gibson, Julia Child, Ruth Reichl, Steve Florio, Gina Sanders, Sara Moulton, Jacques Pépin, and Jackie Bobrow. Photo: Courtesy of Sara Moulton
Anyone who’s watched The Food Network or PBS over the last couple of decades is likely familiar with the smiling face of chef Sara Moulton, whose sensible weeknight meals and cookbooks transformed her into a small-screen sensation.
Moulton, who for years worked as executive chef for Gourmet, has long championed women in food through the New York Women’s Culinary Alliance, which she co-founded. But less well-known is Moulton’s close relationship with her own champion and former boss: Julia Child.
Moulton recently stopped by Radio Cherry Bombe on the Heritage Radio Network to share some quirky stories about her career with host Julia Turshen. Here, she dishes on America’s favorite Francophile and more:
On her mother as her culinary career Kickstarter. “She wrote to Craig Claiborne and Julia Child—she didn’t tell me—and said, ‘If my daughter wants to become a chef, what should she do?’ Julia didn’t write her back … but Craig did. And he said, ‘If your daughter wants to be a chef, she should go to cooking school.’”
On being dumped. When Moulton was accepted to the Culinary Institute of America, she initially resisted: It meant leaving her then-boyfriend behind. “So I went and told him, and I said, ‘You don’t want me to go to Poughkeepsie, do you?’ … And he said, ‘Yeah, I do, I’d like to see other women.’” All’s well that ends well: Moulton went to the CIA, and she and that boyfriend, the music journalist Bill Adler, later reconciled and married. (They’ve been married for 33 years!)
On lying to get her big break: At the beginning of Moulton’s career, Julia Child asked if she knew how to style food. Her answer? “I lied! I said, ‘Yes, I’m very good,’” Moulton said with a laugh. “I think anyone else would have lied. Why be honest when you can have an opportunity like that?”
On learning how to smile: ”She taught me how to smile on T.V. … Julia put her big arm around me, and she said, ‘C’mon, dearie, just say, ‘Champagne!’… When you’re smiling, you get across your message so much better than if you’re not.”
On how culinary school has changed: ”We only used one salt: table salt. That shows you what was going on back then!”
On why the cookbook shouldn’t die: ”I think cookbooks are dead! Isn’t that sad? And I’m writing one… my publisher would hate to hear me say that,” Moulton said. “But you know what, it’s a new generation of people who’d like to just download recipes off the internet, and they feel like they can find everything … And they’re sort of right, but a lot of recipes on the internet are not tested.”
On Julia Child’s publicly listed phone number: "Crazy woman! So all those nutcases would call her on Thanksgiving and say … "I’ve had my turkey in the heated garage for three days. Do you think it’s still OK?’ … She would talk them off a ledge."
On the importance of humility: ”I just think that anytime [Julia and I] were out in public—and certainly she’s like Big Bird, she couldn’t walk anywhere without people recognizing her—and somebody would come up and talk to her and say how much they loved her,” Moulton recalled. “She would ask them all about them! She was endlessly curious, and just so lovely to so many people.”
Editor’s note: Yahoo Editor in Chief Kerry Diamond is the co-founder of Cherry Bombe Magazine.