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Bon appétit!

August 8, 2009

The just released movie Julie and Julia, featuring Meryl Streep as Julia Child, the legendary American chef, reminded me of a small episode of my life I had long forgotten.
Many years ago, I was having a business lunch at The Harvest, a high-end restaurant in Cambridge, Massachusetts, when our conversation was interrupted by a huge, infectious laughter coming from the table behind me. I had never met Julia Child, yet instinctively knew it was her. I turned around and sure enough, there she was, a bit older than on her television shows, but still projecting an incredible joie de vivre. The experience at The Harvest, as you would expect from a place that counted Julia as its customer, was a gastronomical delight comprising a venison focaccia sandwich and a tabbouleh and leeks salad, delivered by a corps de ballet of waiters and sommelier. The innocent young graduate I was trying to lure into my fledgling firm was properly impressed and rapidly signed on for the job.
On the evening of that same day, my office had a party at Fire + Ice, another Cambridge restaurant a few yards away from The Harvest. (This particular day in my life also gives you a window on the challenges of my waistline). Fire + Ice is definitely down-market from The Harvest, but it makes up for it by offering an original co-created experience. We all helped ourselves to a unique mix of meat and salad ingredients, gathered around the common grill to get our meat cooked, discussed the Red Sox latest end-of-season collapse with complete unknowns, and drank a lot of beer in a joyful, student-like atmosphere. No venison and corps de ballet there, just three types of meat, a couple of waitresses serving beer, and the grill guy. At Fire + Ice, people make their own fun.
I never saw Julia at Fire + Ice, so I imagine she’d rank it way below The Harvest in her culinary pantheon. As for me, unsophisticated business type that I am, I’ll bet you Fire + Ice is more profitable. They charge four to six times less, but are always full and have close to no personnel cost. I’ll leave the bon appétit to Julia and take the valise de billets home with me.
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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Laura Schenone permalink
    August 10, 2009 3:38 pm

    Nice story about Julia.

    What's interesting about her from a co-creation point of view is that when she had her cooking show she truly inspired people to cook along side her. She invited them into their own kitchens–and they went. And they cooked. And they were always talking back to her as they went along. Though this was all in the era before the Internet made feedback possible, Julia made people feel like she cared about them, like she was really in the kitchen there at your side. Many of us are still talking to Julia in a two way conversation. Today's cooking shows are one-way conversatons. Rachel Ray or Giada cooks and viewers watch from the couch. It's all about the star, not about the customer.

  2. Francis Gouillart permalink
    August 10, 2009 4:25 pm

    A terrific comment, Laura, which testifies to both a remarkable knowledge of Julia Child that could only come from personal experience, and a great understanding of what co-creation is. It had never dawned on me that her TV shows were in fact co-creative, in spite of the obvious limitation of the medium, but they were/are, for the reasons you state. By the way, for our readers who may be intrigued by Laura's paragraph above, her own blog (http://www.jellypress.com/)happens to contain a wonderfully written entry on her personal reactions to the film Julie and Julia.

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