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The night Julia Child came to dinner

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The Runaway Spoon

(Read caption) Moist and tender fried chicken with a crispy skin is delicious served hot or cold.

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Anyone who grew up in the South has some kind of fried chicken memory. Or maybe no particular, specific single event at all, because fried chicken is so ubiquitous. But it is one of the many food topics a true Southerner can weave a yarn around. Fried chicken a simple weekend supper, first choice for a picnic or dinner on the ground, someone’s favorite special occasion meal. Fried Chicken is served at big, noisy, sloppy family gatherings, packed into the car for road trips, served at summer camp, or for small Sunday after church lunches. That’s where I ate most of my fried chicken growing up.

Julia Child had dinner at my house when I was a kid. You may be wondering how this fits into a story about fried chicken, so here it goes. Julia and Paul Child were in Memphis raising funds for Planned Parenthood and my parents were selected to host a dinner party for the Childs and select guests (that is to say potential donors). People were scrambling for the opportunity to participate – to wash Julia’s plate, or serve Paul a drink.

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The various committee members met to discuss plans and to decide, what exactly does one serve Julia Child at party? Ideas about hiring the chefs from the best restaurant in town to prepare a gourmet meal, or caterers to cook a menu made up of the fanciest ingredients available in Memphis were discussed. But my mom put out that maybe Julia gets that all the time, so why don’t we serve her something unique, that she might only be served in Memphis. So a caterer who specialized in Southern family weddings was brought in to prepare the classic Southern meal – collards, grits, biscuits and fried chicken. All the influential muckety-mucks invited to write checks filled their plates over and over again, thrilled to be served their favorite foods rather than the precious, overblown “gourmet” stuff they expected. Both Julia and Paul were noticed returning to the buffet for seconds. I must have been eight or nine, but I remember her, so tall and jovial. I still use the signed copy of The French Cook my mother gave me then.

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