August 15, 2012
Many years ago, when I had been writing about food for just about five years, I attended The Symposium for Professional Food Writers at The Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia.
The Symposium was like the holy grail for food writers, as much because of the quality of speakers and attendees as for the difficulty of getting from just about any place in the country to the small, bucolic town where the world-class resort is located.
I remember the journey involved a red-eye flight from Seattle to Pittsburgh on U.S. Airways, an early-morning connector flight to Charlotte, then a puddle-jumper that finally brought a bunch of white-knuckle flyers, including me, to our hallowed destination.
I attended The Symposium several times, finding that I always learned a lot of new tricks of the trade. Plus, it really helped me feel less isolated as a solitary cookbook author and food and wine writer.
But no year matched the very first time, when Julia Child was in attendance. The first day our group convened for class, under the able guidance of writing coach, mentor, and (now) long-time friend Don Fry, I was (understandably) more than a little bit nervous.
Cookbook-author greats were seated around me; food writers whose bylines I recognized from years of reading were reading over their syllabuses; Julia Child seated right down the row from me.
Don used passages from actual writing samples the participants had submitted prior to convening. One of the first ones he read was mine, an excerpt from an article I wrote about a professional tea tasting for Northwest Palate.
As he read passage after passage from my story, I began to get even more nervous.
How would my writing be received by this august group?
I needn’t have feared. Perhaps because they put themselves in my (now) quaking shoes, they praised the passages, with only one rather disparaging comment from a smart-aleck Los Angeles food columnist who said my article (because I made use of fiction-writing techniques) wouldn’t have been suited to his newspaper audience.
I was most shocked and humbled when Julia herself raised her hand and said how much she liked my writing. It was one of the pinnacles of my career, and did so much to instill in me a feeling of confidence moving forward.
Above, you can see the menu from one of the lavish dinners we enjoyed at The Symposia. It featured five courses from famous “foodies,” including Lynne Rossetto Kasper, Anne Willan, Dorie Greenspan, Shirley Corriher, Andy Schloss, and Julia.
Her unique autograph, which begins with an outsized, loopy “J,” stands beside the course designed in her honor: Ragout of Duck with Twenty Cloves of Garlic paired with a Rombauer 1996 Zinfandel and Chimney Rock 1995 Cabernet Sauvignon.
Ooh-la-la. She really knew how to live large! Cheers to August 15, 2012, which would have been her 100th birthday.