For several years I was the final speaker at all the IACP (International Association of Culinary Professionals) conferences. My turn came at the end of the long and excruciatingly-boring General Meeting lunch session. Customarily there were 1,200 or more (mostly women) in the audience. By the time I made my appearance many bottles of fine wine had been emphatically “tasted.” To state it plainly, more than a few were more than a little tipsy.
It was always anticipated that I would poke fun at all the big time food celebrities (except Julia) and tell funny little stories about the food in the news. One year the words hovering on every lip were Omega-3 fatty acids. Everyone was enchanted with this new discovery that promised life everlasting.
I began my talk by suggested that we would soon be embarking on the Great Cattle Reef Project. This was a scheme in which cows were to be taught how to swim underwater. They would then produce gallons of Omega-3s that we were all crazy about and no milk that we didn’t want anymore…Laughter…
I described Martha (Stewart) as a cross between Ophelia and Leona Helmsley…Laughter…
Then I talked about world hunger…Silence…
Dejected, I crept from the stage.
“Irena, dear that was the boringest speech I’ve ever heard,” she said.
She was right. It was.
Instead of giving ’em the red meat they wanted, I had fed them gruel.
I mention this because watching the great movie, Julie and Julia, I remembered again so many wise things Julia said and did and why it was she who became a national folk hero.
The moral–I still sometimes forget–is to give people what they want. This means listening carefully to and speaking and writing and cooking for what others want. This may not always be precisely what we want.
Julia eventually knew what she wanted. She wanted to be loved. Money was never the motivating force.
By following what Joseph Campbell called her “bliss,” she was like Walter Cronkite. They both achieved the affection and admiration of the nation…and a lasting legacy that was based on honesty, diligent attention to detail and knowing when it is time to leave the stage.