Born and raised in Pasadena, renowned chef Julia Child lived all over the world, including Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), Paris, New York, and Cambridge, Massachusetts. In her later years, Child often stayed in Santa Barbara to escape the New England winters. In 2001, at age 89, she made the permanent move to Santa Barbara. The coastal town known as the American Riviera was a fitting home for the Francophile chef.
Child died in 2004 at age 91, but her legacy lives on. This year, Santa Barbara will celebrate her at the inaugural Santa Barbara Culinary Experience from March 13 to 15.
“Santa Barbara loved Julia as much as she loved Santa Barbara, and we claimed her for our culinary ambassador,” says Santa Barbara restaurateur Sherry Villanueva, who owns the Lark, Lucky Penny, and Pearl Social, among others. “Her support of Santa Barbara restaurants ranged from the fanciest fine-dining establishments to quick-serve burger joints and the simplest taquerias, and she loved each equally.
“Julia made eating, cooking, and sharing food something that appealed to the novice and expert, and her passion for French food and wine was infectious,” Villanueva says. “Julia made a connection that’s lasted to this day, and, somehow, we all think we know her in an exceptional way.”
In the 1960s and ’70s, viewers felt an instant rapport with Child’s effervescent presence on TV. The Le Cordon Bleu–trained chef helped demystify the art of French cuisine, teaching home cooks to make soufflés and roast duck à l’orange with easy-to-understand instructions, humor, and, more importantly, compassion. Child encouraged people to learn and to try new things, and she noted that mistakes were just part of the process. In one episode of The French Chef, she accidentally spilled potato pancake batter onto the kitchen counter. Unfazed, she quipped, “If this happens, just scoop it back into the pan; remember that you are alone in the kitchen and nobody can see you.”