Fans of American icon Julia Child are not too hard to find. She taught people that cooking can be easy and enjoyable while pioneering an entire genre of cooking shows and capturing the hearts of many. Whether you are a cooking aficionado or simply an admirer of the late and great Julia Child, I have some exciting news for you. Child’s home in France has recently been purchased with plans to turn it into a center for culinary and yoga retreats. Start planning your trip!
Smith College alumni Makenna Johnston had been one of Child’s admirers for years, even before the two women shared an alma mater. She told Boston Magazine, “I watched reruns on PBS, and I used to imitate her voice.” Johnston credits her own cooking skills to her mother and father, as well as a summer abroad in Nesle, France. Much like Child, Johnston is inspired by the country, and she finds motivation in her kitchen from Child’s fearlessness.
Johnston reveled in the idea of owning Child’s home in France when she saw that it was on the market, but it was not until after the Paris attacks in November of last year that she became serious about the idea. She told Boston Magazine, “When that happened, I started thinking about how Julia Child was a total peacnik… She was very involved in improving communities through food.” Johnston’s father had recently retired at the time, and was planning a trip to France, so they started looking into the possibility of buying the house.
Johnston is a self-employed business strategist and life coach, and her wife is a U.S. Air Force Reserve captain who left her full-time military career in 2014. To them, it seemed like the perfect time to become inspired and create new meaning in their lives. They created a plan for a project devoted to Child’s legacy of joy, compassion, and sharing the love of food. Johnston’s wife, Evie, enrolled in culinary school, and they made plans to buy a home in France, preferably Child’s home, La Pitchoune.
There was already an offer on the home, but the couple made an offer anyway, and a week later, with the help of a few investors including Johnston’s father, Julia’s house was theirs. In the 1990s, the home was purchased by Kathie Alex, who turned it into a culinary school and kept the famous kitchen in tact. It was important to Alex that the house remains a cooking school. Johnston said La Peetch will be “a cooking retreat with excursions in yoga,” and “a home base for a center on culinary exploration, peace, and community.”
You can book a retreat or vacation beginning in May, but the first cooking sessions will not begin until 2017 when Evie will have completed her program at the International Culinary Center, as well as her externship. The couple will be hosting week-long sessions, called “Courageous Cooking,” in April-June and September-November of next year.
Johnston told Boston, “The focus is on cooking French food, for sure, and really on the Julia Child way of cooking. The no-holds-barred, ‘Look at that omelet!’ style of cooking, our goal is to take out some of the anxiety that comes with big messes, especially for new-ish cooks.”
Child encouraged her viewers to have courage in the kitchen and to let go of the fear that can be attached to cooking — the worry that something might go wrong or taste off. “Our goal is to bring good cooking back,” Johnston explained. “So many people spend so much money and time going out to eat… If you can bring it [preparing meals] back into the home, and entertaining, it’s a very different life.”
Johnston added, “Cooking makes us human, and it’s a huge thing that brings us together. It’s important that it continues to do so.”
Featured Image: PBS