Child’s Play Inn the Kitchen:

Innkeepers inspired by Julia Child create culinary delights for inn guests

By * Elizabeth Alexander

The new movie, Julie and Julia, celebrates Julia Child’s passion for cooking and another woman’s obsession with all things Julia.   Child discovered her love of cooking while living in Europe, where country inns have bred some notable chefs.   In America, some inn chefs, inspired by Julia Child, are bringing a bit of French flair to their inn menus.

julia-child-with-rolling-pinsAlexandra Grabbe, of Chez Sven Bed and Breakfast in Wellfleet, Massachusetts once penned an article, “Thank You, Julia Child,” published in France Today magazine, about how she learned French cooking from Child’s book. “I learned to cook with The French Chef, the most precious wedding gift I received.” She practiced Julia’s dishes on real French people, who were amazed at the culinary abilities of an American, as the French seemed to think that Americans only cooked hamburgers and TV dinners, according to Grabbe.

She lived in Paris, France, for 25 years and was once married to a Frenchman. “Frenchmen require that their wives have great culinary skills,” Grabbe remarked.   She also prepared every recipe in the book, just like Julie in the film had done– just not in the span of one year. 

“ My approach to cooking breakfast at the inn is very French, in that I use all natural, organic and fresh ingredients. My baked goods and yogurt are all homemade, and I serve organic granola and fresh fruit salad.” 

 “I met Julia Child once,” said Grabbe, “at a club for American wives of Europeans. When she came to speak, I was in awe of her.” Today, she and her Swedish husband run a New England inn, where Grabbe continues to be influenced by her first cooking mentor, who was also from New England. 

Gail Schwenker Mayer, innkeeper and chef at The Kirkland House  in New London, Connecticut helped found the International Association of Cooking Professionals in the late 1970s, after receiving an Advanced Certificate from Cordon Blue in London and graduating from the Ecole de Cuisine in Paris.  

Schwenker-Meyer went on to run a cooking school in Washington D.C. for twenty years, and once shared an intimate dinner with Julia and Paul Child, along with two other chefs at an IACF function. 

 “ She (Julia Child) was charming, delightful, gracious and extremely supportive; it was fun and fabulous. Her enthusiasm and encouragement of everyone starting this organization was outstanding. She was so supportive of anyone who shared a love or passion for food.”

child“I was raised on her Art of French Cooking, book, and then one of my students, Nancy Verde Barr, became Julia Child’s executive chef and published her own book, Backstage With Julia last year.”

At the B&B she’s run for eight years, Schwenker-Mayer cooks right in front of her guests.  

“We have a large kitchen and allow guests to come in and watch me cook; having been a teacher, I’m very comfortable with people in my kitchen.”  

One of her many celebrity guests, a noted composer,  wrote the song Blueberry Morning based on her lemon ricotta pancakes with wild Maine blueberry syrup.   

Monika Sudakov of  Sheffield Illinois’ Chestnut Street Inn was a Food Network junkie to begin with, and then obtained her Master’s Degree in Cultural Anthropology, focusing on Food and Culture. She took cooking classes in Morocco and now teaches cooking, including international cuisine and gluten-free cooking.  Sudakov has won local chef competitions, appears regularly on the local NBC Affiliate station, and prepares dinners for the public at her inn.  

“I cook not just for a living but because I love it and it makes me happy to share my food with others.” 

She prepares a French menu at least once per month and many of her other menus focus around Moroccan cuisine– Morocco was a French colony for almost half a century and has a lot of French influence. Sudakov studied in Paris for 6 months at La Sorbonne, and is fluent in French.  Like the French cooks, she prefers the freshest ingredients and foods grown locally. 

“I’ve been a Julia Child fan for years, and have hosted a tribute to Julia on or around her birthday for three years now. This year it happened to coincide with the movie coming out, so we did two nights of all Julia Child recipes inspired by her French Chef series. The menu included Petites Fondue Frites, Gateau D’Omelettes, Saucisson de Menage and Mousse au Chocolat. We served approx. fifty people over the course of the weekend. It was Julia Child heaven!!!” 

Judy Bunde’s life as an innkeeper literally rose from the ashes, after her successful bakery in Boston was destroyed by an accidental fire. Bunde and her staff had once created one of the birthday cakes for Julia’s 80th Birthday celebration in Boston, “a three-tiered cake that looked like boxed presents.” It seemed only fitting, since Bunde had taught herself to cook by collecting Julia Child’s cookbooks and watching her on television. “I boughtt Julia’s book when I first started cooking, I felt quite accomplished to do one of her six-page recipes.”  After nearly 40 years in the Boston area, Bunde left the city five years ago to run The Inn on Park Street in the quaint hamlet of Brandon, Vermont. Her cookbook collection is now over 600, and can be found in shelves all over the inn, including the guest rooms.  

A former special education teacher, Bunde owned and operated a wholesale dessert business in Boston for nearly 18 years, with clients including restaurants, hotels, caterers, gourmet food shops, and large concerns such as Starbucks and Trader Joe’s. Her pastries won numerous competitions, and were awarded the “Pick of the Week” by the Boston Globe several times.  “I hired people who knew more than I did, like several European pastry chefs, and learned from them. I also took many culinary classes, including workshops with Albert Kumin, a former White House pastry chef.”  

She currently gives cooking and baking lessons on weekends to inn guests throughout the year, including classes in small pastries, desserts, Italian cooking, cheese making, tapas, wedding cakes, gingerbread houses and much more. In addition, Bunde cooks three and four-course dinners for groups staying at the inn, which has greatly boosted her bookings.  

“I met Julia Child a few times; she was a very big supporter of women chefs in Boston.”

When Julia Child died in 2004, many Boston chefs tied wooden spoons on their car antennas in honor of her. Her words and recipes will live on through the efforts of many other talented women chefs.  

Elizabeth Alexander is the innkeeper at Alexander’s House Bed & Breakfast, Princess Anne, Maryland