Yes, it’s epic. I can’t say enough. What an honor. The first item I get is the scripts. I comb them. I highlight them. Fortunately, Julia Child’s cookbook gave me everything I needed. She made my job very easy, having this bible to refer to. … The show’s timeline is “Mastering the Art of French Cooking,” First Edition. These were the recipes she made on “The French Chef”. But we also see her testing recipes for the second volume in her cooking scenes at home, where she is, for example, baking a cake called La Charlotte Africaine.
She is so meticulous in [her] description of the technique, including the tools needed by the home chef, the home cook, to execute these recipes. So it’s all there, whether I would then shuttle between decorating the set or props. … Then I go into visual thinking, where I upload hundreds and hundreds of images, because we look at food visually. We eat with our eyes before our stomach. So creating mood boards, old-school style with big Styrofoam. For each culinary meeting, people would come into the kitchen, and I would then give a presentation, showing them either how one of her recipes is made, or all the rhythms of the recipe, so that it can help Sarah [Lancashire, who plays Child] and help her choreograph a cooking scene when she performs a dish.
How was food different in the 60s than it is today? Today, there are so many Food Network chefs. TV chefs are everywhere, while Julia Child was really the first. How are the recipes different? Does the food look different?
Well, we need to capture place and time more clearly with the setting. You have costumes, clearly. And then the accessories: we can’t just put any pan or any spatula. They source through eBay or vintage shops to get these tools. His illustrations, very few in each cookbook, are more technical. There is no beauty. So it was really fun to bring these recipes to life visually and to stay true to food as food and not pump it up with Hollywood steroids and do something bigger and better for the camera. It was rightfully his recipes that we made, again and again and again. They are absolutely her. There are no tricks. Maybe the only thing I did was put a little red food coloring in the raspberry mousse, just to enhance the color, since we were using fresh raspberries.
Were there any favorite things you recreated from her? What did you really like?
Well, I love this cake, La Charlotte Africaine. And that’s only because it really made our heads spin. We’re like, ‘What’s a cake made with leftover cake?’ I was reaching out to, you know, Dorie Greenspan, “Did you make that cake?” I was reaching out to people who were like, ‘Wait, what?’ It’s a fun cake. I want to sell it for everyone at home to cook it up and revisit Julia for something that may not be her most famous dish, but it’s a lot of fun.
I can’t get enough of his roast chicken. It’s just a classic, and you’ll never have better chicken than Julia Child’s Roast Chicken. It was just a lot of fun revisiting her books in a different way, having grown up with them and her on WGBH, because I’m originally from Massachusetts. She is our local hero and beyond. These books and their recipes are timeless.
Why are his recipes so timeless?
It is just very precise without being pretentious. Some dishes, for example, duck l’orange, you have a lot more little gadgets and tools that you have to use to execute such a fancy dish. But it’s his approach, in his writing, his clarity and focus in execution, in his writing, that makes it simple. Everything is on steroids now. Her recipes keep you sitting back, reading and absorbing, then hand-holding in the execution. There is no doubt: Did I understand correctly? Time and time again, with each of these recipes, they have come out perfect.
Where do you buy the ingredients?
We would go with Ron Savenor. That was also part of the fun; Because I’m from the area, we only know where Julia went. Of course, we will go to Julia’s butcher. He’s just the best. The circle is almost complete for him too. Sometimes, with certain salespeople, we were like, ‘Hey, look, this is for Julia!’ And people would say, ‘Oh, I got it. I’m going to take this even more seriously. And everyone has a story, and the spirit of sharing that experience with them as food makers or suppliers has kind of brought a really nice collective spirit to the show. I would say, ‘Ronnie, you’re part of the Dream Team.’ We have all brought to life this amazing character who is our beloved Julia Child. And I hope I made her proud.
When you cook yourself, where do you shop?
I love going to the Roslindale Fish Market. Their product is so divine, their fish and cheese and their Greek specialties. I love it, I love going there. It’s my favorite, and I source not only for my family but also for jobs. Tony’s Meat Market in Roslindale – his steak is the best. It’s so tender. I love going to Tutto Italiano. I’m Sicilian Irish, but you know, I go there because I follow my stomach, and it always leads to the Mediterranean, European Italian. Anyway! I love going to the Washington Street Greek Market. They have the best tzatziki in town. I feel like giving up my secrets! And we used Russo. I’m trying to find a replacement for Russo. I love going to Price Rite in Hyde Park to buy the kids’ snacks because we all have wallets and budgets, and why not buy my Oreos there for $1 less than anywhere else?
When it comes to field trips, I love Sevan Bakery in Watertown. I go there alone as an excursion and bring home all the presents for me and the children. And, for inspiration, I love going to the Eastern European markets at Brookline, because you feel transported to another part of the world. I love Bazaar on Beacon Street. I love going to Jewish markets. It’s a hobby for me.
What is your favorite restaurant in Boston?
I’ll say Oleana in Cambridge.
If Julia Child were alive today, where do you think she would eat?
I would say the best Chinese restaurant in town. Joyce Chen is no longer there, but she would be sitting somewhere at a large round table with a lazy Susan.
What’s the hardest dish you’ve had to make from her cookbook?
His chocolate soufflé, which we see in episode eight. It took the longest to develop, because it’s such a finicky food. We really worked hard to execute this scene. And it’s a real soufflé. So I think that was the most tedious, but the most rewarding, because it was a trial. We ended this scene with a round of applause.
Do the actors actually eat the food you prepare or do they pretend?
They must be dragged away from the table. … They don’t just eat a bite; they eat 30, 50 bites. I mean, they eat all day. Then yes. And then it comes down to the crew.
Any tips for people who like to take pictures of food at home? What is a good angle? Is there good light?
I say natural light. Do not touch your food too much; don’t fluff it too much. You know, don’t overload it. Just let it rest. Natural light, and I’ll say a drizzle of a richly colored olive oil to give some shine.
What’s next for you?
I’m having a little break until the phone rings again, which excites me, because it’s been a busy two years and I’m just, you know, going to do some adulting. I’ll enjoy. I may become a lady who lunches for a few weeks.