Santa Barbara honors Julia Child with new food and restaurant week
Many cities around the world have embraced a signature local icon to attract visitors. For Mexico City, it’s artist Frida Kahlo. For Amsterdam, it’s Holocaust writer Anne Frank or artist Vincent van Gogh. For Santa Barbara, it may soon be Julia Child, the legendary TV chef, food educator and cookbook author, who spent summers in the area throughout her life and her final years living in Montecito.
On May 16, the Julia Child Foundation and the Santa Barbara Culinary Experience will launch their first “Taste of Santa Barbara.” The weeklong event will honor the farmers, chefs, winemakers and small business leaders that keep Santa Barbara County’s food system and hospitality scene alive and vibrant.
Foundation Chairman Eric Spivey said the event, which is very much in a “start-up phase,” purposefully coincides with Santa Barbara Restaurant Week. Thanks to several generous sponsors and a strong relationship with Visit Santa Barbara, the organizers, who have been planning the event for nearly three years due to COVID-19 postponements, expect attendance will provide a boost to the economy and will grow with time.
“We’re trying to shine a light on all the culinary riches of Santa Barbara by focusing on and helping the small businesses, whether it be restaurants, wineries, cocktail bars, artisan shops or hotels,” said Spivey.
Not to be mistaken for a food and wine festival, the focus here is education. A series of panel discussions, a film screening, farm and market tours, as well as cooking classes will be held throughout the area, to drive traffic and attention to local businesses while teaching the public about local agriculture and viticulture, food distribution, and of course, cooking.
Donna Yen, the executive director of the Santa Barbara Culinary Experience, became involved with the organization after planning a Julia Child Jubilee for Cherry Bombe magazine’s annual women in food conference last year. Through the virtual conference, which typically takes place in New York City, Yen heard memories and stories about Child’s impact.
“From all kinds of backgrounds, all around the world, it’s so amazing, Julia touches people,” she said.
Child died in 2004, in Montecito. In 1995, she created her namesake foundation, donating $10,000 to the endowment. It’s since grown to nearly $7 million and granted nearly $3 million to food-related nonprofits, both local and national.
Spivey, who knew Child personally, has guided much of the development and admitted, “they had to be creative.” Because Child was averse to using her name and likeness to promote products, the foundation derives most of its earnings from Child’s book royalties as well as the rights to her name, likeness and personality. Child’s first and most famous cookbook, “Mastering the Art of French Cooking,” was published by Knopf in 1961.
This year, two shows focused on Child’s legacy were released. “Julia” on HBO Max tells the story behind “The French Chef,” one of first cooking shows to be televised in the 1960s, and “The Julia Child Challenge” is a nostalgic cooking competition on The Food Network, where contestants compete with Child’s recipes in a replica of her kitchen.
That kitchen — or rather, the original — is also maintained in part by the foundation. The Taste of Santa Barbara will now be the Julia Child Foundation’s annual spring event. Every fall, the foundation organizes a gala in Washington, D.C., to present the Julia Child Award. That gala raises money for the Smithsonian Food History Exhibit, where Child’s original kitchen is now on display. Spivey said it’s the exhibit’s most popular attraction.
“Julia is the best salesman for Julia,” he said. “Nobody can do what she can do.”