In 1992, Julia Child visited the Peabody Hotel's flagship restaurant Chez Philippe, for a meal prepared by master chef José Gutierrez, now of the French-American bistro River Oaks in East Memphis.
"She did more for French cuisine than all other chefs combined," Gutierrez says, recalling his time with the larger-than-life chef, author, and TV personality who singlehandedly launched an American food revolution. "French cooking had been considered too complicated. Too difficult. But she made it accessible to everyone," Gutierrez says.
The Peabody menu included a warm and cold salad with basil dressing, brandade of smoked trout with grilled polenta, and heart of beef tenderloin with a Madeira- and black truffle-laden sauce perigeux, a pairing Child prized. For dessert Gutierrez served chocolate Napoleon with raspberries and crème fraiche.
"She adored the food," Gutierrez recalls, and even though each course was paired with wine, the eccentric bon vivant kept asking for martinis. "She was one of the most spectacular, kind, giving people I ever met," he says.
When Child celebrated her 82nd birthday in Los Angeles in 1994, Gutierrez was one of several chefs invited to cook for the doyenne of French-American cuisine. On Friday, August 15th, to celebrate the 20th anniversary of that birthday meal, River Oaks will offer a special three-course menu centered around one of Child's favorite dishes, Boeuf Bourguignon, which will be accompanied by Salade Lyonnaise and Reine de Saba cake.
"This is not food for the intellect," Gutierrez says, sounding very much like the chef he's honoring, "it is food for the soul."