Julie's tools

Do you know what these implements are called? What they're used for? Julie Dannenbaum did. The gadgets from her kitchen are, clockwise from above, a ham holder, a knife that cuts a full wheel of parmigiano cheese, a tool that juliennes, and ravioli cutters. Said a daughter: "She had something for everything."
Do you know what these implements are called? What they're used for? Julie Dannenbaum did. The gadgets from her kitchen are, clockwise from above, a ham holder, a knife that cuts a full wheel of parmigiano cheese, a tool that juliennes, and ravioli cutters. Said a daughter: "She had something for everything."

The many and much-used utensils of Philadelphia food maven Julie Dannenbaum will be sold to benefit the cooks of the future.

Posted: March 06, 2012

Mimi Robertson and Janet Freese estimate they've logged 65 hours so far cataloging the objects from their late mother's kitchen.

Clearly, this was no ordinary kitchen.

And theirs was no ordinary mother. Julie Dannenbaum, the internationally known cookbook author, who owned and operated cooking schools in Philadelphia, at the Gritti Palace in Venice, and at the Greenbrier resort in West Virginia, died suddenly in December at 89.

Almost every tool and gadget from her Delancey Street home will be sold April 15 to benefit the Philadelphia Chapter of Les Dames d'Escoffier, a philanthropic society of professional women in food who mentor other women aspiring to enter the food business.

Dannenbaum was among the founders of the local chapter, and proceeds from the sale will fund a scholarship in her name.

Only 200 tickets to the sale will be offered and they go on sale March 15 at eventbrite.com, said Kathy Gold, chapter first vice president, who runs In the Kitchen Cooking School in Haddonfield.

Gold and a cadre of "dames" recently went through Dannenbaum's drawers, counting almost 200 knives of various sizes, scores of whisks, vegetable peelers, pie weights, paté molds, aspic molds, ice cream molds, chocolate molds.

"She had something for everything," Robertson said. "And because she ran cooking schools, she needed multiples."

That explains the piles of stainless steel serving trays; pewter dishes; silver filigreed cuffs made to be worn by lamb chops; French-made Pillivuyt brownware porcelain dishes; and a variety of copper pots.

They found rolling pins - the American style with ball bearings and the French, made with solid hardwood.

The main kitchen in the basement of the Delancey Street mansion (augmented by a warming kitchen upstairs, near the dining room, with a connecting dumbwaiter) was equipped with a six-burner Garland stove (vintage now), marble counters perfect for making bread, tile floor, aluminum sinks, and Mexican tiled backsplashes.

Also for sale, the half-dozen framed still-life paintings of bread, olives, peaches, and food scales that lined the walls of Dannenbaum's home kitchen.

Robertson and Freese grew up in the family's first home, in the Carpenter's Woods section of Mount Airy, moving to Delancey Street when Robertson was in college and Freese was finishing high school.

For these youngsters, Mom's pots and pans were not playthings.

"Copper, are you kidding?" Freese asks in mocking shock.

"And we were not allowed to talk when she was watching Dione Lucas on television," she said.

Lucas, a Brit who taught French cooking, was the first female graduate of Le Cordon Bleu in France. In 1948, she became the first woman to have a television cooking show, igniting a passion in Julie Dannenbaum for classic French cooking.

Dannenbaum traveled to New York several times a week to take classes with Lucas, and went on to study with experts such as Richard Olney in Avignon, France.

She started her Creative Cooking school in Philadelphia in 1964, teaching classic French techniques to the well-heeled here, and in summer classes in Venice and at the exclusive Greenbrier.

Her influence in Philadelphia was such that she counted among her students Fritz Blank of Deux Cheminees. She was instrumental in the city's first Restaurant Festival in 1978; and the Book and the Cook festival in 1985. In 1988, then-Inquirer food critic Elaine Tait named her one of the 10 most influential food people in Philadelphia.

She wrote five books, starting with Menus for All Occasions in 1974. James Beard, who counted Dannenbaum among his friends, wrote about her book More Fast and Fresh for The Inquirer in 1983. A year later, in 1984, when she closed her Philadelphia cooking school, Dannenbaum helped start the Les Dames chapter. Always a hands-on philanthropist, Dannenbaum cooked for the nonprofit agency MANNA, which delivers nutritionally balanced meals to ill and infirm shut-ins.

Meanwhile, Harry Dannenbaum Jr. ran his family's rubber-coating business in Port Richmond, participated in charity events, and traveled widely with his tall, beautiful wife, who was the center of his attention.

"She was smart and funny and he was her straight man," Freese says. "He was not at all ill-at-ease with her success."

"We always told Mom her timing was perfect," Robertson says. "She started in the 1970s when mothers were just starting to get more free time and they enjoyed getting together."

Dannenbaum's daughters say they didn't realize how much they learned from her until they started cooking for themselves.

"I think we both found that we knew much more than we thought we did," says Robertson, who lives in Bucks County now. Freese, who lives in Colorado, where she runs an art gallery, concurs.

"At home, my mother did the daily cooking herself," Robertson recalls.

"When she had parties, she did all the preparation ahead of time - a lesson that Janet and I learned well - and had a crew come in that could follow her instructions and serve.

"When we were teenagers, she would pay us to help make the hors d'oeuvres, serve, and clean up.

"Our regular meals often had to do with whatever she was studying or testing for an article. Usually, the meals were hearty fare, ragouts (French, Hungarian or German) and such that would last more than one dinner.

"There was spaghetti and meatballs, quiches, casseroles, souffles, along with fried chicken, and we always had fish on Friday.

"She was often experimenting and [menu] requests were not taken except on your birthday, when you were allowed to order whatever you wanted and she would make it. I always wanted lobster, as did Janet. We both wanted a chocolate cake. Mine was with white butter cream icing and Janet's was with chocolate."

There was roast beef with Yorkshire pudding at Christmas with scalloped potatoes. "We called them Georges Perrier potatoes," Freese says, "I guess because they were his recipe."

"At Thanksgiving, she'd make pineapple buns and cinnamon buns and my friends would line up at the door for a taste." And for the day-after turkey sandwiches, Dannenbaum baked bread and made her own mayonnaise.

"You had to eat what was on your plate even when it was stuffed beef heart," said Robertson.

"No passes were given for not liking some food, and substitutions were unheard of. That regime certainly would not have been popular today."


Contact Dianna Marder at 215-854-4211 or dmarder@phillynews.com. Read her recent work at philly.com/diannamarder.

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