Smithsonian reopens Julia Child's kitchen for her 100th

Posted: August 16, 2012

It was a party they didn't want to miss, and a deadline they had to make: Aug. 15, on what would have been Julia Child's 100th birthday.

The very Smithsonian curators who had negotiated with the 89-year-old icon in her Cambridge, Mass., kitchen in 2001, catalogued the room's contents, packed them up, and created one of the National Museum of American History's most beloved exhibits, only to disassemble it a decade later for the sake of infrastructure improvement, are reopening the kitchen at its new site, where the museum's Hall of Agriculture used to be.

And they planned some surprise fun of their own for the public on the big day.

"We just had to make the 100th," says Rayna Green, one of the original team aiming big 11 years ago. Museumgoers "have been begging us since the exhibit closed in early January," she says.

Those who have committed to memory the peg boards and lorgnette and tableware-filled firkins through repeated visits or online via

edu/kitchen will be pleased to press their noses up against a set of windows whose blinds were previously drawn. Keen eyes can now decipher Child's handwritten label on the coffeemaker and assess the physics of a countertop stone-crab claw cracker that looks like it belongs beside an architect's drawing board.

The setting is ultra-real yet reverential. In this ordinary space, an extraordinary woman changed the way Americans ate. Three of her cooking shows were filmed in it, amid the utensils, objects, and art that made her happy. Where's the appeal in a soulless, sleek cooking environment with everything tucked out of sight? This exhibit makes you wonder, and the curators say it prompts strangers to share stories with one another as they explore.

The so-called JC100 celebration has been building since May - 100 days' worth, involving bookstores, social media, and restaurants nationwide. Credit the marketing of Alfred A. Knopf, which has this month published Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julia Child, and Kim Yorio, of YC Media, New York.

For Yorio, the project was personal. In 1996, as a "baby publicist," she accompanied Julia and Paul Child on an eight-city cook-and-book tour across America. "Julia was up for everything," she says. "Very engaged in what we were doing, how we were doing it, and into the execution of the food."

This time around, Yorio's goal was to get people talking about Julia Child, she says, in part through Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. Child's body of work - 3,678 published recipes - was the starting point. YC Media got the definitive list from the search-engine gurus at Then Yorio asked a select group of culinary luminaries, each with a connection to Child, to use the list as a ballot. The top 100, chosen by Judith Jones, Jacques Pepin, Thomas Keller, Dorie Greenspan, Ruth Reichl, Ann Willan, and Amanda Hesser, launched special dinners at 100 restaurants during Julia Child Restaurant Week. A hundred food blogs, were invited to feature a recipe each week. A hundred written and/or video tributes were compiled, including this one from PBS:

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