TV cooking star opens exhibit of her kitchen at National Museum of American History

Monday, August 19th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Julia Child became an official part of the national heritage Monday, belatedly celebrating her 90th birthday by opening her kitchen as an exhibit of the National Museum of American History.

Wearing a brightly flowered blouse, gold earrings and tan pants, Child cut the strings of a set of aprons hanging at the entrance to the exhibit, named for her television goodbye: ``Bon Appetit!''

While slowed a bit by age, Child hasn't lost her zest for cooking, which she shared with those at a news conference marking the opening. She said children as young as 3 should be introduced to the kitchen.

``They can do a lot,'' Child said. ``They can mix things. They can roll things out. They can cut cookies. They can wrap things. What they can do is participate.''

Child, whose birthday was Thursday, didn't set out to be a famous chef. She wanted to be a basketball player, a novelist or a spy.

Though 6-foot-2, she never had a basketball career. And while a highly successful, widely published author of cookbooks and the like, she's yet to write a novel.

She did have a stint in the Office of Strategic Services, the predecessor of the CIA. She kept, in a drawer with kitchen junk, a little signal mirror issued to her on an OSS assignment in China during World War II. Now it's part of the show at the museum.

Child gave the museum most of the 20-by-14-foot kitchen from her house in Cambridge, Mass. The donation includes her six-burner Garland restaurant stove and more than 1,200 other kitchen objects, packed in 15 cases and reassembled on the ground floor of the museum over the last six months.

Only the kitchen's walls and floor were built at the museum. Part of one wall is missing: It held the French copper pots Child donated to the American Center for Wine, Food & the Arts at Napa, Calif. The wall was replaced by a one made of plexiglass with the outlines of the pots etched on it.

Now, she said, she will live in Santa Barbara, Calif. _ she was born in Pasadena _ while writing a memoir of her life in France. She lived there for six years with her late husband, Paul Child, a fellow OSS officer who worked for the U.S. Information Agency after World War II.

It was in provincial Rouen, France, that she ate the meal she calls her transforming experience. It was a simple one by French standards: oysters on the half-shell, sole meuniere and a green salad, washed down with a bottle of Pouilly-Fuisse white.

That epiphany led, eventually, to three Emmys for her cooking show, three decorations from the French government, six honorary degrees from American universities and a dozen cookbooks.

The exhibit runs until February 2004. It then will be put in storage as part of the museum's permanent collection.