Julia Child stared into the camera and announced in her signature warbling voice, “The French Chef welcomes four new kitchen assistants to our set this afternoon!” She pointed her wooden spoon at the quartet of well-dressed young men gathered behind her counter and introduced them to her television audience:
“Mr. John Lennon! Mr. Paul McCartney! Mr. George Harrison! And, all the way from Dingle, Lancashire, Mr. Ringo Starr! They came to Boston to perform a concert tonight at Suffolk Downs. But this afternoon, my four new commis chefs will help me prepare ‘Moules Marinières avec Pommes de Terre Frites’ on The French Chef.”
“Cut!” shouted the director.
“Right!” replied John. He grabbed a sharpened cleaver out of Julia’s knife block and slammed it against the wooden cutting board.
“Stop that!” shouted Julia. “Be careful with my instruments!”
“I’ve heard that line before,” laughed George.
John lifted the knife to his nose and started sniffing it.
“Put the knife down,” the director stated calmly.
John offered him a cheeky smile, then lay the knife down carefully beside the block on the countertop.
Julia put her hands to her hips in an ‘I’m a Little Teapot’ pose and glowered at John. “Now listen to me, young man,” she warbled. “You might be the leader of this little rock and roll band of yours, but I am in charge of this kitchen and this television show, and throughout this afternoon’s production, you will follow my instructions to the law.”
John bowed to Julia in a grand theatrical gesture, then stood straight back up and lifted his face so he could look her in the eye. “Bien sûr, Madame,” he replied in an obsequious voice. “Je m’incline devant le Chef de Cuisine.”
“When did you learn French?” asked Paul, eying John suspiciously.
“I just know a little argot de cuisine,” John replied. “I picked up some kitchen slang when I was a teenager and my stepdad let me and my mate Pete fill in as busboys at the restaurant where he worked. Everyone in the kitchen was terrified of the Head Chef and kissed up to him in French.”
“You needn’t va te faire foutre in my kitchen,” Julia chided John. “Just do what I say.”
John nudged one of the stage hands. “Did she just say ‘kiss my arse’ in French?”
The stage hand shrugged. “Beats me. I’m just here to do the lighting.”
The director approached the counter. “Mrs. Child…Beatles…please! Your managers each agreed that it would be good publicity for you both if the band made a guest appearance on this afternoon’s show. So let’s just relax a little, and try to have some fun. Mrs. Child assures me that the recipe she has selected for today’s taping should be easy to prepare. So why don’t we all give it the old college try and cook some mussels together?”
“John’s the only one of us who went to college,” Ringo pointed out.
“And he dropped out of school to play rock and roll on the Reeperbahn,” George added.
“My husband and I have enjoyed several delightful dinners over the years at the Café Condi in the Hotel Vier Jahreszeiten in Hamburg,” Julia noted. “Had I known that you boys had a connection to Northern Germany, I might have selected another dish to prepare today.”
“Rolling, Mrs. Child,” the director interrupted. “Starting on three…two…one!”
Julia looked back into the camera and feigned a smile. “Welcome to The French Chef! I’m Julia Child. You know, when we speak of French cuisine, we often think of Paris or the South of France. But the French islands in the English Channel have made invaluable contributions to their country’s gastronomy. So today we will be making a popular dish from the island of Brittany. And to help me prepare it, I’ve invited four young men from the other side of the English Channel to be my kitchen staff for the day.”
Julia looked at John. “Now, Mr. Lennon, I understand you used to help your stepfather in his restaurant’s kitchen when you were a lad.”
“That’s right, love,” John replied with a wink and a naughty smile. “I was a busboy.”
“Hhmm,” Julia said. She turned to Paul. “Do you have any experience working in a kitchen, Mr. McCartney?”
“Well,” Paul began. He lowered his head, then looked up at Julia with his big brown eyes in a sad puppy dog expression. “After my mum died, Dad relied on me to get our family dinners started. As soon as I got home from school, I’d take the meat out of the icebox to defrost. And I’d peel up some potatoes and get them on to boil.”
“Excellent!’ Julia exclaimed. “You shall be my sous chef. Mr. Harrison? Any kitchen background?”
“No, not really,” George confessed. “I’m the youngest of four children. Mum usually shooed me out of the kitchen when she was cooking. Though she often had me set the table.”
Julia nodded. “Fine. Then you can help Mr. Lennon with the table preparations. Mr. Starr?”
Ringo beamed at her. “I can warm up a tin of beans with the best of them!” he boasted.
Julia sighed. “Then you shall serve as my chef de partie and assist Mr. McCartney.”
“Don’t George and I get fancy French titles?” groused John.
“I hereby anoint you my escueleries,” she replied.
“What does that mean?” asked George.
“Dishwashers,” Julia said dismissively as she reached for a bowl of potatoes.
“I’m not insulted,” John insisted. He crossed his arms in front of his chest and assumed a proud stance. “My dad was a professional dishwasher for many years. It’s in my blood.”
Julia handed the potatoes to Paul. “Today we are going to make ‘Moules Marinières avec Pommes de Terre Frites,’ more commonly known as Moules Frites. Steamed mussels with fried potatoes. This is one of the most popular Breton dishes. Mr. McCartney, if you would be so kind as to peel and chop these potatoes, it would be very helpful.”
Paul rolled his eyes, then reluctantly grabbed a knife and potato. “So we’re making fish and chips, then, eh?”
“Mussels and chips,” Julia corrected him.
John started singing:
“In Dublin’s fair city
Where the girls are so pretty,
I first set my eyes on sweet Molly Malone…”
George put his arm around John’s shoulder and started swaying along with him to the rhythm of the song as he joined in on the next verse:
“She wheeled her wheelbarrow
Through streets broad and narrow,
Crying “cockles and mussels, alive, alive, oh!”
Paul put down his knife and potato and applauded his bandmates.
Ringo approached Julia. “And what might I do, Mrs. Child?”
“You can help me prepare the broth for the mussels,” she replied, handing him a plate covered with shallots, garlic cloves, and several sprigs of parsley and thyme. “First you must chop these.”
John and George started singing the next verse of their song:
“She was a fishmonger.
And sure, t’was no wonder,
For so were her mother and father before…”
“Lovely, lads, simply lovely,” Julia interrupted dryly. “Now why don’t you rest your voices so you won’t wear them out before tonight’s concert and start setting the table?”
John and George threw a pair of evil looks at their hostess, then walked off camera towards the table on the side of the stage.
“Oh, not so fine!” Julia admonished Ringo. “You want to mince the garlic, but only chop the parsley and shallots. And only cut the rough stems off the sprigs of thyme.”
“Now you tell me,” Ringo groused.
“The recipe is lying on the counter right beside your cutting board,” Julia informed him in a condescending voice. She turned towards Paul. “Now, Mr. McCartney, please set aside your potatoes for a moment and help me melt this butter.”
“You need help melting butter?” Paul replied. “That’s rather a basic task, i’n’t? I should think you could handle that by yourself.”
Julia cleared her throat and smiled awkwardly at the camera. “I was hoping you might want to show my viewers how it’s done,” she clarified.
“Fine,” Paul said. He rested his knife beside the bowl of potatoes and approached the stove top. He pulled a small frying pan out from beneath the counter and rested it on the heating coil.
“Oh no!” Julia exclaimed. “You’ll need a large sauté pan, like this one.” She pointed to the pan resting on the farthest heating coil. “How else will we fit all of our lovely shellfish inside?”
“Now she tells me,” Paul grumbled under his breath. He looked under the counter and found a pan similar to the one already on the stovetop.
Julia threw a nervous glance at George and John. They were walking around the dining table in a circle, performing a silent comedy routine. George approached a chair, then took a plate and set of silverware from the pile in the middle of the table and laid out a place setting. Then he proceeded to the next chair. As soon as he started arranging the second place setting, John collected the dishes from the first and put them back in the pile in the middle of the table.
“What in heaven’s name are you two doing?” Julia called to them.
“I’m setting the table,” George replied.
“And I’m bussing the table,” John added.
“Something’s burning,” Ringo called out.
Julia looked back at the stove. “Fils de pute!” she exclaimed. She immediately covered her mouth, then looked up at the camera with a contrite expression. “Please pardon my French.” She turned towards Paul and forced a smile. “You seem to have burnt the stick of butter.”
“Right, sorry about that, love,” Paul apologized. “I’m used to cooking with gas burners. These electric coils are a bit tricky.”
“Indeed,” Julia replied. “Messers Lennon and Harrison, please come help us. The stage assistants can set the table in your place.”
George flashed a knowing smile at John. “Works every time.”
John nodded. “If you mess up badly enough, the roadies will do everything for you instead.”
The two guitarists approached the counter.
Julia pulled out another pot and started melting a second stick of butter over a lower heat. “Why don’t you go back to chopping potatoes, Mr. McCartney? Mr. Starr, have you finished cutting the shallots?”
“Indeed I have!” Ringo said proudly. He lifted his cutting board to show off his work and spilled his finely chopped shallots, garlic and herbs all over the countertop.
“Oops,” Ringo said. He started rubbing his eyes. “Didn’t mean to do that. But I can’t see very well just now. Cutting those tiny onions got me all teary eyed.”
Julia sucked in a deep breath and released it in a long, drawn-out sigh. “Not to worry. We’ll just scrape up the salvageable food and put it in the stock. Mr. Lennon, I hereby assign you that task. Now, Mr. Harrison, please bring me that bottle of Sauvignon Blanc so I can add it to the melted butter.”
George grabbed the wine bottle and started tipping it over the saucepan.
“No, not yet!” Julia cried, pushing the bottle back upright. “We must wait until the shallots are cooked through. Please toss your handful of herbs and onions into the butter, Mr. Lennon. Very good. Now. Let us wait for a moment until the shallots are soft and fragrant.”
“Wait! Till I come back to your side,” Paul started singing.
“We’ll forget the tears we cried!” George and John chimed in.
“If only I could,” Ringo whined, rubbing his irritated eyes.
Julia crossed her arms in front of her bosom and frowned at the three singers.
“Aw, do cheer up, Mrs. Child,” Ringo said encouragingly, dabbing his tear-stained cheek with a tea towel. “At least they let off singing that bloody fishmonger song.”
Taking up the cue, John and George put their arms around each other’s shoulders once more and broke into song:
“She died of a fever
And no one could save her,
And that was the end of sweet Molly Malone.
Now her ghost wheels her barrow
Through streets broad and narrow,
Crying, “Cockles and mussels, alive, alive, oh!”
Julia cut them off. “Oh, just smell those delightful shallots,” she said, looking directly into the camera. She cupped her hand over the pot and wafted the fumes towards her nose. “They’re simply heavenly, don’t you think? Mr. Harrison, you can now pour the wine into the stock. Then I’ll add this quarter cup of heavy cream.”
George emptied the bottle over the pan, sending large splashes of wine onto the stovetop.
Ringo looked over his shoulder at the table in the back of the stage. “Hey look mates, there’s more wine over there! Who wants a tipple?”
“I do!” Paul exclaimed.
“After you finish chopping your potatoes,” Julia stated emphatically.
John made a face at Paul, mimicking Julia’s expression, and silently mouthed her reprimand.
Julia caught him in the act and clapped her hands three times rapidly. “Mr. Lennon! Please fetch me that pitcher of water to add to the stock. There’s a good boy.”
John made another face, then handed Julia the pitcher and watched her pour it into the sauce pan.
“Now, I’ll add a little salt and pepper and the heavy cream,” Julia continued. “And once the stock comes to a boil, we’ll add those mussels in that colander.”
She turned and looked directly into the camera once more. “Now make sure you scrub your mussels carefully before you cook them. And rinse and de-beard them as well.”
“De-beard them?” Ringo asked.
“You know, give ’em a close shave,” John said. He picked up the cleaver and held it to his drummer’s neck.
“The ‘beard’ of a mussel is the clump of hair-like fibers that sprouts from the shell,” Julia explained, still looking directly into the camera. “To remove the beard, just grab it with your thumb and forefinger and tug it toward the hinge of the mussel shell. You can also use a knife to gently scrape away the beard.”
“Would this knife do?” George asked, grabbing the cleaver from John and offering it to Julia.
“Use your head, Mr. Harrison,” Julia reprimanded him. “A small knife would work much better on a small shell.” She looked back at the pot and checked that the water had come to a boil. “Now, I shall pour in the mussels. I’ll steam them for six to seven minutes, gently shaking the pan every so often. When the shells start to open, the mussels will be ready to eat. Mr. McCartney, have you finished chopping your potatoes yet?”
“Oh, bugger, I forgot,” Paul said. He took the cleaver away from George and started hacking away at his peeled potatoes.
Julia sighed dramatically once more. “Oh, never mind. There’s a bowl of sliced potatoes in the fridge behind me. Be a dear and fetch it for me, would you, Mr. McCartney?”
Paul looked at her askance. “If you already had a bleedin’ bowl of ’em in your icebox, then why did you ask me to cut all those tatties into chips?”
“There are three sets of everything on this set,” she explained calmly. “One set for demonstrating, one back-up set in case something goes wrong, and one set for eating. Now get the potatoes from the refrigerator and fry them for me, would you please? Use that burner at the far end of the stove.”
Paul slumped his shoulders and started marching towards the refrigerator.
“Look!” John exclaimed, pointing to the mussels in the sauté pan. “They’re starting to open.”
Paul ran back to the stovetop and looked into the pot. “Were they still alive when she threw them in the bubbling brew?”
“I suspect so,” Ringo said. “I looked at the recipe, and it called for fresh shellfish.”
George and John exchanged another set of knowing smiles, then started to sing in unison once more,
“Alive, alive, oh! Alive, alive, oh!
Crying, “Cockles and mussels, alive, alive, oh!”
“I think they’re ready,” Julia said, lifting the pot from the stove. “Now, I’ll discard any of the shells that haven’t opened, then transfer the mussels and liquid to a large, deep serving bowl. Mr. Starr, did you save any parsley for a garnish?”
“Um, I didn’t know I was supposed to,” he replied.
“You just said you read the bleedin’ recipe,” John reminded him.
Julia bit her lip. “Fine. Now, let me hold this pan up to the camera so the viewers at home can see what the dish is supposed to look like.” She lifted the lid off the second large pan that had been sitting on the back of the stovetop and held the contents up to the camera. Then she turned towards the Beatles. “Gentlemen, if you would care to join me at the table, we can share this dish of ‘Moules Marinières avec Pommes de Terre Frites’ that I prepared earlier this afternoon with my regular staff.”
“Hey look, the table’s been set!” George said, pointing to the side of the stage.
“No thanks to you,” Julia mumbled under her breath.
“Someone’s put a big bowl of chips in the middle of the table too!” Paul said in an exasperated voice. “This kitchen is a regular potato field!”
Ringo rushed to the back of the stage to grab the extra wine bottle. “Now I’ll pour us all some tipples!” he exclaimed happily.
“This dish actually tastes quite good with beer as well,” Julia noted as she took a seat at the head of the table. She picked up a clean, white linen napkin and rested it on her lap.
John sat down beside her and grinned. “Ah, I knew you weren’t as posh as you let on, ma’am. Me mum was named Julia too, y’know. And she enjoyed a nice pint of lager with her mussels and chips as well.”
Ringo brought the bottle of wine to the table, along with a six pack of Sam Adams from the refrigerator. “I’ll never understand why you Yanks like to drink your beer so cold.”
Julia looked up at him and grabbed a bottle of beer from the six pack. “Sometimes, after a frustrating day at work, there is nothing so refreshing as a nice cold glass of lager.”
Paul poured himself a glass of white wine and chuckled. “True, ma’am, though I appreciate having wine as well, when the opportunity presents itself.”
George found a bottle opener in a drawer behind the counter and brought it to the table, then grabbed himself a beer and pried off the top.
John opened a bottle of beer for himself, then held it aloft and pointed to his host. “To Julia. Half of what we say is meaningless. But we say it just to reach you.”
The other Beatles held their drinks aloft and clinked them against each other. “Julia!” they cried out in unison.
“How do you eat these things?” George asked, making a quizzical face as he reached for a mussel.
“Crack open the shell and fill the side that the mussel is clinging to with a little broth,” Julia replied. “Then bring the shell to your mouth and suck out the meat. You can use the empty half-shell as a spoon if you’d like.”
“This isn’t posh food at all, Mrs. French Chef!” Ringo exclaimed. “It’s messier than British pub grub!”
Julia reached for a French fry and dipped it into the creamy mussel sauce. “You’re right,” she agreed as she brought the fried potato to her mouth. “The French are a sensual people. They like sensuous food.”
John slipped a mussel into his mouth and savored its salty flavor and chewy tenderness. Then he smiled admiringly at his hostess and sang, “So I sing a song of love for Julia.”
Julia ate a mussel. A look of rapturous delight washed over her face. Then she smiled back at John. “So now you sing me a song of love. I thought you only knew that silly little ditty about the Irish fishmonger’s daughter.”
John put his elbow to the table and rested his hand on his fist. “Sorry about being so rude earlier. We were just having a larf. But when I cannot sing my heart, I can only speak my mind. It was a daft idea having us on your show as assistant chefs. None of us can cook. But these mussels are magnifique!”
Paul reached for the bottle of Savignon Blanc and refilled his glass. “I want to tell her that I love her a lot too. But I’ve got to get a bellyful of wine.”
Ringo chewed on a mussel and smiled blissfully. “Seems like we spent this afternoon cooking in the kitchen of love.”
George looked over his shoulder at the stage crew. “Are you lot still filming us?”
The cameraman looked away from his viewfinder briefly and nodded, then repositioned his lens so that it focused on Julia.
“So how do we end this show?” John asked as he reached for a French fry.
Julia held up her bottle of beer and smiled at the camera. “We say Bon Appetit!”
The Beatles lifted their drinks and turned towards the stage crew.
“Bon Appetit!” cried John, George and Ringo in unison.
Paul stood up from the table and looked directly into the camera. “And don’t forget to come see us play tonight at Suffolk Downs!” he added. “And to buy a copy of our latest record, Revolver!”
Julia smirked at John. “I almost forgot. You’re here to plug your own show. Not just to wreak havoc on mine.”
John lifted two empty mussel shells from his plate, held them in front of his eyes like a pair of glasses, and whistled a cat call at his hostess. Then he rested the shells back on his plate and sang once more: “Julia – seashell eyes – windy smile – call me!”
Julia lifted the napkin from her lap and swatted him with it.
“Cheeky little bugger you are,” she laughed.
He grabbed a mussel off her plate, cracked it open, and slurped down the meat greedily. Then he smiled at her once more. “I only act cheeky with beautiful women,” he replied. “With tall, beautiful women like you who know the true way to a man’s heart.”
* * *
Inspired by Julia Child’s television show “The French Chef,” which ran on PBS from 1963 through 1973.