When our publicist, Ann Ewing, called to tell me, with guarded enthusiasm, that I was scheduled to create a signature Jillyanna’s pizza at a local TV station that did not have an oven, I was reminded of a guest appearance that Julia Child made in the 1980’s on Late Night With David Letterman. Julia’s singular goal was to create a perfectly cooked hamburger. As it turned out, the only cooking equipment Letterman had to offer the French Chef was a portable electric burner–and the “stove,” which looked like a toy, did not work. Ever resourceful, Julia turned the hamburger into “Steak Tartare” then pulled out a blow torch and preceded to melt some cheese on top of the raw meat. She called her dish “Steak Tartare Gratinee” and insisted that Letterman have a bite. Terror got the best of the neurotic host and he spit out his first nibble. Eventually, Letterman did try again and swallowed some of the Tartare and the whole skit went down in history as one of the funniest guest appearances on the Letterman show.
Despite or because of the memory of this encounter, I decided to take advantage of my live television opportunity–especially since I was promised that instead of pizza, I could make a sauce for pizza (or pasta) and that Good Day Maine did have an electric cooktop with several burners that worked. At this point in my life, I have to agree, at least in theory, with one of Julia’s great quips: “In cooking, you’ve got to have a what-the-hell attitude.”
The night before my appearance, Valerie grabbed a stopwatch and discovered how long it takes for a pot of pasta water to boil. “Fourteen minutes,” she told me as I assembled small condiment bowls filled with carefully measured chopped thyme, garlic, shallots, grated Parmesan cheese, rehydrated mushrooms, strained mushroom liquid, truffled salt, pepper and heavy cream. Since my allotted time on television was a maximum of five minutes, I realized I would have to boil the water and partially cook the pasta before the cameras turned to me. I tossed and turned all night, reciting the recipe and praying I hadn’t left out any ingredients. Valerie kept her eyes trained on the digital clock so that she would remember to get up at 4:30 AM and fill the car with the needed pots and pans, and Ann woke up at 2:30 AM, wondering if she should bring a pasta strainer with her…just in case we forgot to bring one.
As it turned out, our segment was not nearly as funny as Julia’s, but on the other hand, we remembered all the ingredients, and all the cookware. The burners worked and the pasta cooked properly. Best of all, the camera crew watched with some envy as the female anchors licked their pretty lips and, around the forks we provided, twirled, then devoured their luscious homemade fettucine with porcini cream sauce. By the way, here’s that unforgettable cooking segment of Julia with David Letterman.