WALLA WALLA - Seventeen batches of beef burgundy, most of them still in the colorfully enameled cast iron Le Creuset-style pots they were cooked in, were crowded along one counter, in an even more crowded room of people at Someone's in the Kitchen on Friday evening, in hopes of raising money for a good cause and celebrating one of the best cooks of our time.
"Julia Child was a huge influence in my upbringing," Trevor Dorland said, shortly after being named the winner of the first Julia Child Boeff Bourguignon Cookoff co-sponsored by the Downtown Walla Walla Foundation and Walla Walla Lifestyles magazine.
Dorland, who admitted he was too young to have witnessed the rise of Child's fame through the late '50s and '60s, went on to explain that he was born on the same day as the California-born cook who is best known for bringing French cooking to the average American home.
Add to Dorland's pot a couple pounds of chuck from the best grass-fed and grain-finished Montana range beef, substitute the burgundy for a $60 bottle of Cayuse Vineyards 2007 granashe, use only homemade beef stock, follow a Child's recipe and Voil. You have a winner.
"I was hoping (to win). But something like this you have no idea," he said, and added he didn't do it alone, noting that his work colleague, Cindy Hurlbutt, was the other half of the winning team.
But the biggest winner wasn't the team of Hurlbutt and Dorland, nor was it the group of more than 100 people who attended - many of whom were dressed like the pearl-clad Child or her dapper dressed husband - the real winner was Providence St. Mary Medical Center and its patients.
"It doesn't matter if it is $10 or $100 (raised), the bottom line is people want to serve the community," Cancer Center spokesperson Mardi Hagerman said, explaining that the money from the event will be used for the special needs fund, which assists with purchasing wigs, transportation, groceries and other items not covered by insurance.
Event coordinator Jennifer Northam said more than 100 tickets at $15 per ticket were sold. But she noted that at one point they didn't know if enough people would attend. The tickets eventually sold, the number of contestants maxed out and it became obvious the event would draw good numbers.
The popularity of a recent Meryl Streep movie about Child helped push up the numbers, as well as the proximity of Valentine's Day, Northam said.
"Everybody was pretty excited about it. It's an event that is kind of romantic, because of cooking for your sweetie," Northam said.
Highlights of the event included a Julia Child impersonator, played by Topher Murphy. And guests were treated to wine donated from Sapolil Cellars' reserve library.
Food and wine aside, what seemed to be on the table for the mostly over-40 crowd was the chance to celebrate an icon from their generation.
"She was a unique character," Julie Drischell said, while sitting with three of her friends. "She was a trailblazer for women," Suzie Aldrich said. "She had flair," all the women agreed.
As for the 17 batches of beef burgundy, as tradition would have it, most were made from wine-marinated chuck. Some were made three or more days in advance.
One team was headed by 10-year-old Sophia Gregoire and her grandfather, Bob. "She was the cook. I was the sous chef," the grandfather said.
Another contestant, Rose Ann Walker, who wore the traditional pearls and white blouse, admitted she favored a recipe from a contemporary of Child and the other French cooking expert, James Beard. "But I didn't want to use that recipe," Walker said, noting she went with Child's recipe and her own embellishments.
"I tweak it. But some of your tweaking you don't want to tell anyone because that is what makes it yours," Walker said. Then she added, "I watched Julia Child and I really loved her. She was such a relaxed girl. If something went wrong she, she just chucked it and started again."