As August comes to an end, harvest season begins. Our Napa Valley Chardonnay came in this morning and the fruit looks beautiful. The Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir will soon follow. Let the harvest begin, huzzah!
Julia Child’s birthday was this month, August 15th. I thought it’d be the ideal month to chat with Katie Pratt. Katie is the co-author of France is a Feast, A Photographic Journey of Paul and Julia Child, an art curator who arranged the exhibit under the same name at the Napa Valley Museum, and a close family friend of the Childs. She is a tastemaker that I think you should know.
The Child’s Provençal retreat, La Pitchoune, in the village of Plascassier, is the inspiration for this month’s recipe. Farmers’ Markets are abundant now with summer produce and provide all that is necessary to transport you and the guests at your table to the South of France with a quality ratatouille.
Springing back to our own Mediterranean Napa sunshine reminds me to remind you to save the date! This coming October 1 is Yountville Days. I hope to see you there.
Vintner, Cook, Yountvillian
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The first Saturday of October is the hallowed Yountville Days. I’m not sure why it is plural because it is really only one day and one day you do not want to miss. Like the Oscars, this is the moment where Yountville celebrates its own. Once again, Gentleman Farmer will represent with a proper float in our small town parade. Wine club members are welcome to join us on the float and in the parade; in fact, they are encouraged.
Our band, Phat Ankle, will be performing as we drift down Washington Street. Jeff recently joined the band with his clarinet and this will be his debut performance. There will be an after-party to keep the celebration going.
If you are not a member of the Gentleman Farmer Wine Club Collective and would like to float down the quaint main street of the Hamlet of Yount, click here.
Jeff and I met Katie Pratt at the outdoor bar at R+D Kitchen in Yountville a few years ago. I am unsure how it came up, but we started talking about Julia Child. Katie is a Napa local, a photographer, art curator, author, winemaker, artist, and a lifelong friend of Paul and Julia Child. Katie and her parents were among Paul and Julia’s closest friends. How cool is that?
That afternoon I shared that Julia came to Cal Poly Pomona when Jeff and I were students in the Hotel Restaurant Management program. It was an event for the American Institute of Wine and Food, an organization she helped organize. I can’t remember the particulars, but the students got to cook right alongside her.
Jeff shared that he had waited on her twice, once when he worked at Left Bank in Larkspur and once at Jardinière in San Francisco.
Katie was the first person I reached out to when I was interviewing for The Julia Child Challenge on the Food Network (I didn’t make the cut). I think these small Julia connections were just enough to keep our communication going with Katie over the years, and I’ve been lucky to get to know her.
Katie was a student of Paul Child. Paul was a gifted photographer; however, his artistic work had remained largely out of the public eye. After Paul’s death and with Julia’s permission, Katie set out to change that. She teamed up with the Child’s great-nephew and author, Alex Prud’homme, to write and create the book France is a Feast, The Photographic Journey of Paul and Julia Child with over 200 of Paul’s photographs, documenting their years in France.
Katie also curated the exhibit of the same name at the Napa Valley Museum with the Child’s personal objects, intimate photographs, and an audio tour with the voice of Julia featuring interviews with chefs Jacques Pépin, Thomas Keller, and Cindy Pawlcyn.
Bring an appetite; this interview is a feast.
Joey Wolosz: What were your first connections with food and wine?
Katie Pratt: My family was always interested in food and wine. My grandfather purchased barrels of European wine and kept the wine in their house. He collected other bottles and had a wine cellar. My grandparents had vegetable gardens which they ate from and put a lot of energy into preparing their meals.
My parents were very interested in wine and food. They enjoyed getting their foods directly from farms, fresh and local. They had three sit-down meals a day and took meal times seriously as time for conversation and enjoyment of the company and the meal.
My mother was a natural cook. After she started to help on the TV set of Julia Child’s show at WGBH Chanel 2 Boston, she became an even better one. She would test recipes for Julia both for the shows as well as for her articles and books at home, and my family enjoyed being the lucky guinea pigs. Mom loved to cook and always whipped up fantastic meals. Dad carefully and thoughtfully selected the right wine.
My father was extremely interested in wines. He had a wine cellar and a wine consultant in Boston who guided him on what to buy. Dad read all that he could on wines, subscribed to the Wine Spectator, collected labels, and took notes on the wines that he tasted and liked. He loved to follow the wines and comment on them vintage after vintage.
Inspired by his friends in the wine industry, he was excited and interested in the Old World, as well as upcoming New World wines.
My parents were very close to the owners of Clos du Val Winery [in the Napa Valley] and started visiting the area once they started the winery, as well as Taltarni [their sister winery in Australia.]
Through Julia and Paul Child, we met many amazing wine and food friends. Richard and Thekla Sanford, Dick Graff, Robert Mondavi, Bernard Portet of Clos du Val, Jim Dodge (master baker and educator), Shirley Sarvis, who was a leader in the concept of wine and food matching and did education around that. Shirley was a good friend and cookbook co-author with my aunt Barbie Ross. Also, there were M.F.K Fisher and Rosemary Manell who was Julia’s food stylist in Paris living with her husband Abe in the late 40s early 50s. Jacques Pépin, Julia, Dick Graff, and Robert Mondavi created the American Institute of Wine and Food, and through that group and working at their conferences, I became even more immersed in the exciting developments in wine and food.
After I moved to the San Francisco Bay Area in the mid-80s, I worked at Bay Food Magazine, covering food and wine trends and individuals. It was an exciting time. I was also involved with the Tasting of Summer Produce, a prototype for the now common farmers’ markets, where growers came to Oakland for a farmers’ market festival.
I then worked at Carmenet Winery in Sonoma, part of the Chalone Wine Group, a Dick Graff creation. There I was deeply involved with all aspects of the wine industry, working with Jeff Baker, Pam Starr, and Phil Stahle, all now winemakers in Sonoma and Napa. I became involved with the organic wine movement and the Organic Grapes into Wine Alliance (OGWA), spearheaded by Veronique Raskin, who also imported and sold French organic wines. This was before there were organic guidelines for grape growing and winemaking. OGWA shared European guidelines that grape farmers and winemakers could model their practices after. During that time, I also sold organic wines from France and the Sierra Foothills in the San Francisco Bay Area.
When my good friends Kay and Vincent Bouchard bought a winery, Quinta do Tedo, in Portugal, I helped them in the early years with marketing, PR, websites, etc.
JW: You grew up with the Childs as a family friend, your father’s brother was a student of Paul Child, and you took art lessons from Paul Child as a teenager; what did he teach you and what were the important takeaways?
KP: My uncle Davis Pratt was a student of Paul’s at Avon Old Farms, a boarding school in Connecticut, before the war. Paul taught a variety of classes, including photography, and had set up a dark room for experimenting.
Paul was a big influence on Uncle Davis, who became a photojournalist in Europe and a collector and educator in photography. Davis worked for Edward Steichen at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, was greatly influenced by that experience, and then started the photography department at Harvard University, where he developed a notable collection of photographs and taught the medium for many years.
When Julia and Paul moved to Cambridge in 1961, not knowing anyone, Davis introduced them to my parents, and they all became good friends off the bat with many common interests. Julia and my mother were Smithies (Smith College grads), and Paul and my father were simpatico with many shared interests. Both couples shared a love of wine, food, France, Italy, Scandinavia, travel, and summers in Maine.
I was a teenager when Julia was getting busier with her cooking, writing, TV, and public appearances. Paul would always be quietly doing his artwork. He was still taking artistic photos, black and white and color, and also painting. Paul’s approach to painting was this: He would do a sketch from a photo he liked, transfer it to a gesso board, and then create beautiful tempera paintings lightly based on his photographs. Paul was a natural teacher. He taught at Shady Hill School in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Avon Old Farms in Connecticut. If the war had not happened, he probably would have remained a teacher.
As his student, I remember he would come to my parent’s house. We had a dedicated room for my art lessons,
He taught me the fundamentals of drawings, perspective drawing, shapes, shadows, etc. He taught me his painting technique of creating a gesso panel, using tracing paper, then transferring the image, or drawing on the board in pencil, then painting with acrylic paints. I learned so much from him and also became interested in photography. My parents gave me a Yashica camera, similar to the Rolleiflex, and I started taking photos and developing my film in a darkroom in our basement.
JW: You co-authored the book France is a Feast: The Photographic Journey of Paul and Julia Child, with Alex Prud’homme, Julia and Paul’s grandnephew. Tell me a bit about the making of the book.
KP: The book was a long time in the making. Over the years I was always seeing Paul’s photographs and paintings. He had a bin of photos in the Cambridge house that we would flip through and discuss. He really enjoyed sharing his works and discussing the images and his paintings. But Paul did not self-promote himself as an artist. He was extremely talented but made his art more for personal reasons. In addition to his personal art, he was also always helping Julia in her professional life by documenting her cooking and creating drawings and photos for her articles and cookbooks. He could do anything and was a great artistic director and record keeper.
After Paul died, I wanted to be sure that others, beyond his family and friends, could see Paul’s artistic works. I told Julia that I would like to pay tribute to Paul’s creative talents in the form of a book of his photos. Julia immediately said yes, at which point I started going through his prints and mostly negatives, as well as many of his letters to family members in which he recorded in detail what he and Julia were up to. He had created a written and visual record of their lives so that it was fairly easy to recreate their story.
Initially, the materials were all at their home in Cambridge. Then, for a while, the photographic materials were in my parents’ basement. As I was aware that his archive had no final home, I lobbied, with the help of Julia’s lawyer, to have his papers and photographic materials permanently housed at the Schlesinger Library, where Julia’s entire papers, films, and all life documents are housed.
Julia also added a codicil in her will, giving me permission to make the book on Paul’s photography.
Fortunately, despite Schlesinger being dedicated to the History of Women in America, and as Paul’s materials were so deeply interconnected with Julia’s life and career materials, the Library agreed to take all of Paul’s materials as well. The Julia Child Foundation has contributed to the continued cataloging of Paul’s materials at the archive.
Once there, and after doing research at Julia’s in Cambridge, Santa Barbara, and my parent’s basement, I continued my research through the letters and negatives at the Schlesinger Library in Cambridge, near my parents’ home.
When Alex and I agreed to work together on the book several years before it was published, things started coming together, we engaged with Thames & Hudson as our publisher, and we successfully collaborated to produce our book.
JW: You are an art curator. Tell me a bit about what you do.
KP: I use the term curator in a broad sense. I worked with the Imogen Cunningham Trust in Berkeley for 18 years, eventually as a Trustee and Executive Director. I spent years working with vintage photographs and negatives, scanning, cataloging, evaluating, and working with top 20th-century photography galleries around the country. I was involved in selecting prints, working with major galleries, and curating exhibits including in Cork, Ireland, New York City, and Carmel, California.
In Sun Valley/Ketchum, Idaho, I was the Art Program Manager at the St. Luke’s Wood River Medical Center where I oversaw the art collection gifts and worked with local artists and galleries to produce biannual exhibitions in select galleries in Ketchum and Hailey. I had this role for 18 years as a consultant.
For France is a Feast, in the early years I curated the book by pulling prints and negatives at Julia’s house until they were all housed along with journals and letters at the Schlesinger Library, where I continued to identify and include as many images as possible for the book. As I had to make decisions from thousands of Paul’s photographic negatives, selecting what was eventually over 225 images for the book was indeed a large task.
As curator of the exhibit version of the book at the Napa Valley Museum, my goal was to create an immersive experience of more than just the “book on the walls.” It was multidimensional, multi-scaled, with oversized wall photos down to small snapshots. There was an intimate area of more personal photographs that are not in the book but depict the relaxed spontaneousness of Paul snapping photos as they enjoyed their days. It was designed to bring the viewer in and become a participant in Julia and Paul’s world. The exhibit included a recreation of Paul’s studio desk, based on actual images of his workspace, and some of the cameras and tools he used as a photographer. Some of his artwork such as a stained glass piece and a painting were also included.
JW: You are also a winemaker and have your own label, Katnip Wines. What influences your wines and winemaking?
KP: I love European wines, particularly wines from France, Italy, Spain, and Portugal. In 2016 I started making rosé wine in Napa under my own brand/label Katnip Wines. I strive to make a wine similar to the wines from Provence. I have great memories of visiting that region with my parents, Julia, and Paul. Thanks to Kermit Lynch in Berkeley, I have been able to continue to taste the wonderful Bandols. I would like to also make a white blend, so check back with me next year for an update on that.
JW: Roger that. Other than photography do you have any other creative outlets?
KP: I love being creative and artistic. I majored in Art History in college but have taken many courses in the crafts and fine arts. One of my passions and favorite mediums is glass and the glass art movement. I have studied the medium in Amsterdam, North Carolina, and Murano, Italy. I love glass blowing, fusing, bead making and have studied and worked with the medium since the early 80s, working in glass studios, attending conferences, and keeping up with colleagues in the field. I still love photography and take more photos than I know what to do with.
JW: I am always curious, what is your spirit animal?
JW: Any plans for August 15th?
KP: Good French food and French fries! Maybe at Bistro Jeanty [in Yountville] or Angèle [in Napa] for lunch with friends.
JW: Finally, what is your motto?
KP: Be courageous. Be kind. Follow your dreams
Ratatouille is the sunset of summer dishes made with a kaleidoscope of end-of-season vegetables, held together with a fair amount of that bottled sunshine, olive oil. Eggplants, zucchini, onions, and red peppers are abundant during this time and early fall. I have been in the throes of ratatouille making for the past couple of weeks, testing different approaches and sipping a fair amount of rosé while doing so.
It is just as delicious served warm, room temperature, or even cold. It can elevate your buffet game and is great to bring for a summer potluck. It can be a vegetarian main, a side dish, or a spread for crackers. The point is, the dish is so versatile it can cover a lot of ground, is super tasty, and worth adding to your kitchen repertoire.
Ratatouille takes a little time if you want to build the flavors, but the rewards are big. Taking a cue from Rebekah Peppler’s book À Table, my recipe uses a bit of that other summer sunshine, our Napa Valley Rosé. This ratatouille pairs well with our 2021 Gentleman Farmer Napa Valley Rosé; however, this also works well with a white or red wine. Ratatouille doesn’t judge, but I’m drinking rosé, so I’ll lean into that.