If the names Julia Child, Roy Blount, Jr., Julia Reed, Billy Collins, Jason Epstein, Madhur Jaffrey, Judith Jones, Molly O’Neil, Ruth Reichl, and Calvin Trillin mean anything to you—or if you’ve seen the movie Julie & Julia—read on. Lucky me. This past weekend, Debbie and I were fortunate to meet and speak with, or simply sit and enjoy hearing from, these world-class speakers (except Julia Child, of course) on the subject of food. Each was featured at the recent Key West Literary Seminar, overseen by our friend Lynn Kaufelt, president of the seminar. Perhaps our island city’s foremost realtor, Lynn was one of the first people we met in Key West two decades ago.
To say that this year’s seminar was one of the finest Debbie and I have attended is probably an understatement. If you ever listen to Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me on NPR, you know how funny Roy Blount, Jr., can be. You may also have caught up with Roy in the pages of Sports Illustrated. Julia Reed, for 20 years a contributing editor at Vogue and author of the The House On First Street: My New Orleans Story, entertained the audience with comic narratives on Southern-style eating and drinking.
As a young woman working in France, Judith Jones was responsible for rescuing The Diary of Ann Frank and getting Doubleday to publish it. Judith was also the editor upon whose desk Julia Child’s first masterpiece landed. It was she who convinced Knopf to publish it. Judith came up with the name for the book—Mastering the Art of French Cooking—and, as someone noted, who in the world would have thought that a gerund in a book’s title would be a good idea? Remember the scene in the movie Julie & Julia when an editor/critic was supposed to come to Julie’s for boeuf bourguignon? Judith Jones explained how it all happened, why Julia Child was disdainful of Julie and her little project, and why she, Judith, opted to cancel dinner. Over the years, Judith worked closely with James Beard, Marcella Hazen, Claudia Roden, Madhur Jaffrey, and Jacques Pépin. In her time off, she and her cousin raise grass-fed-to-finish cattle in the Northeast Kingdom—known for being a great source of farm-to-table food, as well as, for us, one of the most beautiful areas in Vermont for our Harley riding.
Not surprisingly, Madhur Jaffrey, the high priestess of Indian culture and cooking, was a big hit at the seminar. She also graciously showed up this chilly Key West morning at the Help Yourself organic café, which we visit often, to give a cooking demonstration. How kind of Madhur. All the Key West locals fortunate enough to be at the impromptu event could not believe their good fortune in partaking of scrambled eggs and breakfast potatoes à la Jaffrey.
I have listed only a handful of the marvelous speakers in attendance at the San Carlos Institute. Click to kwls.org for all the details on next year’s extravaganza. Debbie and I are fortunate to live just several blocks from the San Carlos and to have the opportunity to participate in such a compelling, fun literary seminar. We loved all of the talented speakers, but Molly O’Neill (sister of Yankee legend Paul O’Neill) and Julia Reed would be my personal choices as speakers at a special event. Each brought the house down, and both were great moderators. I had the opportunity to speak with Molly about her visit to Key West. She could not have been more gracious, warm, and genuinely enthusiastic. It has been my experience at many conferences through the years that noteworthy and gifted speakers are frequently far less convivial in one-on-one encounters. Not the case with Molly. It was a pleasure to have an opportunity to hear Molly speak and to meet her in person.
I am just a little biased on the subject of the Key West Literary Seminar, Key West in general, and all that goes with life on a small, semi-tropical island only 90 miles from Cuba. Make it a point to visit Key West soon. You will find lots to like. Before you visit, read up on it at Richardcyoung.com in my Key West Insider archives. Make it a great trip.