Smith College alumna, self-employed business strategist and life coach, Makenna Johnston has always admired the creator of America’s first televised cooking show, Julia Child, for her famous French preparations and unique and fearless style of cooking. As a child, Johnston watched reruns of The French Chef on PBS and was fascinated by Child. “She was almost a caricature of herself,” Johnston told Vogue in a recent interview. “So tall, with that unique voice and magnetic presence—she was a larger-than-life personality across the board.”
Now Johnston, who bought fellow-Smith graduate Child’s French home, La Pitchoune (“the little one”), has decided to convert the property into a culinary retreat center “with excursions in yoga.” According to Johnston, the Center will aspire to cater especially to “new-ish cooks” with the aim to reduce the usual nervousness that many amateur chefs encounter. Above all, they will emphasize the “Julia Child way of cooking,” she added. And if the yogic aspect sounds unappealing to straight-up foodies, their Facebook page has this disclaimer: “If you’re not into Yoga, we promise not to hold a cattle prod to you to down dog! You’ll get your butter and cooking without Warrior 2 pose. Scout’s honor.
The Provence house, which changed hands to Kathie Alex in the 1990s and converted to a culinary school, was originally built by Child and husband Paul in 1966. It went on the open market for the first time last November, described by the New York Times as comprising of three small bedrooms, a kitchen and an open-plan living/dining area in about 1,500 square feet. Like Child’s Massachusetts kitchen, which can be seen preserved at the Smithsonian museum in Washington, D.C., the kitchen features pegboard walls with outlines showing where to hang each individual cooking implement.
Johnston and her wife, Yvonne Johnston — a U.S. Air Force Reserve captain who is re-training in culinary arts to take up the role of head chef — will run the retreat together. Makenna also plans to take intensive, one-month classes at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris. According to Boston Magazine, the center will welcome its first guests this May. The first cooking sessions, however, will begin only in 2017, after Yvonne completes her program at the International Culinary Center.
Julia Child died in 2004, aged 92.
- Makenna Johnston