Monday, July 27, 2015

Washington Social Diary: The Future of the Julia Child House

Under contract: the Julia Child House on Olive Street in Georgetown.
by Carol Joynt

It seems only as it should that the buyers of Georgetown’s legendary “Julia Child House,” would have a backstory as interesting, diverse and adventurous as the famed chef, cookbook writer and America’s first television food star.  Rory Veevers-Carter and his wife, Patricia Veevers-Carter, bought the bright yellow frame house almost as quickly as it went on the market this summer. It may have been destiny. They have the kind of provenance Child might appreciate; they also preserve, protect and routinely exercise the principles of good food and good cooking.

Patricia, who is a native of Liden, Holland, lives in Washington part of the time, at the family home in northwest Washington, and the other part of the time in Tajikistan, where she is the country manager for the World Bank.

Sidewalk side view of the Julia Child House.
Rory, who is British and American, calls himself an “entrepreneur” and has a resume that backs up the claim. He’s created companies, including job recruiting, weather forecasting and travel businesses, he’s been involved in start-ups, in branding and marketing, venture capital and angel funding and an intriguing line of work called “cross cultural negotiations.” When Washingtonians claim something like that I always assume it is CIA, but Rory’s life has been more interesting.

The Julia Child House is a Georgetown gem. In a village of many houses with history it is the only one that has a boldface culinary pedigree. And isn’t it perfect that it is situated on Olive Street, the only street in Georgetown with a food name, and, coincidentally a food that goes oh so well in a variety of dishes as well as a martini. Let’s get the party started.

The asking price was $1.1 million. Before the sale it was under lease to tenants who paid approximately $4,400 a month. The rental price says a lot about the robust Washington real estate market, because the condition of the house makes it what can only be described as an epic “fixer upper.”

Rory Veevers-Carter is ready for and excited by the challenge.

We met for drinks the other evening to talk about his plans. The Veevers-Carter and Joynt families are friends dating back to when their son, Mark Veevers-Carter, and my son, Spencer Joynt, were in high school together at Georgetown Day School and have remained tight.
The Julia Child Kitchen (from her Massachusetts home) at the Smithsonian.
Mark went off to college at Vanderbilt and is now in Manhattan, living on Mulberry Street, with a nice perch in investment banking. Spencer went to the University of Texas in Austin and, working his way up the ranks of the advertising business, just started with iStrategyLabs, a digital advertising agency here in Washington. Mark’s sister, Katrina Veevers-Carter, is a junior at George Washington University with a double major in psychology and criminal justice.

Because Spencer and I had Christmas dinner last year with the Veevers-Carter family, and friends, at their home in Friendship Heights, I witnessed first hand the great love of cooking shared by Rory and Mark, who that night spent as much time entertaining their guests in the kitchen as they did at the dinner table. And they made time for cigars at the end of the feast.
Christmas dinner at the Veevers-Carter's, with Rory still in the kitchen. Spencer Joynt on the left, beside his high school chum Mark Veevers-Carter.
Rory, preparing to leave the stove to bring out dessert.
Rory and Patricia light the traditional pudding after Christmas dinner at their home.
New Yorker Mark Veevers-Carter, named after his grandfather, lights up and enjoys a scotch, too, after dinner.
Rory was born in Al Mukula, Yemen, when it was called the Colony of Aden, Protectorate of the Hadramaut. He spent his early childhood living in the Seychelle Islands, first on Rémire Island and then on Astove with his parents, Mark Veevers-Carter, who was British, and Wendy Day Veevers-Carter, an American raised in New York City, and his brother Digby and sister Ming. The family “rented the islands from the British Government.” His mother wrote a book about the experience, “Island Home,” published in 1970.

Online I found a blog, The British Toast Rack (created by The British Toast Rack Society, a group of Ivy League, Oxford, and other hyper-educated, to pay homage to the toast rack) which Rory says was founded by his son’s godfather, “who is a Kenyan-Indian,” and includes this post from Rory:

“I lived on a desert island... The mail arrived every six months and my grandmother, based on Manhattan Island, would send Christmas presents a year early. She never sent shoes as we did not wear them.”
Seychelles Governor Sir Bruce Greatbatch (in official lily whites).
On the same website, the godfather recalls Rory’s father as “an African explorer in the tradition of Henry Morton Stanley and David Livingstone.” He raised his family “with a healthy outdoors island life of fishing and hunting and building boats and mending fishing nets.” He writes that the children “all grew up wild.” But when they came of age they had to “suddenly wash up, clean up, smarten up their attire and (were) swiftly shipped off to boarding school in England.”

“I was home schooled on the islands till I was 11,” Rory told me. “Then boarding school in the U.K.,” at Kings College, Taunton.  There was a long family tradition of Yale on his grandfather’s side and Harvard, the alma mater of both his mother and grandmother. But he “did not want to go to Harvard. I went to Babson College in Wellesley. I was anti-elitist at the time.” And with a smile he adds, “changed my mind since.”  His father died – in the dentist chair - when Rory was young, and his mother remarried John Blower, also an adventurer and writer. Rory recently visited them at their home in Wales, his mother in her 80s now, his stepfather in his 90s.
King's College in Taunton, England, where Rory went to school.
But the family history goes back further. Wendy’s father, Rory’s grandfather, was Clarence Day, who wrote “Life With Father,” the book, published in 1935, which became a stage play that opened in 1939 and ran until 1947, the same year it was made into a movie that starred Elizabeth Taylor, William Powell and Irene Dunn. His grandmother, Katherine Day, was technical director on the film “to make sure they got all the family bits right.”

Rory’s grandfather, Clarence Day.
Rory’s great-grandfather, Benjamin Day.
Clarence Day was also a long-time contributor to the New Yorker and wrote sometimes under the pen name, B.H. Arkwright. But he died young, before the full commercial success of “Life With Father” was realized. “Clarence died in 1936, at age 62,” said Rory. “He contracted polio riding with Teddy Roosevelt in San Juan in the Spanish American war.” Also a cartoonist, “he did a lot of drawings. I think most of his works are now at Yale or the New York Public Library.”

And there’s more. Rory’s great-grandfather, Benjamin Day, founded The Sun, also known as The New York Sun, which was published from 1833 to 1950. It had a sensational history for reporting sensational stories, and was one of the first, if not the first, New York paper to publish crime stories, and the kinds of splashy personal stories that are the daily fodder today of tabloid websites and TV shows.

“My great uncle Benjamin Henry Day invented the Ben Day Process of putting pictures into newspapers – still a job classification,” Rory said.

It’s a kick how the Veevers-Carter backstory echoes nicely with the rich narrative of Julia Child’s own interesting life, and how the journey brought her to Olive Street and how Georgetown played a role in her calling as a culinary goddess.

The history of his new house fires up Rory. He loves that it was built by an African American carpenter, whose widow lived there into the early 1900s. It became the home of newlyweds Julia and Paul Child in 1948, when they moved to Washington form Ceylon, where they’d met and where both worked for the Office of Strategic Services, which became the CIA.

At the time it was Paul who was the foodie and he introduced his wife to the love of food. They moved from the Georgetown house to France, where Julia took cooking lessons at Le Cordon Bleu, and voilá – a legend was in the making. They moved back to the Georgetown house in 1956, renovated the kitchen, and Julia began to give cooking lessons there to her neighbors. It is also where she began research for her most important work, the acclaimed cookbook “Mastering the Art of French Cooking.”
Julia with chef Bugnard Gourmette's Cooking School, 1956. © Schlesinger Library.
Julia Child and her husband, Paul, in the kitchen of their home in Cambridge, Mass., in 1966.
Rory plans to restore the house, and in particular the kitchen, to its former glory. There’s nothing left of the Child era. The back has a white brick extension that was added later by architect Hugh Newell Jacobsen.  Rory would like to get the attention of “This Old House,” and the Food Network, and other food interests. He wants to make it an engaging project that involves many who love and support worthy culinary endeavors, and Georgetown neighbors who want the historic little house to be all it can be. He’ll call it the “Julia Child House,” if he can, and will research with due diligence what is required to make that possible.

Rory and Patricia will live there. They will rent out the Friendship Heights home — quite nice, too, I might add. With the Child house they will have four homes, two in DC and one each on Cape Cod and in Vermont.
The Georgetown kitchen as it looks today.
Rory plans to connect with curators at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, where there is an exhibition that pays homage to Child. It has the kitchen from her Massachusetts home, which also had a moment’s role in the award-winning movie “Julie and Julia.” Meryl Streep and Stanley Tucci brought Julia and Paul Child to vivid cinematic life, and when the film opened in 2009 Nora Ephron came to the Smithsonian to donate some items from the film. Ephron died in 2012.

Rory's ambition is to one day have well known chefs come prepare meals at the house on Olive Street. While he and his wife plan it to be a home rather than a commercial enterprise, the potential reminds me of New York's James Beard House. After Beard died in 1985, friends and colleagues got together and made his West Village townhouse into a hub for the culinary arts, and created the James Beard Foundation, which hosts notable dinners at the House as well as bestowing the important James Beard Awards. And who was the person who got that ball rolling? Julia Child.
Some tips from Julia that might be useful for Rory Veevers-Carter as he rebuilds her Georgetown house.
In September 2009, director Nora Ephron came to the Smithsonian to present the museum with items from her film, "Julie and Julia," including, to the right, a blue dress Meryl Streep wore as Julia Child.
Ephron gave the museum a final shooting script of the film.
A snippet of direction from the Julie and Julia" script.

My attitude about birthdays is by all means celebrate but, apart from marking ages 1, 16, 21 and 100, don’t dwell on the number.

So, my birthday rolled through my life last week and we partied. First with a dinner at The Inn at Little Washington, hosted by my good friend Ellen Charles, and with a show of extraordinary skills from the kitchen of owner and chef Patrick O’Connell. He couldn’t leave it at a big tin of Petrossian caviar, with Dom Perignon, plus lobster, soft shell crab, pigeon and duck, and lamb, he had to send out the monkeys, too, and a disco boy.
The walking path at The Inn at Little Washington — good for the mind and the appetite before dinner.
A stop by The Inn's vegetable garden.
Our group at The Inn included my son, Spencer Joynt, and the town’s mayor, John Fox Sullivan, and his wife, Beverly Sullivan, and Sally Hosta, who drove down from Middleburg. I tell ya, its magic at the Inn. I got younger. I love this place.
After a four hour dinner at The Inn at Little Washington: John Fox Sullivan, Beverly Sullivan, CJ, Sally Hosta, Ellen Charles, Spencer Joynt.
At The Inn at Little Washington, monkeys, monkeys everywhere.
CJ with the monkeys.
On the off chance anyone thought I was kidding about the disco boy. He lasted only as long as the photo op, however.
The table monkey — who had quite a roster of antics, actually — communes with Washington, VA Mayor John Fox Sullivan.
A birthday treat from the chef.
Inside the Thomas Keller suite at The Inn.
The morning after at The Inn, quite an exceptional view from the Thomas Keller suite.
Birthday breakfast.
The next evening my son took me to dinner at Erik Bruner-Yang’s Toki Underground. Skateboards at our feet, music in our ears, pillowy buns with fried chicken, bowls of Tsukemen so spicy we broke into a sweat, and chocolate chip cookies for dessert. I love this place. 
Toki Underground, entrance on the left.
Kitchen counter seats at Toki.
Buns with fried chicken at Toki Underground.
And then one more occasion, loved just as much, at DBGB Kitchen + Bar, with another batch of dear friends: Fred and Genny Ryan, (he is publisher of The Washington Post); David Deckelbaum, (real estate lawyer), and Robert Higdon, (interior designer), who is doing the Ryans new Georgetown townhouse. Fred and Robert intersect, too, as Nancy Reagan’s consiglieres.

They actually didn’t know it was my birthday until chef Ed Scarpone sent out a Peach Melba Sundae with a birthday candle. Busted. Still, it was all about the party, all about friends, not age, not numbers. Happy Birthday to all other July babies.
At DBGB Kitchen + Bar, Fred Ryan, CJ, Chef Ed Scarpone, David Deckelbaum, Genny Ryan, and Robert Higdon.
The birthday Peach Melba Sundae.
Photographs by Carol Joynt

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