Bennelong Restaurant

Bon Appétit! Julia Child’s chocolate cake recipe to try at home (and a delicious little opera by Lee Hoiby)

Many months ago my attention was drawn to a 25 minute, comic one-act opera monologue written for mezzo-soprano based on the words of American cooking personality Julia Child. The friend and colleague who sent me the music said he could imagine me singing the role, suggesting it would be a fun piece to perform at some point at our country house, Brycefield Estate. I found a performance of the opera on youtube sung by American mezzo-soprano Joyce Castle, and agreed it looked like a lot of fun; a piece combining my love of singing and cooking. I’ve been trying to find the time to learn it ever since. Can you guess what my personal COVID lockdown goal was?

When the Coronavirus took hold last year my partner and I decided to live full time in Lovedale in the Hunter Valley. As singing engagements both in Australia and overseas were cancelled one by one, I realised I was going to have a lot of free time during 2020. We are lucky to have a lot of space on the property. I tended my vegetable and herb gardens and began spending many happy hours in the kitchen. My thoughts turned to learning Bon Appetit! by composer Lee Hoiby. I began researching the life of Julia Child and how the opera came to be. With so much time to spare, browsing through the acclaimed chef’s recipes was a real pleasure.

I always follow a recipe when I cook, although I definitely treat cooking as more like an art than a science; a bit more of this, a bit less of that. The overwhelming popularity of Julia Child came not just from her culinary expertise but from her matter-of-fact style and self-deprecating humour. She liked to experiment and she set out to demystify French cooking for an American audience. To quote from My Life in France, “Learn how to cook – try new recipes, learn from your mistakes, be fearless, and above all have fun!”

I can say with certainty that learning Bon Appetit! the opera was fun! I don’t think I’ve ever had to imitate a celebrity figure before. The music is quite tricky, although, like most scores, it begins to make sense when you live with it for a while. The composer actually wrote Bon Appetit! for Jean Stapleton, who, despite being best known for her role as Edith Bunker on All In The Family was also a trained singer. When Julia Child was asked for recipe recommendations by the composer, she suggested “something with a lot of action.” The idea of a bouillabaisse or chicken marengo was considered but it was a chocolate cake that was settled on; the cake she made in Episode 228 of The French Chef which aired in 1961.

This recipe certainly supplies a lot of movement for the singer/actor. The hardest part of the learning process was definitely adding the ‘cooking’ or production component to the music. Fitting the required actions (beating egg whites, melting and tempering chocolate, greasing the pans and sifting flour) into the exact number of musical bars given was really something that required repeated rehearsal and continuous cleaning of the kitchen! As the libretto says, “when you’re going to do a cake, you’ve really got to have to have a battle plan.”

The rehearsal studio…

I am pleased to say that now we are back on the stage in 2021, performances of Bon Appetit! are up and running. Pianist Sharolyn Kimmorley AM and I have had more than a few laughs putting it all together. I’d like to say the outcome is predictable every time, but, like all good live theatre, there are always a few variations when you cook and especially when you cook and sing at the same time!

“Not as neat as it could be…” says Julia. Luckily is usually tastes good, despite appearances!

Our first pre-performance showing was held in the kitchen of Brycefield House as part of the second Brycefield Estate Music Festival on March 28th, 2021, and this was followed by a dinner show on April 20th at the Foghorn Brewery in Newcastle as part of The Food Festival. 

More on the Newcastle Food Festival can be found here.

We are pleased to announce that our next dinner show will be at the iconic Bennelong Restaurant at the Sydney Opera House at Bennelong Point, Circular Quay on July 21st, 2021. Click here for more details and to book a ticket.

Finally, here is the now-famous recipe for Le Gateau au Chocolat l’Eminence Brune for you to bake at home. It really is a “very delicate cake” and worth trying. The difference is you can take all the time you like!

Happy cooking and Bon Appétit! Here is the recipe.

 

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