La Pitchoune: “Toujours Bon Appétit!”
If you have an appetite for life, you’ll love a stay at Julia Child’s summer home in France.
A House Built on Friendship
Nestled in the idyllic landscape of Provence, France, the quaint village of Plascassier holds a gem of a place, La Pitchoune. The modest stucco cottage was built in the early 1960s by Julia Child and her husband, Paul. It was constructed on the property known as Bramafam belonging to her culinary friend, Simca Beck, and husband, Jean Fischbacher. The deal was sealed with a handshake and an understanding that the red tile-roofed cottage would be turned over to the Fischbachers after they were done staying there. La Pitchoune means “the Little One” and Child often used her shortened nickname for it, La Peetch.
Summers were spent at La Pitchoune as a serene getaway amidst olive trees and lavender bushes for nearly 30 years. The Childs loved to entertain, often hosting the most influential culinary chefs such as James Beard, M.F.K. Fisher, and Richard Olney. In later years, Paul’s health was failing and her long-time friend Simca had passed away by 1992. Child gave up the beloved little house that held so many happy memories.
Alex Prud’homme, her great-nephew once asked her why she gave up the house, she replied that since Paul and Simca were no longer with her, La Pitchoune had lost its “raison d’etre.” In her last years, Child lived in a small apartment in Montecito, California, where friends often gathered for cooking and camaraderie, she loved the liveliness in her tiny kitchen.
Always enjoying a gathering of friends, Child once said, “Remember, ‘No one’s more important than people’! In other words, friendship is the most important thing — not career or housework, or one’s fatigue — and it needs to be tended and nurtured.”
American chef, Kathie Alex, took over La Pitchoune in 1993 where she established the culinary school, Cooking with Friends in France. Alex had studied under Simca Beck and worked at the celebrated Le Moulin de Mougins, a nearby restaurant where Child met her during a taping for Good Morning America. “I’m counting on you to teach Americans about butter and cream!” Child once wrote to Alex. After a very successful run, the school closed in 2015 and La Pitchoune was put on the market.
Preserving a Legacy
Makenna Held, an American business consultant and life coach, had read that La Pitchoune was listed for sale and her heart leaped at the chance to own it. Perhaps she was drawn to the little enclave because of her childhood visits to France and then as an exchange student that sparked a passion for all things French. Plus, she was fascinated with Child’s kitchen mastery while watching episodes of The French Chef on PBS. But it was more than that, she wanted to preserve Child’s house as a treasure where people can come and experience her legacy.
Within minutes of seeing the listing, Held notified potential investors about owning a piece of history. Soon, Held became the next steward of Child’s precious house and immediately opened it to the public as vacation rentals.
Original items can still be found in the house such as the pegboards Paul mounted on the kitchen walls with outlines showing where each cooking instrument would hang, the original spice rack remains there as well. One will find books from their personal library, a packing list, Paul’s paintings, photos, and writings about La Pitchoune and its environs.
Continuing the Teaching Tradition
In 2017, Held established The Courageous Cooking School and Retreat, an immersive culinary experience where ordinary home cooks are taught to become “courageous” chefs. Students enjoy a six-day, five-night cooking retreat. They actually work in Child’s charming kitchen where she created and tested many of her recipes for her two-volume book, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, considered the most definitive cookbook on the subject. Students forage in the property’s extensive gardens and then transform what they’ve collected into freshly made meals in the kitchen.
The all-inclusive retreat includes Child-inspired meals, cooking lessons, wine and beverages from the region, use of the pool, and excursions throughout the local area with stops in quaint towns, fine restaurants, and open-air markets. Daily yoga is also available. The house can accommodate six students in three bedrooms, plus sleeping mats for up to four children. The school runs from April to June and September to October. Off-season bookings to use La Pitchoune as a vacation rental can also be arranged.
Julia Child may no longer be with us, but her spirit endures at the little cottage tucked in the hills of Provence and every recipe on the pages of her cookbooks. “The measure of achievement is not winning awards. It’s doing something that you appreciate, something you believe is worthwhile.” – a valuable life lesson from the Grande Dame herself. For more information on La Pitchoune, visit lapeetch.com.