When Makenna Johnston saw Julia Child’s French home in the Provence-Alpes-Cote d’Azur region listed for sale on a Smith College Facebook forum in 2015, she decided to give it the old college try.
“I, too, am a gargantuan Smith graduate,” says Johnston. “I clock in at 6 feet 1 inch tall, so comparatively speaking, I am short . . . next to Julia!” (Child was 6 feet 2.)
“I grew up in a food- and wine-loving family, and the south of France has always held a place in our heart,” says Johnston. “And so has Julia Child. I loved watching her cooking show reruns as a small child. I was so enamored by her hearty presence.”
Following a number of “persistent e-mails, patience, and more e-mails,” Johnston and her wife, Yvonne, were able to get a viewing and ultimately bought the house that had once belonged to the American cooking pioneer.
Now La Pitchoune (or La Peetch), which means “The Little One,” in the heart of Provence food country, is for rent — on Airbnb.
In the 1960s, Child and her husband, Paul, built the house on the same estate as Simone Beck, the couple’s good friend and co-author of “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” — in fact, they referred to La Peetch as “the house built on friendship.” The couple, who lived in Cambridge, summered at La Peetch for three decades until the early 1990s.
The informal house has three bedrooms, three-and-a-half bathrooms, gardens, a fireplace, and a swimming pool. There’s Wi-Fi and air conditioning, too.
The icing on the cake is Julia’s kitchen, which has been preserved and is almost exactly the same as when she sliced, diced, and sipped here. The kitchen counters are taller than your average kitchen counter, the pale yellow walls are still covered with pegboard with Child’s hanging pots, pans, and utensils (some gadgets have been replaced). The outlines Paul had sketched on the pegboard for easier arrangement of those pots and pans and utensils are still there. Julia’s kitchen was, and still is, a functional, professional kitchen, and rental guests are encouraged to “cook freely” in the kitchen — a “black book” offers recommendations for nearby wineries and markets.
No hidden secret recipes for dishes like coq au vin or boeuf bourguignon were found in any of the kitchen drawers or closets, says Johnston. But some hidden “knickknacks,” including books signed to the couple, a chest that had belonged to Paul, and a personal packing list Julia had written that includes some “ahem” personal items (medications, toiletries), were discovered, says Johnston. This list is now framed and displayed in the house.
Reservations have been hot. “We started taking reservations in March of 2016,” says Johnston, noting that most of 2017 has been booked and deposits for 2018 are already being taken. The rate to rent the house begins at $675 per night with a five-night minimum.
When La Peetch isn’t rented out, it will be home to the Courageous Cooking School, an immersive five-night Provencal cuisine experience. “It combines classes, market trips, and excursions to local wineries and restaurants,” says Johnston. “We are partnering with two-star Michelin restaurants and local eateries to bring the best of Julia’s Provence to a contemporary audience.”
This isn’t the first time La Peetch was a culinary school — in the 1990s it was a school called Cooking With Friends in France owned by Kathie Alex, who sold the property to Johnston.
Cooking school sessions begin in 2017, and will run weekly in the spring (April through June) and fall (September through October). The stays are limited to six guests, and are all-inclusive — cooking lessons, daily breakfast and lunch, local excursions, daily yoga (optional), wine from the region, and swimming pool dips. All sessions begin on Sunday and end on Friday. Cost: $3,250 for 2017 and $3,750 for 2018.
To rent the house or to book the Courageous Cooking School, visit www.lapeetch.com.