I roll the squishy dough back and forth between my hands as Julia Child rests her head on my feet under the table. She lets out a contented sigh. I’m envious because I’m as far from content as someone can be.
I’m not speaking of Julia Child the person, of course. I mean Julia Child, my dog, the only creature in France who tolerates me. When I arrived at Le Cordon Bleu I had grand plans. I imagined Master Chefs gathering around my sugary creations and nodding in approval, amazed at my culinary artistry. It hasn’t worked out quite that way. The only one who approves of me is Julia Child. She’s a striking Dalmatian with inky black spots who I found wandering the streets. I thought we could help each other find our way in the City of Lights: two strays, one chein and one Américain. The French adore dogs and they’re commonly allowed in eateries. Hence, the sleeping Dalmatian at my feet.
The Master Pâtisserie Chef is standing before us, his face as rouge as a beet. “Étudiants, you’re being given the opportunity of a lifetime. Her Royal Highness, Queen Elizabeth, will be visiting Le Cordon Bleu for her birthday. You’ll each create a cake for the Queen. I’ll select the best and present it to her upon her arrival.”
I anxiously mash the dough in my clammy hands into a flat circle. It looks like a communion wafer. How did the real Julia Child do it? How did she survive this place? I’m contemplating these questions when the Master Chef walks over to my place at the pastry table.
“Mademoiselle, is that what you intend to present to the Queen?” He points at my wafer. “Maybe you should go back to America. An Américain can never be a real pastry chef, just like a leopard cannot change its spots.”
I rub Julia Child with my foot and say a silent prayer, God, why is everyone here so cruel? Will anything I do ever be good enough? Will I ever change my spots?
Tears sting my eyes while all the other étudiants create towering masterpieces covered with sculpted crowns and royal crests. I have nothing but my communion wafer. For the first time since arriving at Le Cordon Bleu I actually consider giving up. The only thing keeping me from leaving is the heavy weight of Julia Child on my feet.
“Your chein is getting fat.” The étudiant next to me offers his assessment of my dog’s figure.
It’s not enough to belittle me. Now they have to go after Julia.
I look at Julia, my only friend in this foreign country, and suddenly have the perfect idea for the Queen’s cake. I get to work, spinning sugar and whipping up buttercream. Clearly I need to work through the night in order to meet the deadline of tomorrow morning. One by one, the other étudiants leave for home while I continue to fashion a miracle out of sugar. As la Ville Lumière goes dark, the light above my spot at the pastry table remains shining bright.
When morning comes, I barely have time to run home and freshen up before class begins. I leave Julia there and hurry back to Le Cordon Bleu for the judging. To my surprise I find a crowd of Master Chefs and fellow étudiants gathered around my cake.
“Mademoiselle, it’s exquisite!” The Master Chef nods in admiration, just like in my fantasy.
I gaze at my cake and smile. It’s a charming marzipan sculpture of one of the Queen’s beloved Corgis as a puppy. A glimmering tiara sits slightly askew atop the pup’s head. The rock candy stones in the tiara sparkle like real diamonds. Only the Queen herself could probably tell the difference.
“The Queen will be enchanted. You’re the winner!” The Master Chef actually kisses my hand. I must be dreaming.
That afternoon I rush home to share the good news with the one who inspired my masterpiece, Julia Child. But when I fling open the door to my tiny chateaux I’m the one who’s surprised.
“Julia, you weren’t fat. You were pregnant!”
Julia Child rests serenely on my bed, nursing five adorable Dalmatian puppies. And then I notice the second miracle of the day. The puppies’ inky spots are… brown.
“Julia! Your babies are liver Dalmatians. How?” A bewildered smile spreads across my face and I thank God that even a Dalmatian can change its spots at Le Cordon Bleu.
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