Paula Johnson collects and shares the story of American food

Oct 18, 2018

The Julia Child Awards are given every year at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. The recipients are honored for their role in pushing American food into new realms and changing the way we look at cooking. Part of the award is that the winners all donate objects from their lives that help tell the story of their careers. Those items - notebooks, menus, cooking equipment, even typewriters - go into the museum’s collections, to be immortalized. Paula Johnson is a curator at the museum and that director of its American Food and Wine History Project. (Yes, she may just have one of the coolest jobs in the food world!) She talked with Francis Lam about working one-on-one with the honorees to decide what items and artifacts to contribute.

See the video below to learn more about how the Julia Child Foundation selects its annual award winners. The museum was also kind enough to share with us the photos below from the collections of previous Julia Child Award winners Jacques Pépin, Danny Meyer, and Rick Bayless.

Video Source: The Julia Child Foundation

Curator Paula Johnson in action. Left: Discussing donations with Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger. Right: Hanging cookware as part of the Julia Child's kitchen display at the National Museum of American History.


Jacques Pépin accepts Julia Child Award

Jacques Pépin and Julia Child in Julia's home kitchen, cooking together for their television program, "Just Cooking," 1998. Photo: Christopher Hirsheimer

Menus hand-illustrated by Jacques Pépin. On left, menu for a special dinner created for Julia Child at her home, shortly before her kitchen was packed up by the Smithsonian. On right, the menu for the meal created by Jacques Pépin and Daniel Boulud for the first Smithsonian Food History Gala, 2015.

Jacques Pépin views the Julia Child kitchen display at the National Museum of American History.


Danny Meyer and his mother at the special display showcasing a selection of the objects he donated to the National Museum of American History in 2017.

Danny Meyer takes a selfie with Julia Child’s likeness in the FOOD exhibition at the National Museum of American History.

Danny Meyer’s journal, 1985. As Meyer prepared to open Union Square Café, his first Manhattan restaurant, he sought guidance from people with experience in different aspects of the restaurant business. The journal contains notes from those meetings, revealing his early thinking on hospitality and service, and key points on training and communicating with staff.

Union Square Cafe menu, 1990s

Danny Meyer’s uncle, author and artist Richard Polsky, helped Meyer decide to eschew a career in law to pursue his love of food. Polsky made these “olive oil” prints for possible use on an olive oil bottle. Polsky’s paintings also grace the walls of Union Square Café in New York.


Rick Bayless's typewriter, a Hermes 3000 portable model, that Bayless used during his research travels in Mexico in the 1980s. A trained anthropologist, Bayless kept meticulous notes that informed his first book, Authentic Mexican: Regional Cooking from the Heart of Mexico, and his first restaurant n Chicago, Frontera Grill.

Rick Bayless’s field notes, typed on his portable typewriter, during his research travels to Mexico in the 1980s.

Mortar and pestle given to Rick Bayless by the owner of a Chicago carniceria during the Chicago Bulls championship run in the early 1990s.

Plates from Rick Bayless’s Chicago restaurants. The earthenware plate at right is from the first set he bought in Mexico, in Capula, Michoacan. The plates with blue patterns were purchased in Mexico for use at Topolobampo.