‘La Peetch’ was built on land of Child’s co-author, Simone Beck; other than smoky oven, Julia’s kitchen is perfectly preserved.
Home-sharing was always part of Julia Child’s vision for La Pitchoune, the idyllic, little cottage in Provence that she built with the advance money from “Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume Two.” Back in the 1970s the culinary icon habitually lent the home to friends, who had access to her recipes, cookware and a black book filled with her local recommendations. Now, 40 years later, “La Peetch” is joining a collection of $2-million-plus homes available for rent on Airbnb — no doubt as one of the company’s most special offerings. Even Julia’s black book is still there.
Currently listed for $628 per night, La Peetch is newly under the watch of an American couple, Evie and Makenna Johnston. They’re the first owners that lack a personal connection to the French Chef herself; after Child’s death in 2004, the home reverted to Simone Beck, the famous co-author of “Mastering the Art,” on whose land La Peetch was built. The home’s most recent steward, Kathie Alex, was one of Beck’s closest students. But the Johnstons are set on honoring the legacy of the Châteauneuf cottage, and they have envisioned a future for the home that includes private Airbnb rentals as well as all-inclusive culinary and yoga retreats. (They hope to kick off the weeklong, six-person programs in 2017.)
Though decades past its heyday, La Peetch remains the charming, comically dysfunctional representation of Julia and Paul Child that the Childs knew. A series of upgrades overseen by Kathie Alex added en suite bathrooms to each of the three bedrooms and made the home fitter for upscale travelers. But as with the best five-star hotels, its magic is in the details.
According to author Luke Barr, who spent a month living at La Peetch while writing “Provence, 1970,” flipping through the black book offers an intimate look at the idiosyncrasies of the Childs’ lifestyle — which you can then experience for yourself. “Paul was very detail-oriented and an incredibly good artist,” said Barr, who recalled one drawing in the black book detailing the home’s plumbing lines, should issues arise. Also included, said Barr, are strict instructions on how (and how not) to use the temperamental oven, which the Childs constantly feared would break or explode, along with phone numbers for handymen or English-speaking doctors and recommendations for the best local butchers and fishmongers.
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Julia’s presence can be felt in the most obvious of places, the kitchen, which is exactly as she left it, pegboard walls and all. “The kitchen has been maintained impeccably,” said Barr, noting one exception: the aforementioned oven. “They had a La Cornue oven … a thousand-pound, hulking beautiful metal object that was once the ultimate in luxury appliances. The catch is that it was endlessly complicated — it was always smoking, and there are all these funny letters about how Julia was constantly trying to get it fixed.” The new oven, he says, is a convection model, still state-of-the-art.
Another, subtler change has been made in preparation for Airbnb houseguests: the addition of hidden cameras. Although they’re intended to ensure that guests don’t steal relics from the kitchen drawers, they’ll probably do double duty for aspiring TV chefs who want to try their hand at Beef Bourguignon. Why make the pilgrimage if you’re not willing to sharpen your knife skills?
More information on cottage rentals or cooking classes: lapeetch.com. Note: Plan well ahead; the cottage is usually booked for months in advance.