#MeToo: Chef Sara Moulton, 65, says she was sexually harassed by her boss – and her mentor Julia Child’s friend – while apprenticing in France in the late 1970s
Veteran chef, television host and cookbook author Sara Moulton has opened up about her alleged sexual harassment at the hands of a prominent French chef decades earlier – and how her then-mentor Julia Child responded when she had confided in her about her harrowing experience.
Moulton, who is now 65 years old and married with two children, writes in her first-person account, published in The Huffington Post, on Monday that while working as an apprentice for chef Maurice Cazalis in the late 1970s, she was subjected to unwelcome advances, including inappropriate touching.
Moulton, who hosts the public TV show Sara’s Weeknight Meals and writes the weekly food column KitchenWise for the Associated Press, recounts in her op-ed how Cazalis, who was married, once took her to a topless cabaret in Paris, booked a single room for them to share and paraded in front of her wearing only a pair of underwear.
When Moulton later went to Child, who was her boss at the time, and revealed to her what had happened, she writes that the celebrity chef’s response stunned her.
‘”Oh dearie, what did you expect? They’re all like that. Get over it,”’ Moulton claims Child told her at the time.
That was nearly four decades ago. Moulton writes that while she was not mad at Child, she has since re-evaluated her reaction to her account of sexual harassment – and her own response to it.
Mentor and protege: In her early days, Moulton worked as a food stylist on Child’s cooking show (pictured together)
‘When people ask me, “How do you think it is for women in the restaurant industry today?” I always respond, “It’s better but it’s not best,”’ Moulton says in her op-ed. ‘My experience with Maurice was years and years ago but the boys club in the restaurant world definitely still exists.’
Moulton explains that she initially was not sure that she wanted to speak out about the #MeToo movement and share her own experience, ‘but then I thought about some of the big-name male chefs who truly do operate a “boys club” and I’m just so tired of it,’ she writes.
When she enrolled as a student in the venerated Culinary Institute of America in 1975, she was a 23-year-college graduate studying cooking techniques alongside mostly 18-year-old ‘blue-collar’ men under the tutelage of male, European instructors who believed that women had no place in professional kitchens.
Undeterred, Moulton excelled in her studies, and soon after graduating she was hired as the head chef of a small restaurant in Boston, where she crossed paths with the iconic chef and cookbook author Julia Child, who ended up hiring her as a food stylist and recipe tester for her TV show, Julia Child and More Company.
Moulton (center), pictured as a young chef, with Child (left) in the kitchen, writes that French restaurateur Maurice Cazalis sexually harassed her during his stay in Chartres, France
According to Moulton, Child liked her and thought her to be talented, but she believed her young protégé needed additional training in France, so she set up a two-month apprenticeship with her friend Maurice Cazalis at his restaurant Henry IV in the picturesque city of Chartres, best known for its imposing gothic Cathedral.
‘I had no interest in going,’ Moulton recalls. ‘I loved France and French food and I’d been trained in it, however I’d already been tortured in cooking school by these European men who thought women had no place in the kitchen. But what was I going to say? No? So, I thought, What the hell, I can do this.’
According to Moulton, she was the only woman working in the kitchen, surrounded by 15-year-old boys, and despite her being a head chef back home, Cazalis would not let her work the line.
‘Even worse, it turns out Maurice, who was 72 at the time, was a lascivious character and probably loved having me there because he thought he could have his way with me,’ Moulton writes.
The first time Cazalis invited her to inspect the wine cellar, she says he tried to ‘put the moves’ on her, but she rebuffed him.
‘He didn’t touch me but by the way he was talking, I knew I had to be wary,’ she writes.
A week later, Cazalis whisked her to Paris, ostensibly to show her the presidential palace Palais de Elysee, where his former apprentice worked as the chef de cuisine.
When Moutlon (center), told Child (third from left) about her ordeal, the venerated chef told her, ‘get over it’
She writes: ‘As we drove to Paris — it was just the two of us in his car — he suddenly tried to put his hand on my thigh. I had a tote bag with me and I put it in my lap to protect myself.’
When they reached Paris and checked into a hotel, Moulton recounts how she heard Cazalis book just one room for them, but she was relieved to find two single beds and two bathrooms inside.
That night, Cazalis took her out to dinner at the infamous topless nightclub Folies-Bergere, where she says her boss boasted about French men’s talent for lovemaking, while she pretended to misunderstand him.
‘Finally we went back to the hotel where he told me that he normally slept “tres nu” (very naked), but for me, he’d make an exception and wear his pajamas,’ she writes/
Moulton spent a restless night sleeping in a raincoat tightly secured with a belt over her pajamas for protection.
‘He did not lay a hand on me,’ she stresses.
The next morning, Moulton writes she went into the bathroom to change and came out to find the elderly chef shaving in his underwear.
That was the last time that Moulton, who was engaged to her future husband, Bill, went anywhere with Cazalis for the remained of her apprenticeship.
Success story: Moulton went on to host the public TV show Sara’s Weeknight Meals and write the food column KitchenWise for the Associated Press
‘When I got back to the United States, I told Julia that I had a great time and learned a ton. It took me six months to share with her what Maurice had done, and her response was, “Oh dearie, what did you expect? They’re all like that. Get over it,”’ Moulton says in the column.
‘When she first told me that, I thought, “Whoa!” but I wasn’t mad at her. Then, about five years ago, I thought, that’s Julia — she never let anything get in her way. And I was the same way ― I never let anything get in my way, and I told myself, “Don’t get hung up on stupid ‘feminist’ things.” But now, I’m thinking about it differently.’
Moulton writes that she is waiting for more #MeToo stories of harassment and abuse to emerge from the restaurant industry, where for many years women felt they had to conform to the status quo and go with flow – or risk being accused of ‘not acting like a member of the team.’
‘I don’t have a neat and tidy happy answer to any of this but I do know that if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem and everybody has to say no this is not acceptable,’ she says. ‘This is not how humans treat other humans. Everybody has to be far more conscious.’
This is not the first time that Moulton has shared her story about Maurice Cazalis. A nearly identical account of her time in France – and Child’s response to her ordeal – appeared in Alex Prud’Homme’s 2016 non-fiction book, The French Chef in America: Julia Child’s Second Act.
In her interview with the author, Moulton said of Child’s message urging her to ‘get over it’ that what she actually meant was: ‘if you really want something, don’t let anything – even sexual harassment – get in your way,’ Prud’Homme wrote, quoting Moulton.
She went on to say in the book, which was published before the rise of the #MeToo movement: ‘I don’t think it was feminism. Julia would have given the same answer to a man…. She was a role model.’
Prud’homme was Child’s great nephew and while the iconic chef was still alive, he collaborated with her on her best-selling memoir, My Life In France. She passed away in 2004, aged 91.