“She was a California girl who liked adventure,” Jennet Conant explained of Julia Child on Wednesday night at a party to celebrate the publication of her new book, “A Covert Affair: Julia Child and Paul Child in the OSS.” “She was bold and she wanted to test her wings. She didn’t want to stay at home. I think most of the people that joined the OSS were looking for adventure.”
The book, like Conant’s other works, tells of a seemingly normal subject (in this case the woman who would go on to become the standard bearer for celebrity chef-dom) thrust into the spy games of World War II. Of course, the act of biography writing has a bit of intelligence gathering built into it, so had Tennant ever envisioned herself as a spy?
“Mata Hari material? Absolutely,” she said with a laugh. “Sign me up. Tell the CIA I’m available. I’d love to be a spy.”
The idea struck a chord with at least one other author in the room. “Many of us would love to be called on to work in intelligence, since writing can be so isolating and boring,” Jay McInerney offered. “Fiction writers are I think best suited, since we’re always adopting other identities. So I think I’d be a better spy than Julia Child or Jennet would.”
McInerney was among a group of about 60 well-wishers who turned out for the party held at the Beekman Place building where Perri Peltz and Eric Ruttenberg live. Peltz and Conant share a tennis group with the party’s other co-hosts, Ariadne Calvo-Platero, Sara Ayres, Gigi Mortimer, Renee Rockefeller, Kitty Sherrill and Peggy Siegal, a fact that provided plenty of quip fodder over the course of the party.
“We are all hosts of this party tonight because every week we play tennis over the summer,” Peltz said before introducing Conant. “And our tennis is so poor that when somebody in our group does something as spectacular as write a book, as Jennet has, that has gotten the most incredible reviews, we have to do something to celebrate.”
Siegal later explained that the group — which also includes Tory Burch, Cristina Cuomo, Jill Fairchild, and Jeanne Greenberg — has been playing together for 12 years. It seemed enough to warrant a name. Perhaps the “Ladies Who Lob,” WWD suggested in what was perhaps a bit of a reach. “No!” Siegal answered. “Nobody lobs.”
As the evening wore on, Conant made fine use of her magic marker, signing copies of the book for the crowd. Attendees, who included Conant’s husband, Steve Kroft, Ken Auletta, Jamie Tisch,Terry McDonell and Anne Hearst, dined on a menu inspired by Child’s books.
“Every hors d’oeuvres has mayonnaise, I think,” Conant joked.