Here is the captivating story of Julia Child's years in France, where she fell in love with French food and found "her true calling." From the moment she and her husband Paul, who worked for the USIS, arrived in the fall of 1948, Julia had an awakening that changed her life. Soon this tall, outspoken gal from Pasadena, California, who didn't speak a word of French and knew nothing about the country, was steeped in the language, chatting with purveyors in the local markets, and enrolled in the Cordon Bleu. She teamed up with two fellow gourmettes, Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle, to help them with a book on French cooking for Americans. Filled with her husband's beautiful black-and-white photographs as well as family snapshots, this memoir is laced with wonderful stories about the French character, particularly in the world of food, and the way of life that Julia embraced so wholeheartedly. Bon appétit!--From publisher description.
In 1948, Julia Child accompanied her husband Paul to his new U.S. Information Service posting in Paris. She didn't speak French and (surprisingly to me) she didn't really cook. But she was determined to get the most out of the opportunity she'd been given, so she immersed herself in the language, both by taking classes and by getting out into the city, especially its food markets, and talking with the natives. She also decided to take cooking lessons at the Cordon Bleu. Julia eventually started her own cooking lessons with two French friends, and the three of them decided to work on a book that would really teach Americans to cook French food, which had become Julia's passion. That book grew from a small volume of recipes her partners (Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle) had already written to the massive, 700+ page (and that was only Volume 1!) Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Back in the U.S. in the 1960s, a cooking demonstration on a Massachusetts public television show led to the first successful cooking show, The French Chef, and Julia became a public icon. (Today, you can visit an exact recreation of her home kitchen at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C.)
Julia Child was a big woman (6' 2") with a big personality, and her whole self really shines through in this memoir. I felt very much as if she was sitting next to me on the couch, telling me stories. In the quote at the top, Julia described her book to a T--the book is as much about a happy, passionate 50-year marriage, and about her love of France (the country and its people), as it is about food. Julia wrote this book with Paul's grandnephew, relying on the hundreds of letters the couple had written home throughout their stay in France. Paul is best known today as Julia Child's husband, but he was an artist and photographer who had photos in the Museum of Modern Art collection, and the book is enlivened by Paul's pictures throughout. (On a previous stay, pre-Julia, in France in the 1920s, Paul had worked on the stained-glass windows at the American Church in Paris. His willingness, despite lifelong vertigo, to climb up into the eaves to work on the high windows earned him the nickname "Tarzan of the Apse.")
A good companion read to this would be As Always, Julia: The Letters of Julia Child and Avis DeVoto. Julia and Avis struck up a pen-pal correspondence when Julia wrote a fan letter to Avis's husband (American historian Bernard DeVoto) regarding a column he'd written about how he hated stainless-steel knives. Avis was instrumental in getting Mastering the Art of French Cooking published, and that long and fascinating process, as well as Julia and Paul's experiences with McCarthyism (which led to their disillusionment with government work and their eventual return to private life), is covered in more detail in their letters than it was in My Life in France.
Julia died before this book was finished, and while I think Alex Prud'homme did an excellent job of maintaining Julia's voice throughout, the end feels a bit disjointed and rushed, but that didn't take away much from the pleasure of reading this book. Just one caution--don't read it on an empty stomach!
Julia Child with Alex Prud'homme
As many of us have, I picked this book up at the bookstore because of the movie Julie and Julia. I had received a copy of "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" by chance and have found that, that cookbook has changed the way I cook.
This book is simply a memoir of, for the most part, how "Mastering" became. It is about Julia's life in France among other places and her views on the world. It is also the love story of Julia and Paul Child. Since I love to cook, I love France, and I love to hear about peoples lives this book is a natural for me. I was pleased to be able to connect many things I have experienced with experiences of Julia's.
Since reading this book I will never apologize when something I cook does not come out exactly right. (Easier said than done by the way) I also now plan to send more Valentines Day cards. Many things within it have left an impact on the way I see things.
This book I have to admit is not a page-turner. I did not find myself rushing through any thing in order to be able to get back to reading. I prefer to look at it more like so many cookbooks that I enjoy, a book to be wandered through a bit at a time. Isn't that what good cooking is all about anyway, taking your time and allowing the flavors to blend.
The joy that she imbues in her tale though is what emerges as she learns to cook, and immerses herself in the cultures she inhabits. If she had first gone to live in Timbuktu with her husband Paul, a very integral part of the tale and of her life, I am sure we might all be fascinated with North African cooking more than we are with our hearty desire and enjoyment of French fare.
It is clear that Mrs. Child influenced many on what we do make in the kitchen. I when a bachelor came up with my own white wine take on Coq au vin, but her road on how her quest turned our successful is well worth the time to read.
That she sees the world with her eyes, she shares with us and we become happy residents of each of her homes, and well ensconced with Paul Child in the kitchen watching her. She opens up her journey to learn how to cook better and the fortunate way she entered a professional class at the Cordon Bleu and then made friends with two women who already had sold the idea of writing a cookbook.
It is possible that Julia Child may never have tackled a cookbook on her own, just private teaching of the art of French Cooking without that connection to the collaborators of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, a labor of love and eight years that when it bore fruit, it did so in a big way.
The book tour that led to cooking demonstrations, on such shows as Today while Television was still young. That led to some trials at Boston's Public TV which led to the French Chef series and ever growing popularity of the book. All could not be achieved if she had not loved French Cuisine and was able to share that passion so articulately with the world.
That she was able to do that with how to cook, she has also shared with how to live. Part of this is cooking, and part of this is just living fully and enjoying your fellows. Philosophy and advice you hear a lot, but Julia Child took to heart.
Tackling this work when she was in her final years, and the book finished by her great-nephew after her passing it is worth a read. Perhaps not multiple reads but that is something that after reading this, her cookbooks seems to call to me now. Oh the need is there to rush out and get DVDs of her cooking show just to see her again and to jump on the bus of her love affair with French Cooking.
Julia Child has a wonderful written voice and has lived a fascinating life and this book deals with her time in France and how she developed her love of cooking and the work on her first cook book and developing the show The French Chef.
She does a great job of bringing her experiences and the people she knew to life and making you feel like you a part of it all and I really think she would have been a fun person to know and hang out with. Oddly though, I still have no interest in visiting Paris.
The book begins in 1948 with Julia and Paul's first view of the lights of Le Harve as their ship drew into port. Married only two years they saw Paul's diplomatic posting to France as an adventure and crucible test of their relationship. It ends in 1992 when, with Paul no longer able to travel, Julia packs up and returns the keys to their get-away cottage in France.
One reviewer describes the memoir as "an engaging, endearing love letter to France". Another says "evocative...crackling with Child's joie de vivre." I concur with these descriptions. I also saw this as a love story between two remarkable people who were devoted to one another. The move "Julie and Julia" perfectly captures this aspect.
In short - I highly recommend this book and the movie as well.
Julia was in her mid 30's when she arrived in France the first time. She fell madly in love with Paris and the French way of life and cooking. For the next 30 years Julia and her husband, Paul, lived in France and other countries surrounding and Julia learned the French way of cooking.
Her books and television show all stemmed from this French experience. It is such an encouragement to hear about a woman beginning the most important and influential segments of life around the age of 40...makes me feel like there's all the time in the world.
I actually listened to this book on CD and it was done wonderfully by a woman with a raspy voice and colorful expression. Plus, I am not a French speaker or reader and I have no clue as to how to pronounce the French words I see in print. To actually hear the silky language come off the tongue was a real treat.
Love Julia Child? Love France? Love food? Read this book.
The book describes a fascinating time in French history - the period directly after WWII, and especially in French cooking history. I really enjoyed Child's description of how she and Simca Beck developed the recipes for Mastering the Art of French Cooking - what an exacting process they went through. And Child's joie de vivre shines through on every page; she must have been a wonderfully fun person to know.
I lucked-out on this one, finding a hardback copy for $3- so little to pay for such a nice memoir. I have to admit, I didn't really know anything about Mrs. Child, of course I knew the name, but that she didn't get married until her late 30s? that she didn't publish until she was 50? facts I never would have guessed.
France shines beautifully as she describes the marketplaces, the people, the streets, her apartment. And she provides many details about her true love- besides Paul- FOOD. She spends much of book describing meals with friends, menus, working with recipes, writing her cook book. She even divulges what wine they drank with each dish.
Now that I'm done, I will definitely buy the cook book, which I'm ashamed to say I don't yet own.
If you like reading about cooking, France, or finding your life's passion, pick up this book.
Julia Child, born Julia McWilliams the daughter of an ultra-right wing Republican, was raised in a “comfortable, WASPy, upper-middle-class family in sunny & non-intellectual Pasadena CA”. Although having served with OSS during WW II in Ceylon & China, she describes herself in her early thirties as “unpolished”. She had seen nothing of the world outside of her native U.S. and her war posting. Julia describes her husband Paul:
He was a cultured man, ten years older than I was, and by the time we met, during World War II, he had already traveled the world. Paul was a natty dresser and spoke French beautifully, and he adored good food and wine. He knew about dishes…that seemed hopelessly exotic to my untrained ear and tongue. I was lucky to marry Paul [when Julia was 34]…I would never have had my career without Paul Child.
This fascinating book, written with Paul’s grandnephew & freelance writer Alex Prud’homme, was based on Julia’s memories and the letters written between Paul & his brother Charles Child from 1948-1954, and gives us a glimpse of the world that shaped Julia Child, the French Chef.
Julia’s life in France began in 1948 when Paul was posted to the United States Information Service in Paris. Post-war Paris was a mecca for North American authors & artists. Into the 1960s, one could find bargain flat rentals and bargain food. And it was good food - authentic French bourgeoises food before the country’s cooking, under pressure from low fat, nouveau cuisine, all but disappeared.
Julia had shown no interest in cooking while she was growing up and was a rudimentary cook when she moved to France. She did, however, have interest in food - especially in eating the wonderful French food that was exemplified at her first meal in Rouen: portugaises (briny oysters on the half-shell), pain de seigle (pale rye bread), beurre d’Isigny (light table butter), sole meunière (fried in butter and sprinkled with lemon juice & parsley), salade verte (green salad), baguette, fromage blanc and café filtre. She called it the “most exciting meal of (her) life”. That night she fell in love with French food and devoted her following years in France to learning how to cook it - and to cook it properly.
She attended the prestigious Cordon Bleu Cooking School, and talked to friends, restaurant owners, and chefs. But it was when Simone Beck & Louisette Bertholle asked Julia to collaborate on their proposed book of French cooking that Julia’s future began to get a little clearer. Madames Beck & Bertholle wanted to write for the American market, but needed a native American English speaker to write the recipes in such a way that the “average” American could follow them.
Julia began testing recipes scrupulously, doing market research to ascertain what ingredients would be available to a typical American housewife, and rewriting. It would be a project ten years in the making, and for much of that decade, Julia was cooking. She made it her mission to understand why a recipe succeeded and, perhaps more importantly, why a recipe failed, if it did. I was amazed by the amount of work that went into Mastering The Art of French Cooking and suspect that there has never been a more thoroughly tested collection of recipes ever published.
Over time, Mme Bertholle’s role in authoring the book decreased considerably and, although both Julia & Simone were co-authors, in the end, the chef that America came to know was the American - the one who toured, and who appeared on television. That she loved “cookery-bookery” was plainly evident. And so came the creation of the Julia Child whom most of us know and whom many of us love.
I wish I’d paid more attention to Julia Child when she was on the air. Television never was my thing and I guess French cooking wasn’t either as I never bought her cookbook Mastering The Art of French Cooking Trying to catch up, I’ve now reserved DVDs of her 1962 television show The French Chef from Zip.ca.
I hope they will help me keep Julia and Meryl as Julia separate in my head.
If you are a fan of Julia Child, if you are a fan of French cooking, or if you plan to see the movie Julie & Julia this summer, then this book is well worth reading.