Travel, Etc. --> Julia's "Life in France"
My Life in France
A look at Julia Child's last book
For Father's Day, Linda bought me a copy of the recently-released book My Life in France by Julia Child, written with her grand nephew, Alex Prud'Homme. I had read an excerpt of it in Bon Appetit, and just as I suspected, the entire book was as good as the excerpt. Linda's subsequent read confirmed what I thought.
We know it probably sounds a like an unusual book, but if:
1.) You like reading about good food;
2.) Enjoyed watching her PBS cooking show, "The French Chef," in the 1960s and 1970s (or, as in my case, the parodies of it on Saturday Night Live during the 70s - the skit starred Dan Ackroyd and was called "Julia Child Bleeds to Death");
3.) Like to hear fascinating stories about France;
4.) Have ever followed one of Julia's complex recipes;
then you, too, will likely enjoy this read as much as we both did.
Her strong love for "all things French" developed when she and her husband, Paul, spent a number of years in France with his assignment with the US Information Services. It's fun to just visualize a six foot tall, non-French-speaking Californian woman arriving in France in the late 1940s. Then, for her to learn conversational French, to successfully woo local chefs into teaching her their secrets, and to finally graduate from Le Cordon Bleu, is truly an amazing story.
The story begins with her first day in France when Paul takes her to Restaurant LeCouronne in Rouen while en route to Paris. Her description of her first exposure to French cuisine and her shock at the idea of drinking wine with lunch are more than amusing. But, that first exposure to sole meunier set her on a 15-year path to become the most acclaimed female American chef in history, not to mention the first television celebrity chef.
But the book is not just all about food. Julia and Paul lived in exciting places in exciting times. Paul's position put in him in social circles far beyond their modest means. The description of their first Paris apartment, which they affectionately dubbed "Roo do Loo," as well as the description of embracing the French life paints a compelling picture of France in the early 1950s. Their travels around France in the "Blue Flash," a giant Buick station wagon that Paul's State Department posting allowed him to bring to France, make entertaining reading. The places, the food, the people, and of course, the wine, are described in great, often humorous and affectionate detail.
The real story, though, is about the writing of her first cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Challengingly co-authored with her close French friend Simonne Beck and contributor Louisette Bertholle, the book took 10 years to write and two more to publish. Every single recipe was subjected to multiple trials and scrutiny from both the chefs and their friends. Julia went to such lengths as to send recipes to her friends in the US, marked "top secret and confidential" for their testing with American ingredients. She called her friends in America "the guinea pigs."
Julia was obsessive with using only the highest quality and the most precise amount of each ingredient. And if you have ever followed one of her recipes, you will know what I mean. We used to laugh about Julia's recipes, joking that in order to properly prepare poached pears (in her eyes), you started with planting a pear tree! But after reading this book, we realize that she really was that serious about ingredients. And, we also know that the best lobster soufflé in history -- at least in Indianapolis -- was prepared when Linda exactly followed her recipe.
While the book deals primarily with Julia and Paul's time in France, it also takes the story to its logical conclusion, chronicling the return to the US, the publishing of the cookbook, the ensuing acclaim, the development of the TV show, and the writing of the subsequent cookbooks. It finally takes us to Julia's last year working with Alex to develop this book. All in all, a great read!
August 9, 2006