by Julia Child with Alex Prud’homme
First sentence: “This is a book about some of the things I have loved most in my life: my husband, Paul Child; la belle France; and the many pleasures of cooking and eating.”
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Julia Child is an awesome woman.
Okay, yeah, I like food books and French books — and this book is both of those things — but mostly it’s the force of Julia Child’s personality that carries this book.
A forceful, entertaining, incredible personality.
It’s the story of Julia’s introduction to France, her discovery of her passion for French food, and the birth of Mastering the Art of French Cooking. It’s a fascinating journey, and it’s made all the more interesting by the way Julia writes about it. She’s full of joie de la vie, especially for all things French. She’s no-nonsense, methodical, and passionate. And, most of all, she writes like you’re sitting down next to her, sipping a cup of whatever, and she’s just rattling off memory after memory of her fascinating life, holding you spellbound.
Some basic highlights: She moved to France in 1946 — she was 36 — with her husband, Paul, who was stationed there with the USIS. She had never been there, and was totally ignorant in the ways of cooking and food in general. She shortly became passionate about the food, and decided about six months into their stay to study at Le Cordon Bleu.
While she appreciated the basic education that Le Cordon Bleu gave her, she was ultimately dissatisfied with the school. She did graduate, but only after having to go through some bureaucratic hoop-jumping. She had discovered that she was passionate about cooking, especially cooking French food, and so even though the school didn’t work out the way she wanted it to, she kept up with teaching herself.
One of the things that really impressed me was how methodical she was in her learning. She took the time to research everything, especially when she started working on the cook book (or “cookery-bookery” as she called it), and was more than willing to listen and learn from the experts. It took her — she collaborated with a couple of French women — 10 years to get the first Mastering book done and into the hands of a publisher, and another 9 on Volume 2. I found that immensely impressive.
On top of all that, she was as gifted linguist: she picked up French, German and Norwegian during her husband’s years in the service, before settling down in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She does get into how her TV show came to be, and dealing with the effects of celebrity, but I felt it was all almost an afterthought. The heart of the book, and the most interesting parts, are in Paris. Which is probably as it should be.
I loved the last paragraph, though:
In all the years since that succulent meal, I have yet to lose the feelings of wonder and excitement that it inspired in me. I can still almost taste it. And thinking back on it now reminds me that the pleasures of the table, and of life, are infinite — toujours bon appetit!
Bon appetit, indeed.