15th Aug 2012
My Life in France by Julia Child
Julia Child, who would have celebrated her 100th birthday today, is the chef and author credited with bringing French food to the American public.
Her memoir, My Life in France, is a behind-the-scenes look at the creation of Mastering the Art of French Cooking – a recipe book that was years in the making and is considered a bible to chefs, cooks and foodies alike.
It is also part of the inspiration behind the 2009 Nora Ephron film starring Meryl Streep, Julie and Julia, and has been reissued this year to tie in with the resurgence of interest in Child that the film has provoked.
My Life in France takes us back to Julia Child’s first day in France, in 1948 – years before work even started on Mastering the Art of French Cooking (which would eventually appear in two volumes in 1961 and 1970).
At this point, Child had no interest in cooking whatsoever. It was one perfect meal of sole meunière, in Rouen, that changed everything.
It was her moment of epiphany:
“The flesh of the sole was delicate, with a light but distinct taste of the ocean that blended marvellously with the browned butter. I chewed slowly and swallowed. It was a morsel of perfection.”
This is the story of how Julia Child became the Julia Child – how she underwent the transformation from (in her own words) “a six-foot-two inch, thirty-six-year-old, rather loud and unserious Californian” with barely an interest in cooking into a chef, author and authority on French cuisine.
After Julia and her husband, Paul (an American civil servant) move into their new French home (endearingly nicknamed ‘Roo de Loo’), Julia begins dabbling in the kitchen, buying food at the local markets, and very quickly developing a fascination with food.
Child’s passion comes through vividly in the text: everything she eats, everything she cooks is written about with such detail that you can almost taste it.
On her thirty-seventh birthday, she attends a demonstration at the Parisian school of French culinary artistry, L’École du Cordon Bleu, as a gift from her husband Paul, who shares her enthusiasm for her newfound passion.
After the demonstration, Julia enrols herself to a year of classes (much to the distaste of the owner, Madame Brassart), where her passion and enthusiasm drive her to become a culinary master (she tells the amusing tale of spending weeks trying to create the perfect mayonnaise).
It is only after Julia graduates from Le Cordon Bleu that she meets the two fellow ‘Gourmettes’ (members of a Parisian fine-dining club), Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle with whom she collaborates on writing the book that will bring French cooking to America.
My Life in France chronicles the challenges that come with researching, writing and editing a book (as well as negotiating with publishers) over the course of virtually a decade, and how Child, no matter what, perserves. But this isn’t just a story of how a book came to be: it’s a story of self-discovery – finding a passion in life, working hard to succeed, and never giving up.
Written in collaboration with her grandnephew Alex Prud’homme, My Life in France vividly captures a pivotal time in Child’s life, evoking the sights, sounds and above all the flavours of France. Uplifting and beautifully written, it is truly inspirational.
Recommended for: Foodies, Francophiles, Julia Child fans and for anyone who saw the Nora Ephron film Julie and Julia.
Other recommended reading: Julie Powell’s Julie and Julia and, of course, Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking There’s also As Always, Julia, edited by Joan Reardon, a book of letters between Julia Child and Avis DeVoto from the years when Child was working on Mastering the Art of French Cooking.