Review

The Tenth Muse: My Life in Food

by Judith Jones

Judith Jones tells the story of her life's passion with cooking, which includes editing the cookbooks of legendary cooks such as Julia Child, Madhur Jaffrey, Marion Cunningham and Lidia Bastianich. Her tale begins with an anecdote that illuminates her mother's attitude toward food. Jones's elderly mother asked her to give her an honest answer about something important. Jones expected a larger topic than her mother's rather surprising question: "Tell me, Judith, do you really like garlic?" After admitting that she loved garlic, Jones's mother appeared thoroughly disheartened.
 
As a young girl, not only was garlic banned from the house, but onions could be used only when a particular stew was being prepared by the cook. The family did not eat adventurously, although the family cook did turn out some wonderful, homey "plain food"-type dishes (the descriptions of which might possibly make readers drool upon the book). In the winter, their produce consisted of "overgrown root vegetables," potatoes and cabbage. Yet young Judith managed to be a bit of a foodie, requesting not only a spaghetti and cheese dish but also artichokes for special lunches.
 
During her childhood, Jones delighted in spending time with relatives who loved to cook and with her father who treated her to lunches at a favorite French restaurant. There, she happily nibbled crepes, exotic sauces, onion soup and seafood. As a young teen, Jones delighted in cooking for her father while her mother vacationed. Although her first experiments were less than successful (thanks to broiling, instead of baking, dishes), she was undeterred in her determination to become a good cook. However, her joy in eating was sadly curbed by female relatives discussing her plumpness. While she was soon snacking on carrots, eventually Jones learned to balance her love of good food with a bit of discipline.
 
Jones began working at Doubleday in New York when she graduated from college. But she dreamed of Paris. Happily, she was able to leave her job to travel there, where she found not only luscious meals to devour but also food-loving friends who were thrilled to educate her in food and cooking. When her traveling companion returned to New York, Jones decided to stay on in an inexpensive hotel. She could only afford one meal a day, so she made that meal an adventure, experiencing delicacies such as veal brains. Her escapades in France included losing every penny she owned, opening an informal restaurant with a friend and meeting her husband, Evan, who enjoyed food and cooking as much as she did. When she worked for Doubleday in Paris, she discovered the French edition of ANNE FRANK: THE DIARY OF A YOUNG GIRL, which she urgently (and successfully) recommended Doubleday publish.
 
Jones and her husband returned to New York eventually, where they were frustrated by the lack of quality ingredients in markets but persevered in their cooking adventures. She went to work as an editor for Knopf, where she discovered Julia Child, publishing her classic cookbook, MASTERING THE ART OF FRENCH COOKING. Then, she went on to publish the work of many fine chefs, as well as to write cookbooks with her husband.
 
Jones's story is a gripping, well-paced page-turner filled with an infectious passion for food and cooking. Her own life is fascinating, and she brings legends such as James Beard, Craig Claiborne, Julia Child and many more to life through descriptions of their appearance and quirky personalities during her collaborations with them. Of course, the heart of the book is Jones's philosophy and respect for fabulous food, which she describes in luscious detail, sharing many of her favorite recipes. Reading her delicious prose should turn any reader into a more discerning eater and adventurous cook.

Reviewed by Terry Miller Shannon(terryms2001@yahoo.com) on January 23, 2011

The Tenth Muse: My Life in Food
by Judith Jones

  • Publication Date: October 23, 2007
  • Genres: Memoir, Nonfiction
  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf
  • ISBN-10: 0307264955
  • ISBN-13: 9780307264954