Within this hefty collection of letters between Julia Child and
her cherished friend, Avis DeVoto, readers will discover a riveting
peek into their personal lives, as well as a page-turner of a read.
The tale of their friendship begins in 1952. Julia Child is living
with her husband, Paul, in Paris when she reads an article about
knives in Harper's. Julia is so taken with the magazine
story that she sends a fan letter and a proper French knife to its
author, journalist Bernard DeVoto. Avis DeVoto answers most of her
husband's correspondence, so she replies to Julia. And so it
Paul and Julia Child have been in Paris for more than four
years. Paul works for the State Department's U.S. Information
Service, while Julia is absorbing all she can about France's food,
wine and cooking. Together with her friends, Simca Beck and
Louisette Bertholle, she’s first taking cooking lessons and
then teaching cooking classes, which leads the trio to begin work
on a cookbook that they hope will eventually instruct Americans in
the art of French cuisine.
Avis is the perfect correspondent and friend for droll Julia.
Both are brilliant, witty, gifted writers, passionate about good
food. As the letters zoom back and forth between Paris and
Cambridge, the women compare American ingredients and utensils with
those found in France. Julia shares recipes and cooking techniques.
The two decry the times' rampant McCarthyism and discuss politics
in general. Julia also asks Avis to critique the chapter on sauces
from the cookbook she and her friends are writing. Avis begins
testing recipes as well as giving feedback on the early drafts of
the book. While frank about such points as if pronunciation guides
should be included for French terms, Avis not only gives unstinting
support of Julia's endeavor but also offers advice regarding
publishing houses and editors to approach.
No slouch herself in the kitchen, Avis dishes up strong opinions
about everything food-related, from the proper way to cook and eat
lobsters to why so many labor-saving devices actually increase the
cook's workload. She also gives Julia valuable feedback as to what
ingredients and utensils are readily available to American cooks
attempting French dishes, pointing out, among other things, that
shallots and many wine varieties are not easily found in the United
The letters are filled with digressions as the women discuss
servants, Avis's sons, husbands, health issues, gossip,
acquaintances, weather, gardening, and much more. These detours are
as fascinating as the discussions of food, cooking and cookbook
writing (which Julia dubs "cookery bookery") and lets readers feel
that we are experiencing these lives along with Julia and Avis. As
the years pass, Julia continues to toil at the cookbook. She meets
countless, seemingly unsurpassable roadblocks and experiences the
"So I am deeply depressed, gnawed by doubts, and feel that
all our work may just lay a big rotten egg."
From afar (and during a few brief in-person visits), Avis serves
as a sounding board while encouraging Julia. She also champions the
cookbook, using her connections to guide the manuscript past
devastating rejections to the final satisfying publication of
MASTERING THE ART OF FRENCH COOKING.
This celebration of friendship between two fascinating women
during the evolving stages of their lives makes for a gripping
Reviewed by Terry Miller Shannon on January 12, 2011