In her memoir, we discover that Julia Child was not born with a wooden spoon in her hand; her early cooking experiences were sometimes less than delectable. Her adventures, culinary and otherwise, are chronicled in amazing detail and much charm, written with Alex Prud'homme, Paul Child's grandnephew.
The book opens with an introductory first sentence from Julia that speaks for itself:
"This is a book about some of the things I have loved most in life: my husband, Paul Child; la belle France; and the many pleasures of cooking and eating."
The story begins as Paul and Julia move to Paris after two years in Washington, D.C. Thirty-six-year-old Julia has mixed feelings about the move. She fears that the quiet, stylish, mannerly, and tiny French would be aghast at a six-foot-two-inch "rather loud and unserious Californian." However, almost instantly Julia is enamored of France and its people. She delights in her first French meal, sheepishly telling her husband she doesn't know what a shallot is. The description of that first meal, and the many following, is as loving as if she were describing her firstborn.
Julia begins to cook a bit, helped by French friends who show her the best places to shop and introduce her to new foods such as snails and truffles. As her food consciousness rises, her ability to speak French also improves. Her next step is to sign up for a year-long course at the famed cooking school, Cordon Bleu, where she discovers a true passion for French cooking (she calls it her "personal calling"). She also realizes she has much to learn --- she can't even scramble eggs properly. Indeed, even as she grows more knowledgeable, she continues making cooking errors, resulting in bizarre dishes.
Julia's passion for cooking extends beyond school. At home, she experiments, making batch after batch of mayonnaise and other dishes. She begins to write down recipes. After graduation (she fails her first final exam and has to take it over), Julia joins two women in opening a small cooking school. The three begin collaboration on a cookbook that, after countless publishing disappointments and rejections over many years, would eventually become MASTERING THE ART OF FRENCH COOKING, a classic that would change cooking in the United States forever.
Julia and Paul move to Marseille and then to Germany, finally moving back to Washington, D.C. Everywhere, they find adventure, friends, and delicious food. Julia, of course, becomes a celebrity chef, starring in her own television series and writing several books.
In MY LIFE IN FRANCE, Julia emphasizes "the importance of including fun and love in the preparation of a meal!" Both elements are abundant ingredients in this book as well. Aided in their research by a mountain of family letters and Paul Child's photos, some of which illustrate the book, each anecdote is detailed and lavishly described. Julia's voice shines through; she appears as she seemed in life, refreshingly unselfconscious, willing to poke fun at herself, and full of passion (and aren't we fortunate to experience Julia Child once again now, after her death in 2004? Many thanks to Alex Prud'homme. Without his nudging and brilliant work, we would miss out on this late-served and much-appreciated dessert).
It all adds up to a delightful and fascinating read. In fact, I give it the ultimate book reviewer's compliment: I'm keeping my copy in order to reread it. Highest recommendation.
Reviewed by Terry Miller Shannon on January 12, 2011