My Life in France
by: Julia Child with Alex Prud’homme
published by: Anchor House a division of Random House
rating: 3.5 out of 5
I am definitely an informal kind of gal: blue jeans over dresses; pottery over china; cafe fare over michelin star restaurants. So while I enjoyed this book from a memoir point of view, I must confess that the lavishly complicated meals that were gushed about – or the painstaking recipe research that was written in great detail did not hold my interest for long.
I absolutely LOVED the first half of this book – when Julia and her husband Paul have just been transferred to Paris with the US government. After she has set up house, she decides to educate herself in the art of French cooking. I was surprised to learn that Julia did not grow up in a gourmand family and it was actually her husband who had the refined palate for good wine and excellent cuisine. Julia is a perfectionist, however, and if she was going to learn to cook then she was going to learn from the best: Le Cordon Bleu.
I really enjoyed reading about these initial culinary lessons and I admired her adventuresome spirit by enrolling in a professional class where she was the sole female among eleven other GIs. While I often allow my perfectionism to get in the way of learning something new (I become quite discouraged if I don’t get it right the first time), it was refreshing to learn that she made several mistakes along the way – but always took it in stride because she believed that the best education comes from failure.
The middle portion of the book, which focuses on the development of her chef d’oeuvre, Mastering the Art of French Cooking (volume I) provided real insight to her attention to detail. She would often prepare a recipe ten or even fifteen times just to ensure that the directions were accurate and any possible misunderstandings could be explained in full. She was on a mission – to teach American housewives that cooking authentic French cuisine is not an insurmountable task; and while it requires exact methods, it can still be fun and extremely satisfying. The book took years to develop, but was well received once published.
At this point in the memoir, however, I became a bit disenchanted. I don’t know if it is because I like to hear the story of the struggle, and the fame afterwards is not as interesting to me, or if I felt that the tone of the story became more egotistical. In either case, I found myself skimming the last few chapters. Perhaps I wanted to believe my own fictional characterization of Julia Child – just a middle class housewife who would enter our homes via television once a week and teach us how to cook delectable meals – rather than the business-minded television personality who seemed to be a borderline workaholic.
In the end, I was glad that I read the book – and I am hoping that I have the opportunity to at least walk by 81 Rue de l’Universite (81 Roo Loo) — her initial residence, and the Cordon Bleu in order to dream about what it might have been like to be Julia Child …..