July 18, 2006

My Life In France

My Life In France
Alex Prud'homme and Julia Child


(July 18, 2006)

Perhaps the most striking thing about Julia Child's life was how late it started. She was born in 1912, in the midst of the great Roosevelt-Taft-Wilson election campaign. Mastering The Art Of French Cooking didn't appear until 1961, and the first episode of The French Chef ran in 1963.

M. F. K. Fisher was only 4 years older than Julia, but Serve It Forth appeared in 1937. By the time Julia Child began to cook, MFK Fisher had published five volumes. Elizabeth David was a few months younger than Julia; by the time Julia's first book was published, Elizabeth David's writing career was just about over.

It's important, too, to remember that Julia Child's influence is much greater than the mere discovery that Americans would watch television shows about cooking. Before Julia, most Americans thought cooking a menial chore and preferred food that was familiar, safe, and unchallenging. The French Chef was an extended argument that food should be something more, and that you yourself could take some good ingredients, work with diligence and attention, and make something much better than your mother could have made.

Without Julia, I think, there would have been no real audience for Chez Panisse, and hence no Alice Waters, no restaurant-farmer nexus, and the modern generation of American chefs would have be very different indeed..

This pleasant and engaging posthumous volume can't always decide to focus on people or places or on food. At times, anecdotes and letters are tossed in a bowl -- plop! -- and then briskly whisked to a froth. But never mind: it's all suffused with Child's voice, curiosity, and enthusiasm. Bon appetit!