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My Life in France Paperback – October 9, 2007
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100 Books for a Lifetime of Eating & Drinking
If you want to make an authentic tagine, bake mouth-watering cakes, or vicariously experience the life of a chef, you’ll find the book for it on this list.
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Julia Child single handedly awakened America to the pleasures of good cooking with her cookbook Mastering the Art of French Cooking and her television show The French Chef, but as she reveals in this bestselling memoir, she didn't know the first thing about cooking when she landed in France.
Indeed, when she first arrived in 1948 with her husband, Paul, she spoke no French and knew nothing about the country itself. But as she dove into French culture, buying food at local markets and taking classes at the Cordon Bleu, her life changed forever. Julia's unforgettable story unfolds with the spirit so key to her success as a cook and teacher and writer, brilliantly capturing one of the most endearing American personalities of the last fifty years.
Julie & Julia is now a major motion picture (releasing in August 2009) starring Meryl Streep as Julia Child. It is partially based on her memoir, My Life in France. Enjoy these images from the film, and click the thumbnails to see larger images.
--This text refers to the Audio CD edition.
From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. With Julia Child's death in 2004 at age 91, her grandnephew Prud'homme (The Cell Game) completed this playful memoir of the famous chef's first, formative sojourn in France with her new husband, Paul Child, in 1949. The couple met during WWII in Ceylon, working for the OSS, and soon after moved to Paris, where Paul worked for the U.S. Information Service. Child describes herself as a "rather loud and unserious Californian," 36, six-foot-two and without a word of French, while Paul was 10 years older, an urbane, well-traveled Bostonian. Startled to find the French amenable and the food delicious, Child enrolled at the Cordon Bleu and toiled with increasing zeal under the rigorous tutelage of éminence grise Chef Bugnard. "Jackdaw Julie," as Paul called her, collected every manner of culinary tool and perfected the recipes in her little kitchen on rue de l'Université ("Roo de Loo"). She went on to start an informal school with sister gourmandes Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle, who were already at work on a French cookbook for American readers, although it took Child's know-how to transform the tome—after nine years, many title changes and three publishers—into the bestselling Mastering the Art of French Cooking (1961). This is a valuable record of gorgeous meals in bygone Parisian restaurants, and the secret arts of a culinary genius. Photos. First serial in the New York Times Magazine and Bon Appétit. (Apr.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
But Julia Child was much more than a 6'2", 158-pound precursor of Martha Stewart. She was a revolutionary. Not intentionally. She just had the great good fortune to find herself living in Paris with no job and nothing more compelling than a tentative interest in cooking. She signed up for classes at Cordon Bleu, got hooked, and soon found herself, with two friends, working on a book we now take for granted but was then unimagined --- an authoritative guide to French cooking for Americans. Published 40 years ago, 'Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume One' has never gone out of print. It never will. It is the gold standard.
Julia Child died in 2004. Of her 11 books, none was a memoir. But she kept scribbles and letters, and at the end of her life, she began to shape this book with her grandnephew. Like almost everything she touched, 'My Life in France' is a triumph --- insightful, poetic, deadly accurate about people, and, above all, tasty. To read it is to breathe French air.
Nothing in her early life would have predicted that Julia Child would become formidable in any way. Her father was a conservative Southern California businessman; her mother was "warm and social." After college came World War II and government work in Ceylon. There she met Paul Child, an artist who designed 'war rooms' for the generals. The first meal she cooked for him --- brains simmered in red wine --- was not a success. Still, they married, and, in 1948, moved to France. She was 36. She didn't speak a word of French.
Her first meal, in Rouen, started with oysters, served with a pale rye bread and unsalted butter. They were followed by sole meuniere, "perfectly browned in a sputtering butter sauce with a sprinkling of chopped parsley." Mr. and Mrs. Child washed it down with a bottle of Pouilly-Fume. They moved on a green salad and a baguette, fromage blanc and cafe filtre. "Absolute perfection," Julia decided. "The most exciting meal of my life."
Fortunately, the Childs were not rich --- two-star restaurants were the best they could afford in Paris. But Julia was reading cookbooks, making friends in the food markets, falling in love with Paris. At Cordon Bleu, her classmates were 11 former American servicemen who were studying courtesy of the GI Bill of Rights. She went right to the head of the class.
To read this book is to peer over her shoulder and learn with her. Scrambled eggs, for example. They are not whipped, just gently blended. Smear the pan with butter, add the eggs, salt and pepper, cook over a low flame. After about three minutes, the eggs will start to form a custard. Only then do you stir rapidly with a fork, sliding the pan on and off the burner. Pull the egg curds together --- and, finally, add the butter, to "stop the cooking." Sprinkle with parsley (or not). Serve. Dazzle.
The real revelations in this book are not about food, however ---they're about work. There's a lot of it involved in the creation of a book, especially when you're creating something new. "WHY DID WE EVER DECIDE TO DO THIS ANYWAY?" Julia writes to one of her collaborators. But after eight years, the thing is done. And Knopf offers to buy it for $1,500. The galleys weigh 15 pounds. When printed, it is 732 pages long.
In 1961, when 'Mastering the Art of French Cooking' was published, Paul Child was 59 years old. Julia was 49. They had no expectations of a bestseller, much less a franchise. But the New York Times raved --- the recipes are "painstakingly edited and written as if each were a masterpiece, and most of them are" --- and the book sold and sold. In 1962, Julia taped three half-hour shows for WGBH, the public TV station in Boston. By the following year, she had taped 26 more.
But this is not a celebrity memoir. This book is called "My Life in France" for a reason --- it is there that Julia and Paul feel most fully alive. Paul's photographs deliver the country in delicious slivers. The passages at their home in the South of France lift off the page and surround you. You inhale lavender. You feel the breeze. In the distance is the smell of lamb cooking in herbs. There is laughter, and wit, and, most of all, blessed silence. If this is not a description of Heaven, what is?
Paul takes ill and dies. Julia soldiers on. She understands --- you have to keep grabbing life. Food and love and very shrewd French friends have taught her well: "Nothing is too much trouble if it turns out the way it should."
The book ends this way: "The pleasures of the table, and of life, are infinite --- toujours bon appetit!" As you read these words, you finally get it --- this is not a book about food, this is a book about life. A wise life, a life of beauty, art and invention. You can learn a lot from a life like that.
Start with this book
Of course, that "neighbor" only talked about food and recipes, and you didn't get to know her very well. This book shows how charming -- and human -- Julia Child really was (petty irritations and all). Mostly, it's like having Julia over to your house for a wonderful dinner party, in which she tells wonderful stories about her time in France. Obviously, food is a large part of that, but there are entertaining anecdotes about everything from being adopted by a cat to their worries about Paul's career to their move to Marseilles. Because the family kept all of Paul and Julia's letters home, the detail is as fresh and fun as when it first happened.
The book is entertaining and fun, with the added inspiration of watching a woman grow from "I could barely cook" to the legend we all admired. Recommended.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
The quality of the book, was great.Read more