Sunday, March 15, 2009

Book Review: My Life in France

Title: My Life in France
Authors: Julia Child and Alex Prud'homme (her husband's grandnephew)
Publisher: Anchor Books, New York, 2007
Category: Non-fiction, biography
Number of Pages: 352
Price: $14.95 Paperback

What the book is about:
Julia Child tells the story of her life and how she came to write the classic book "Mastering The Art of French Cooking". It all began when her husband Paul (who she married at the age of 34) was stationed in Paris as a cultural attache. Julia learned to speak French with intensive daily lessons at Berlitz and tried to teach herself to cook using recipes from Gourmet Magazine.

But her passion really took hold at age 37 when she took cooking lessons at the Cordon Bleu. Not satisfied with the lessons for housewives, Julia transferred into the more intensive professional program. As she grew ever more knowledgeable about French cuisine, she supplemented her learning with private lessons and her own research. Eventually she met two Frenchwomen who had started writing a book on French cuisine and who needed an American to assist them with translating the recipes for a US reader. Spearheading the creation of this tome on French cuisine, Julia made it a labour of love spanning many years. After publication in 1961, Julia embarked on a self-structured USA publicity tour that ultimately led to her introduction to tv and "The French Chef".

Why I chose this book:
Being a passionate home chef, I have always been in awe of Julia child. I have vague recollections of watching reruns of "The French Chef" on PBS and seeing the spoofs of her on Saturday Night Live. I also have her cookbooks. And of course, I read "The Julie/Julia Project: 365 Days, 524 Recipes and 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen" about the food blogger who nearly loses her sanity cooking every recipe in "Mastering The Art of French Cooking". But it wasn't until I read this book that I truly appreciated the contribution that Julia Child made to the world of the home chef.

Favourite Passage:
"The more I thought about it, the more this project fired my imagination. After all, the lessons embedded in these recipes were a logical extension of the material we used in our classes. I liked to strip everything down to the bones; with a bit of work, I thought this book could do that, too, only on a much more comprehensive scale. I had come to cooking late in life, and knew from firsthand experience how frustrating it could be to try to learn from badly written recipes. I was determined that our cookbook would be clear and informative and accurate, just as our teaching strove to be." (page 144)

Rating: A
This is a delightful book. There were many twists and turns in the story that made for a fascinating read, even for a non-gourmet. I had a whole new appreciation for her success as a chef and a writer. And I felt like I got to know her as a person, shortcomings and all.