I actually read this several months ago, but then remembered it over the holiday season, when I visited Paris for the first time with my partner and parents. Admittedly, I am somewhat Julia Child obsessed. I’ve seen the entire ten year run of The French Chef from PBS; watching her as a kid (and reading my Mom’s enormous 60s-style Better Homes and Gardens cookbook) instilled in me a love of cooking (though my given name had a bit to do with that as well, I suspect). Given that, however, this biography is terrific. Even if you’re not Julia-crazed. Even if you’re not much of a cook. Even if you don’t typically read biographies. This one is a real joy.
If you didn’t know, Julia Child led quite a fascinating life. She and her husband worked for the US state department, and had lived several other places around the globe before settling in France. While this book is light on her early life and time in the military (a period which would likely stand on its own as a fascinating read), it concentrates on–as the title might suggest–her time in France up through the development of Mastering the Art of French Cooking and her TV show.
It is interesting to note that Child didn’t move to France until she was 37, and neither spoke French nor knew anything about cooking at the time. However, her transformation in Paris into the icon she eventually became is exceptionally detailed in this book, and reads as well as the narrative in any novel.
Her love of food and cooking is infectious; I dare anyone to read this without becoming a bit more curious about the culinary world. It is also fascinating to learn how the book (and its sequel) evolved, and how the TV series was created. The picture it paints of post WW2 Paris (as well as Provence and Marseille) effectively transports the reader back into her world.
So if you want the backstory to the mother of all cooking shows, read this book. The stories of her journey to France by boat, her first meal in a French restaurant, her time at Le Cordon Bleu, her development of the book and the TV show, and her overall enthusiasm for cooking will engage you more than any lame Food Network knock-off.
PS: On a personal level, even with everything around me in Paris–I was most excited on my vacation to see the apartment where Julia and Paul lived (81 Rue l’Universite). It is just off the Seine and near the Musee D’Orsay, so it is relatively easy to find for anyone visiting Paris. Be respectful, though, as it is a private residence and not a tourist attraction.
Seeing this up close along with receiving the best gift ever (my partner gave me first editions of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, both volumes), definitely made this Christmas one to remember.