Source: Review copy
Publication: 3 November 2022 from Duckworth Books
My thanks to Duckworth Books and Random Things Tours for an advance copy for review
When Julia Child arrived in Paris in 1948, ‘a six-foot-two-inch, thirty-six-year-old, rather loud and unserious Californian’, she barely spoke a word of French and didn’t know the first thing about cooking.
As she fell in love with French culture – buying food at local markets, sampling the local bistros, and taking classes at the Cordon Bleu – her life began to change forever. We follow her extraordinary transformation from kitchen ingénue to internationally renowned (and internationally loved) expert in French cuisine.
Bursting with Child’s adventurous and humorous spirit, My Life in France captures post-war Paris with wonderful vividness and charm.
Julia Child co-wrote the definitive book on French cookery with Louisette Bertholle and Simone Beck and it was this book that propelled her into the hall of cookery fame.
What My Life in France delivers is an understanding of who Julia Child was and how she came to love French cooking. She is remarkably frank about her own skills as a cook when she and her husband initially moved to France. A mediocre cook at best she was used to brown food and had to labour for hours in the kitchen to make a passable meal.
But the love and support of her husband Paul and their move to France where he was to join the US post war propaganda effort. They were a well-travelled couple and met while both were working in Asia.
What you get from this book is a love story. Certainly the love that Julia and Paul had for each other, but also the love that Julia rapidly develops for all things French but especially for French cuisine. She recalls with delight and astonishment the early meals (remembered in their entirety) the couple ate in France and her determination to be able to cook like that.
She has a childlike enthusiasm for all things French and loves nothing more than to shop at French markets learning about the produce. Her enrolment at the École du Cordon Bleu starts out in typically maladroit fashion as the school cannot quite work out what to do with this tall, gauche American who knows nothing but wants to know everything.
So Julia Child ends up in the basement working with trainee chefs and learning to cook from scratch with chef Max Bugnard though it would take her two attempts to pass her final exam and graduate.
The book follows her meeting with Louisette Bertholle and Simone Beck Fischbacher, to whom she grew very close, and the launching of their own cooking school, “Les Trois Gourmandes. The latter two women had been working on a cookery book and invited Julia to help them make it fit for the US market. Mastering the Art of French Cooking had a difficult journey to publication but when it was published in 1961 it became an instant success and Julia started to garner serious attention.
What makes this book is that the recollections are direct from Julia Child and her passion and enthusiasm for France and French cooking shine through every paragraph. Her story is engaging and heartfelt and she makes it come alive. It is also the story of a couple very much in love who supported each other and it is clear that Paul Child made it easy for Julia to pursue her dream.
I very much enjoyed the photographs from Julia Child’s album which illustrate this book. This is a book that stands the test of time and will undoubtedly be enjoyed by a range of readers. If you are looking for a Christmas gift with wide appeal, this could be the answer. I really loved it.
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Julia Child (1912-2004) was born in California and worked for American intelligence during World War II. Afterwards she lived in Paris, studied at the Cordon Bleu and taught cooking with Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle, with whom she wrote the
first volume of the bestselling classic Mastering the Art of French Cooking (1961) that has sold over 1.5 million copies worldwide.