Food is a hot topic these days. Not only is there an entire television network devoted to food, both the growing/manufacture and the preparation of it, but there is an entire industry devoted to the spinoffs of that network in the form of books, magazines, cookware and other products. Cooks and chefs don’t do their work behind closed kitchen doors but out in the spotlight, where they are stars and household names.
One of the first television chefs, and the most loved, was Julia Child. Her joy in cooking and in her marriage is the subject of the movie “Julie and Julia” released last weekend. Directed by Nora Ephron and starring Meryl Streep as Julia, the movie alternates between the stories of Julia learning to cook in Paris in the 1940s and Julie Powell learning to cook by following Julia’s recipes in “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” and blogging about it. Julie’s blog became the book “Julie and Julia: 365 days, 524 recipes, 1 tiny apartment kitchen : how one girl risked her marriage, her job and her sanity to master the art of living”.
Julia McWilliams, who didn’t take a cooking lesson until she was in her 30s, was born 15 August 1912 in Pasadena. She graduated from Smith College in 1934 without any sense of direction for her life. So she dawdled at home for a year, got some office experience in New York, then went to work for the OSS in World War II, where she was assigned to India and China. There she met the witty and urbane Paul Child, who spoke fluent French, among several languages, and who introduced her to French cooking. And her boundless curiosity took her on a lifelong journey of discovery, writing and teaching, and influencing new generations of cooks inspired by her enthusiasm for life. Her cookbooks and television shows encouraged Americans to cook and eat well and to be skeptical of food fads and too-strict diets. She believed that “Cooking is not a chore; it is a joy”.
Lindsey Martin, recently retired after 24 years as TCPL’s Technical Services Librarian, wrote about Child’s “My Life in France” last year. “This is a gem of a book. Having recently viewed some segments of Julia Child’s first cooking show, The French Chef, I was very curious as to how this famous chef got her start in the world of French cuisine and My Life in France fit the bill perfectly. It all began in 1948 when Julia and husband Paul Child were stationed in France due to Paul’s position in the U.S. government. Julia and hubby set up house in an apartment in Paris and, on one very fateful day, Paul took his wife to a French restaurant where she says in her book that she had one of the most delightful meals in her life. Julia later decided that she not only wanted to eat French food but that she also wanted to learn how to prepare it. She also wanted to master the French language and so she hired a tutor to teach her French (which proved to be very essential as Julia was not only going to be reading French recipes but also shopping in French open food markets and conversing with other cooks). She also enrolled in France’s premier French cuisine school, Le Cordon Bleu, and began to hone her craft. One thing led to another and Julia, along with two other gourmettes, put together the now classic cookbook “Mastering the Art of French Cooking“ (a second volume was published several years later). When Julia and Paul returned to the United States (to live in Boston), Julia was approached about doing a cooking show for WGBH, Boston’s PBS affiliate, and the show became a national hit. The book is filled with many wonderful anecdotes about Julia Child’s life in France and she conveys her love not only for French cuisine but also for the French people and their culture. A really delightful read!”
Another Child biography, which delves further into her family background and her war years, is “Appetite for Life” by Noel Riley Fitch.
Two publishing houses passed up the opportunity to publish “Mastering the Art of French Cooking”, but when editor Judith Jones took the manuscript home and made Boeuf Bourguignon, she knew the value of Julia’s work. Thus began a professional and personal friendship of many decades. Jones’ memoir “The Tenth Muse: my life in food” offers another close up view of this cooking phenomenon.
The story of the growing popularity of television cooking is told in “Watching What We Eat: the evolution of television cooking shows” by Kathleen Collins. Adam Reid, Boston Globe columnist and contributor to PBS’ America’s Test Kitchen says, “Since the dawn of television, cooking shows have captivated Americans, and in [this book] Collins explains why. With an easy wit, and a ‘me, too’ voice that pulls readers right in, Collins charts the rise of television cooks as educators, mentors, entertainers and co-conspirators; indeed, as beloved, central and enduring characters in our national pop culture.” Chapter 3 is all about Julia’s place in television history.
For more books by and about Julia Child, Julie Powell, celebrity chefs, recipes, and cooking instruction, visit the Library today at www.tcplweb.org pr call 988-2541. Bon appetit!