Where Local and Global Appetites Collide

A Mans Take on the Julia Child Book: My Life in France

Book Review:  My Life in France, Julia Child with Alex Prud’homme, (2006) Alfred A. Knopf, New York

I’m not a chef, just a guy who likes good food and can cook the basics.  I grew up in the television era when Julia Child was breaking ground in teaching cooking and introducing American housewives to French cuisine via the airwaves.  Those childhood images are what made me pick up My Life in France during a recent visit to the library new book section.   You can buy Julia’s biography “My Life in France” here.

I found this book a fascinating tour of post-WWII French society and food culture.  It chronicles the years Julia and her husband Paul spent in Europe during his work for the U.S. government.  The young wife from an upper-class Pasadena, California family, educated at Smith College fell immediately in love with the food and local people. 

Paul had spent several of his early adult years in France, and when he was posted to Paris after the war he introduced Julia to his favorite cafes and foods.  She immediately determined to learn enough to prepare a few favorite dishes for her new husband. 

Her interest grew beyond all expectations as she pursued the chef
‘s arts through lessons from various local experts.
 She slogged through the classes to graduate from the famed Cordon Bleu school, even though the owner hated Americans, and Julia in particular. 

She met two like-minded French women who had long dreamed of writing a cook book specializing in regional food.  The three of them pursued this task with a fervor, resulting in Mastering the Art of French Cooking published in 1961 after many years of writing, re-writing and publishers’ rejections.  The book was an immediate hit which opened the door to American women’s kitchens. 

Julia eventually published eleven books, but became a household fixture when public television station WGBH in Boston gave her a chance to do a cooking show— a relatively new idea for TV in 1963.

Alex Prud’homme, a grand nephew of Julia’s husband Paul, assembled this book from interviews with Julia, using an extensive collection of Julia and Paul’s correspondence with his twin’  brother Charles as well as their many friends and business contacts, providing a richness of details of long-past events.

If you enjoy good food, want to learn more about post-war France, or are a Julia Child fan, you will find this book very entertaining.   You can buy Julia’s biography “My Life in France” here.

Jim Johnson
Jim Johnson

  1. Jim,
    Thanks for that review!

    I’m just catching up here. Julia was also mentioned extensively in Arugula Nation, a book about the gourmet food movement.

    It said that TV viewers took to her because she was anti-stuffy and was tall, almost clumsy, had that oddish voice, and was oh, so approachable. She did make French food friendly.

  2. Jim, I just finished reading this book, based on your enthusiastic review, and loved it!

    Through this book, I was able to go “back in time” to experience a world that was quite different from ours, in many ways.

    Take TV for example. I grew up in the 60’s and we always had a TV — first a black/white then a used color set. I took it for granted.

    She talks about living in France in the 50’s and hearing about TV for the first time but not getting a chance to see one until she went back to the US.

    When she actually became famous because of her public TV cooking series, she was still a virtual “unknown” in France.

    I also thought it was interesting to see how her “Mastering The Art of French Cooking” volume I differed from volume II.

    The first volume was written to document the authentic French way of cooking the traditional recipes — some recipes would take days to prepare and if you didn’t do it the hardest way possible (e.g. beating eggs in a copper bowl by hand) then you were not a truly French cook.

    The second volume “saw the light” and Julia incorporated the use of electric mixers and microwaves to accommodate the American audience.

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