My Life in France, by Julia Child, published posthumously, April 2006.
When Julia Child stepped off the boat in Le Havre, France in 1948, she was 36 years old, had never been to Europe, and didn’t know how to cook. Accompanying her husband Paul, Julia’s first French meal in Rouen was a revelation:
As we sat down, I heard two businessmen in gray suits at the next table asking questions of their waiter, an older, dignified man who gesticulated with a menu and answered them at length.
“What are they talking about?” I whispered to Paul.
“The waiter is telling them about the chicken they ordered,” he whispered back. “How it was raised, how it will be cooked, what side dishes they can have with it, and which wines would go with it best.”
“Wine?” I said. “At lunch?” I had never drunk much wine other than some $1.19 California Burgundy, and certainly not in the middle of the day.
In France, Paul explained, good cooking was regarded as a combination of national sport and high art, and wine was always served with lunch and dinner. “The trick is moderation,” he said.
Suddenly the dining room filled with wonderfully intermixing aromas that I sort of recognized but couldn’t name. The first smell was something oniony-”shallots,” Paul identified it, “being sautéed in fresh butter.” (“What’s a shallot?” I asked, sheepishly. “You’ll see,” he said.) Then came a warm and winy fragrance from the kitchen, which was probably a delicious sauce being reduced on the stove. This was followed by a whiff of something astringent: the salad being tossed in a big ceramic bowl with lemon, wine vinegar, olive oil, and a few shakes of salt and pepper.
My stomach gurgled with hunger.
My Life in France was written by Julia Child in the last few years of her life with the assistance of her grand-nephew, writer Alex Prud’Homme. In this memoir Julia focuses on her years in France, where she discovered her life’s passion, years she considered “among the best in my life.” The book is based in a large part on the letters than Julia and Paul wrote to their friends and family. Through them we get to know Julia’s husband Paul – a photographer, artist, poet, and diplomat – and the crucial role he played in her life and career; theirs was truly a marriage of love. Also of interest were the details of all the work that went into writing, and then trying to get published, her classic Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Every recipe was adapted for American ingredients and kitchens, tested and refined until perfect.
My Life in France is a wonderful read, filled with amusing vignettes, told in a way only Julia could, with enthusiasm, wit and earthy humor. Highly recommended.