I’ve already read Julia Child’s autobiography this year, and I’ve been referring to her two cookbooks about French cooking for almost everything I’ve cooked since I got both books. I made macaroni and cheese at Christmas that was much improved thanks to Julia’s advice on making a great roux to begin a bechamel sauce. I can’t say that I’ll ever be as devoted a cook as she was–she understood the chemistry of each dish, and kept voluminous notes in order to perfect everything she made–but I think I’ll always turn to her for information on the basics.
After I read her autobiography–it really focuses mostly on her time in France and the first of her cookbooks, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, so it doesn’t necessarily give a full portrait of her life. It’s also, of course, her perspective exclusively. In this exhaustive autobiography, Julia’s entire family history is outlined, helping to understand her family dynamics, her relationship with her sister Dort, and even her husband, Paul Child. The author relies on accounts of other people as well as Julia, and the resulting stories are just great. I think 85-year old Julia, while writing her memoir, may have downplayed her own loud, profane, bawdy nature for a more demure audience, but her biography truly embraces all 6 foot 3 of her, foul mouth and all.
Even if you have no interest in French food, Julia Child was an extraordinary American. She was incredibly motivated, undeterred by her own shortcomings, and truly self-made. Her life, almost accidentally, changed the way that Americans thought about cooking, and I don’t think it’s overstating it to say that her influence has something to do with the homegrown, local, organic, slow food movements of our age… it’s because of people like Julia that we wonder where our food came from, and question what in the world makes instant mashed potatoes possible–and why would we want to eat it?
Read it, and the next time you’re at the grocery store or farmer’s market, think of Julia, out “marketing” in the streets of Paris, befriending her butcher, farmer, cheese woman, and milkman. She was on to something.
The list so far:
18. Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julia Child by Bob Spitz