Friday, September 28, 2012

Dispatch From The Field: Joe's Love Affair With Julia Child Rages On

Julia Child entered the lives of millions of Americans with her bestselling cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking; her popular and long-running cooking show, The French Chef; and her beloved memoir, My Life in France. In this intimate and revealing biography, based on exclusive interviews and scores of private letters and diaries, Noel Riley Fitch leads us through her incredible life.

We travel with Julia from her exuberant youth in California to her raucous days at Smith College; from her volunteer service with the OSS during World War II to the day she met Paul Child, the man with whom she would enjoy a fifty year marriage. We’re with her when she takes her first culinary course at 37 and discovers her true calling; when she begins work on her landmark cookbook and suffers the rejections of most publishers in New York. And when finally her vision strikes a chord with a generation of Americans tired of bland cuisine, we’re there to share in the making of a legend.

Julia Child became a household name by resisting fads and narrow conventions, by being the quintessential teacher and an inspiration to modern women, and by doing it all with her trademark humor and aplomb. Appetite for Life is her truly remarkable story.

Joe says:
"One hundred years and one month ago now, Julia McWilliams was born in Pasadena, California. Her grandparents had headed west in the 1840's and that pioneering, adventurous spirit was most definitely passed down to Julia. She would live in India, China, France, Germany and Norway, as well as both coasts of the United States.

Her pioneering spirit affected more than just where she lived. It propelled her to tackle American attitudes on food, to essentially change the way we cook, eat, and think about food. When she became a celebrity based on her cookbooks and cooking programs on PBS, she became the pioneer behind what is now a multi-billion dollar food entertainment industry.

 Appetite for Life, originally published in 1997 and now updated with the information released after Julia Child's death, is the most thorough biography I have read about the First Lady of Food. Noel Riley Fitch was granted full access of letters and diaries by Julia Child herself, and with that information really brings to life Julia's early days in Pasadena, at Smith College, and while working for the OSS (the precursor to the CIA) during WWII. It was during this time that she met the man who would become the great love of her life, and together they formed what I think is one of the most loving partnerships ever.

Her devotion to Paul Child took her to Paris, where she began her culinary education. His devotion to her helped sustain and energize her throughout the rest of their lives. And though I've read (& loved!) other biographies on Julia Child, I don't think I've read one as thorough. Not only the part we're so familiar with (either from watching her on television like I did, or other books or movies), but the nitty-gritty of her life as she wrote the books and recorded the shows. Her life before and after Paul. Her youth and college days. 

Riley Fitch shows such detail in Julia's young life. It was from this foundation (wealthy & healthy stock) that Julia Child really blossomed as an adult. Julia never forgot her wealthy upbringing, but didn't dwell on it either, except to rebel against it. She knew she was lucky to be able to travel and never forgot that not everyone can live the way she did. 

Although Riley Fitch's affection for Julia Child shines in the book, the writing never devolves into mere hero worship. If Julia is to be admired, it is on her own terms, and the writing lets Mrs. Child speak for herself, with her wit, charm, decidedly anti-Republican liberalism, and most of all: her famous and natural humor. I have long admired Julia Child, and thought I knew her well. But by reading Appetite For Life, I feel like I really know her. And thanks to Noel Riley Fitch, love Julia Child all the more.

Julia Child has been done a deep service by this book. I would say this book belongs on your cookbook shelves, right next to your well-worn & stained copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking. If I could compare this book to one of Julia Child's recipes, I would say this is her Bouillabaisse: from such humbleness, the divine is present, thanks to a little saffron, a lot of laughter,  and a bubbling froth of utter joy in life. Bon Appetit!"

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