My Life in Franceby Julia Child, Alex Prud'homme
Indeed, when she first arrived in France in 1948 with her husband, Paul, she spoke no French and knew nothing about the country itself. But as she dove into French culture, buying food at local markets and taking classes at the Cordon Bleu, her life changed forever. Julia's unforgettable story unfolds with the spirit so key to her success as a cook and teacher and
Indeed, when she first arrived in France in 1948 with her husband, Paul, she spoke no French and knew nothing about the country itself. But as she dove into French culture, buying food at local markets and taking classes at the Cordon Bleu, her life changed forever. Julia's unforgettable story unfolds with the spirit so key to her success as a cook and teacher and writer, brilliantly capturing one of the most endearing American personalities of the last fifty years.
The Washington Post
The New York Times
–William Grimes, The New York Times
“In mouth-watering detail, her learning years in Paris and the stellar career that followed.”
–Meeta Agrawal, Life Magazine
“Captures her charm, warmth, and, above all, her determined and robust spirit . . . Anyone who has heard her on television will immediately recognize the frank, jovial, and embracing tone.”
–John Skoyles, The Seattle Times/Associated Press
“What a joy . . . charming . . . inspiring.”
–Jennifer Reese, Entertainment Weekly
“Like a surprise nougat bursting from the center of a chocolate truffle, My Life in France also serves up her moving romance with the Renaissance man of her life . . . her husband, Paul Child.”–Andrew Marton, The Philadelphia Inquirer
- Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
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- 5.20(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.75(d)
Read an Excerpt
My Life in France
By Julia Child with Alex Prud'homme
Random HouseJulia Child with Alex Prud'homme
All right reserved.
In August 2004, Julia Child and I sat in her small, lush garden in Montecito, California, talking about her life. She was thin and a bit stooped, but more vigorous than she'd been in weeks. We were in the midst of writing this book together. When I asked her what she remembered about Paris in the 1950s, she recalled that she had learned to cook everything from snails to wild boar at the Cordon Bleu; that marketing in France had taught her the value of "les human relations"; she lamented that in her day the American housewife had to juggle cooking the soup and boiling the diapers--adding, "if she mixed the two together, imagine what a lovely combination that would make!"
The idea for My Life in France had been gestating since 1969, when her husband, Paul, sifted through hundreds of letters that he and Julia had written his twin brother, Charles Child (my grandfather), from France in 1948--1954. Paul suggested creating a book from the letters about their favorite, formative years together. But for one reason or another, the book never got written. Paul died in 1994, aged ninety-two.
Yet Julia never gave up on the idea, and would often talk about her intention to write "the France book." She saw it, in part, as a tribute to her husband, the man who had swept heroff to Paris in the first place.
I was a professional writer, and had long wanted to work on a collaborative project with Julia. But she was self-reliant, and for years had politely resisted the idea. In December 2003, she once again mentioned "the France book," in a wistful tone, and I again offered to assist her. She was ninety-one, and her health had been waxing and waning. This time she said, "All right, dearie, maybe we should work on it together."
My job was simply to help Julia tell her story, but it wasn't always easy. Though she was a natural performer, she was essentially a private person who didn't like to reveal herself. We started slowly, began to work in sync, and eventually built a wonderfully productive routine. For a few days every month, I'd sit in her living room asking questions, reading from family letters, and listening to her stories. At first I taped our conversations, but when she began to poke my tape recorder with her long fingers, I realized it was distracting her, and took notes instead. The longer we talked about "little old France," the more she remembered, often with vivid intensity--"Ooh, those lovely roasted, buttery French chickens, they were so good and chickeny!"
Many of our best conversations took place over a meal, on a car ride, or during a visit to a farmers' market. Something would trigger a memory, and she'd suddenly tell me about how she learned to make baguettes in Paris, or bouillabaisse in Marseille, or how to survive a French dinner party--"Just speak very loudly and quickly, and state your position with utter conviction, as the French do, and you'll have a marvelous time!"
Almost all of the words in these pages are Julia's or Paul's. But this is not a scholarly work, and at times I have blended their voices. Julia encouraged this approach, pointing out that she and Paul often signed their letters "PJ" or "Pulia," as if they were two halves of one person. I wrote some of the exposition and transitions, and in so doing tried to emulate Julia's idiosyncratic word choices--"Plop!," "Yuck!," "Woe!," "Hooray!" Once I had gathered enough material, I would write up a vignette; she would avidly read it, correct my French, and add things as they occurred to her in small, rightward-slanting handwriting. She loved this process, and was an exacting editor. "This book energizes me!" she declared.
Julia and I shared a sense of humor, and appetite, and she thought I looked like Paul, which probably helped our collaboration. As for me, I was grateful for the chance to reconnect with her and to be part of such an interesting project. Some writers find that the more they learn about their co-authors the less they like them, but I had the opposite experience: the more I learned about Julia Child, the more I came to respect her. What impressed me most was how hard she worked, how devoted she was to the "rules" of la cuisine francaise while keeping herself open to creative exploration, and how determined she was to persevere in the face of setbacks. Julia never lost her sense of wonder and inquisitiveness. She was, and is, a great inspiration.
Another great inspiration has been our editor, Judith Jones, who worked with Julia for more than forty years. With patience and a deep understanding of our subject, she was indispensable in helping to shape this book. Judith's assistant, Ken Schneider, was also a great help.
On August 13, 2004--just after our conversation in her garden, and only two days before her ninety-second birthday--Julia died of kidney failure in her sleep. Over the next year, I finished My Life in France, but every day wished I could call her up and ask her to clarify a story, or to share a bit of news, or just to talk. I miss her. But through her words in these pages, Julia's voice remains as lively, wise, and encouraging as ever. As she would say, "We had such fun!"
This is a book about some of the things I have loved most in life: my husband, Paul Child; la belle France; and the many pleasures of cooking and eating. It is also something new for me. Rather than a collection of recipes, I've put together a series of linked autobiographical stories, mostly focused on the years 1948 through 1954, when we lived in Paris and Marseille, and also a few of our later adventures in Provence. Those early years in France were among the best of my life. They marked a crucial period of transformation in which I found my true calling, experienced an awakening of the senses, and had such fun that I hardly stopped moving long enough to catch my breath.
Before I moved to France, my life had not prepared me for what I would discover there. I was raised in a comfortable, WASPy, uppermiddle- class family in sunny and non-intellectual Pasadena, California. My father, John McWilliams, was a conservative businessman who managed family real-estate holdings; my mother, Carolyn, whom we called Caro, was a very warm and social person. But, like most of her peers, she didn't spend much time in the kitchen. She occasionally sallied forth to whip up baking-powder biscuits, or a cheese dish, or finnan haddie, but she was not a cook. Nor was I.
As a girl I had zero interest in the stove. I've always had a healthy appetite, especially for the wonderful meat and the fresh produce of California, but I was never encouraged to cook and just didn't see the point in it. Our family had a series of hired cooks, and they'd produce heaping portions of typical American fare--fat roasted chicken with buttery mashed potatoes and creamed spinach; or well-marbled porterhouse steaks; or aged leg of lamb cooked medium gray--not pinky-red rare, as the French do--and always accompanied by brown gravy and green mint sauce. It was delicious but not refined food.
Paul, on the other hand, had been raised in Boston by a rather bohemian mother who had lived in Paris and was an excellent cook. He was a cultured man, ten years older than I was, and by the time we met, during World War II, he had already traveled the world. Paul was a natty dresser and spoke French beautifully, and he adored good food and wine. He knew about dishes like moules marinieres and boeuf bourguignon and canard a l'orange--things that seemed hopelessly exotic to my untrained ear and tongue. I was lucky to marry Paul. He was a great inspiration, his enthusiasm about wine and food helped to shape my tastes, and his encouragement saw me through discouraging moments. I would never have had my career without Paul Child.
We'd first met in Ceylon (Sri Lanka) during the Second World War and were married in September 1946. In preparation for living with a new husband on a limited government income, I decided I'd better learn how to cook. Before our wedding, I took a bride-to-be's cooking course from two Englishwomen in Los Angeles, who taught me to make things like pancakes. But the first meal I ever cooked for Paul was a bit more ambitious: brains simmered in red wine! I'm not quite sure why I picked that particular dish, other than that it sounded exotic and would be a fun way to impress my new husband. I skimmed over the recipe, and figured it wouldn't be too hard to make. But the results, alas, were messy to look at and not very good to eat. In fact, the dinner was a disaster. Paul laughed it off, and we scrounged up something else that night. But deep down I was annoyed with myself, and I grew more determined than ever to learn how to cook well.
In our first year as young marrieds, we lived in Georgetown, in Washington, D.C., in a small white clapboard house on Olive Avenue. While Paul worked on mounting exhibits for the State Department, I worked as a file clerk. In the evening, I would approach the stove armed with lofty intentions, the Joy of Cooking or Gourmet magazine tucked under my arm, and little kitchen sense. My meals were satisfactory, but they took hours of laborious effort to produce. I'd usually plop something on the table by 10:00 p.m., have a few bites, and collapse into bed. Paul was unfailingly patient. But years later he'd admit to an interviewer: "Her first attempts were not altogether successful. . . . I was brave because I wanted to marry Julia. I trust I did not betray my point of view." (He did not.)
In the winter of 1948, Paul was offered a job running the Visual Presentation Department for the United States Information Service (USIS) in Paris, and I tagged along. I had never been to Europe, but once we had settled in Paris, it was clear that, out of sheer luck, I had landed in a magical city--one that is still my favorite place on earth. Starting slowly, and then with a growing enthusiasm, I devoted myself to learning the language and the customs of my new home.
In Paris and later in Marseille, I was surrounded by some of the best food in the world, and I had an enthusiastic audience in my husband, so it seemed only logical that I should learn how to cook la cuisine bourgeoise--good, traditional French home cooking. It was a revelation. I simply fell in love with that glorious food and those marvelous chefs. The longer we stayed there, the deeper my commitment became.
In collaborating on this book, Alex Prud'homme and I have been fortunate indeed to have spent hours together telling stories, reminiscing, and thinking out loud. Memory is selective, and we have not attempted to be encyclopedic here, but have focused on some of the large and small moments that stuck with me for over fifty years.
Alex was born in 1961, the year that our first book, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, which I wrote with Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle, was published. How appropriate, then, that he and I should work together on this volume, which recounts the making of that book.
Our research has been aided immeasurably by a thick trove of family letters and datebooks kept from those days, along with Paul's photographs, sketches, poems, and Valentine's Day cards. Paul and his twin brother, Charlie Child, a painter who lived in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, wrote to each other every week or so. Paul took letter writing seriously: he'd set aside time for it, tried to document our day-to-day lives in a journalistic way, and usually wrote three to six pages a week in a beautiful flowing hand with a special fountain pen; often he included little sketches of places we'd visited, or photos (some of which we have used in these pages), or made mini-collages out of ticket stubs or newsprint. My letters were usually one or two pages, typed, and full of spelling mistakes, bad grammar, and exclamation points; I tended to focus on what I was cooking at the time, or the human dramas boiling around us. Written on thin pale-blue or white airmail paper, those hundreds of letters have survived the years in very good shape.
When I reread them now, the events those letters describe come rushing back to me with great immediacy: Paul noticing the brilliant sparkle of autumn light on the dark Seine, his daily battles with Washington bureaucrats, the smell of Montmartre at dusk, or the night we spied wild-haired Colette eating at that wonderful Old World restaurant Le Grand Vefour. In my letters, I enthuse over my first taste of a toothsome French duck roasted before an open fire, or the gossip I'd heard from the vegetable lady in the Rue de Bourgogne marketplace, or the latest mischief of our cat, Minette, or the failures and triumphs of our years of cookbook work. It is remarkable that our family had the foresight to save those letters--it's almost as if they knew Alex and I were going to sit down and write this book together one day.
We tip our hats in gratitude to the many people and institutions who have helped us with My Life in France, especially to my dear friend and lifelong editor at Knopf, Judith Jones, she of the gimlet eye and soft editorial touch. And to my beloved French "sisters," Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle, with whom I collaborated; to my sister, Dorothy, my enthusiastic niece, Phila Cousins, and her brother, Sam; to my invaluable assistant, Stephanie Hersh, and my attorney Bill Truslow. We also sing the praises of the Schlesinger Library at the Radcliffe Institute, which has graciously housed the bulk of my papers and Paul's photographs; the Museum of American History at the Smithsonian Institution, which has been kind enough to display artifacts from my career, including my entire kitchen from our house in Cambridge, Massachusetts; to WGBH, Boston's public television station; to my alma mater, Smith College; also to the many family members and friends who have aided us with memories, photos, good company, and fine meals as we pieced together this volume.
What fun and good fortune I had living in France with Paul, and again in writing about our experiences with Alex. I hope that this book is as much fun for you to read as it was for us to put together--bon appetit!
Excerpted from My Life in France by Julia Child with Alex Prud'homme Excerpted by permission.
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Meet the Author
Julia Child was born in Pasadena, California. She graduated from Smith College and worked for the OSS during World War II; afterward she lived in Paris, studied at the Cordon Bleu, and taught cooking with Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle, with whom she wrote the first volume of Mastering the Art of French Cooking (1961). In 1963, Boston’s WGBH launched The French Chef television series, which made Julia Child a national celebrity, earning her the Peabody Award in 1965 and an Emmy in 1966. Several public television shows and numerous cookbooks followed. She died in 2004.
Alex Prud'homme is Julia Child's great-nephew and the coauthor of her autobiography, My Life in France, which was adapted into the movie Julie & Julia. He is also the author of The Ripple Effect: The Fate of Freshwater in the Twenty-First Century, Hydrofracking: What Everyone Needs to Know, and The Cell Game, and he is the coauthor (with Michael Cherkasky) of Forewarned: Why the Government Is Failing to Protect Us--and What We Must Do to Protect Ourselves. Prud'homme's journalism has appeared in The New York Times, The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, Time, and People.
- Date of Birth:
- August 5, 1912
- Date of Death:
- August 12, 2004
- Place of Birth:
- Pasadena, California
- Place of Death:
- Santa Barbara, California
- B.A., Smith College, 1934; Le Cordon Bleu, 1950
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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This is a darling book! The sweetness and humility with which the amazing Julia describes her intense and fascinating way of going after the knowledge of French cooking contains lessons for everybody-and not just about cooking. The loving descriptions of the French sights, food and people had my soul yearning to see them first hand. I love this book. I'm buying copies of this for my food loving relatives. I plan to read this book again and again and wish my life could have half the joy and purpose with which Julia lived hers.
This beautifully written and completely charming memoir captures Julia's unique and genuine personality. This is one of the most delightful, happy books I've ever read! Julia admits complete ignorance at the beginning of her story, which attests to her most unusual gift for blending self-deprecation with charming self-confidence, and it is her natural curiosity that led her to collaborate with master chefs, true to her non-condescending and bubbly personality. There is a heavenly breathless spirit about this book that captures her earthiness and integrity and complete emotional fulfillment that is absolutely contagious. This is the most beautiful love story between kindred spirits. Her husband, Paul, who clearly shines throughout, worked for the US State Department, and it was he who encouraged Julia's exploration and interest in fine cuisine and his transfer to Paris began her legacy. What a wonderful marriage they must have had! They shared an extraordinary life of love and passion, not only for each other but for travel and the tastes to explore other cultures. Her colorful and bright and cheery account of her 1940's life-changing stay in France is one of the most cherished, enjoyable and interesting books I've had the pleasure of reading. I wanted to sing. This book is a great biography, as well as a historical account of a nation, as instruction of the refined culinary arts, and it works well as the travelogue that evokes the locations being described. My senses were titillated; I could smell the baking bread, lavender fields, leg of lamb cooking in sumptuous herbs; I could taste the magnificent, succulent dishes; I could see the lush countryside, the cobblestone roads and streets. The laughter, the wit, the union, their lives together had to be Heaven on earth. This is beautifully told, brimming with life, just as Julie Child lived during her years in France, and as compelling as a great novel that you know has a happy ending. Because the family kept all of Paul and Julia's letters home, primarily Paul's twin brother, Charlie and his wife, the detail is as fresh and fun as when it first happened. Julia oozed "joie de vivre", loved a new adventure and took life on with an incredibly open mind. She seized opportunity with great zest and had the confidence that she could achieve her goal. She was real and fun and didn't take things too seriously. One of Julia Child's most compelling attributes was her ability to share her knowledge without being intimidating. She gave you the sense that she was as accessible and as friendly as if she'd known you all her life, although infinitely more interesting. She truly cared about people, all people. With class, charm, enormous magnetism, and great determination this remarkable woman had turned French cooking into an American fascination. This is not a book about food; this is a book about life, full of passion and love and wisdom, beauty, art and creation. You can learn a lot from a life like that. This should be on everyone's reading list.
We all have a version of Julia Child in our head and it is likely one that stems from fondness. This book only makes you love her more. She has such a joie de vivre as she finds herself and creates a beautiful life with a wonderful husband and very charming and interesting family and friends. She's also honest about the things that may not have gone so well. But you always get the feeling that Ms. Child looked at all her experiences - good and bad - as part of a remarkable journey and that she loved the people who accompanied her along the way.
I am not a cook nor particularly interested in cooking. However, on the recommendation of a friend, several years ago I read the fine biography of Julia Child, "Appetite for Life," and was bowled over - by Child's fascinating story, her spirit, her enthusiasim - in short, I found her story of finding her passion in mid-life to be inspiring (and fun). Thus I had high hopes for "My Life in France" - and treasured every page. Since so much of the text relies on the letters of Paul and Julia Child, their personalities come through clearly (the first-person narration in Julia's point of view helps us remember her distinctive voice). I've recommended or given this book to at least five people in the last month. This is a fun read, but also a lesson in how to live a full life.
For Christmas I got my elderly mother both "My life in France" and "Julie Julia". Mom is an avid reader and loves to cook. I knew they would be a big hit. She read the book first and said it was illuminating about post war Paris and Julia Child's life. The only negative was that she thought it was much better than the film. Higly recommended as a gift for the over 80 crowd!
For those who grew up knowing Julia Child as the lady on PBS and the subject of many parodies, this book provides a much more well-rounded picture of the forces that created the unique individual that she was. It's a much more enjoyable read than the whiny "Julie and Julia," which contained only snippets of the life of Julia Child.
Julia Child tells the story of her adventures in France and her journey to be a chef and a cookbook writer. She captures the flavor of Paris in the postwar period from the perspective of an American willing to embrace another culture. She describes her cooking lessons and fabulous meals so clearly that you spend your reading time hungry. Her wonderful personality comes through every anecdote. You can almost hear that inimitable voice telling these stories. Her husband's nephew, Paul Prud'homme, did a wonderful job putting this together after her death. I regret that she was not there to do the tape version. I only wish this were a longer book.
You will devour this book in no time and hunger for more. You will learn in this book that Julia Child tested all her recipes 10 to 15 times in volume 2 of Mastering the Art of French Cooking. You will learn she spent 2 years working on the recipe for baquette and used 284lbs of AP flour. You will appreciate her kindness and humanity. This book will make you want to reread Mastering vol. 1 & 2 all over again and watch all her TV shows. It will also make you very sad as this is her last book.
Child would certainly say her life was a wonderful journey with her partner, Paul. This book tells us their story and reveals a more intimate side of both of them. Julia worked for what would become the CIA and Paul worked for another branch of the government. But is was the French food and cooking that was to become her mantra for wonderful cooking. This was one of my favorite memoirs to read! It's the story of finding yourself much later on in life and loving it!
I actually bought this book to accompany the audio version that I also purchased at Barnes & Noble. I was riveted and delighted for hours and wanted the book so the next time I listened to CDs I could get even further in.
Fun, easy to read, enlightening.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Julia Child had such an exciting life. Through her words and imagery you could feel her passion and zest for food and life. She was an adventurous and amazing woman.
Julie Child, a beloved icon of the American culinery scene, took me by surprise with this memoire. A gifted writer, as well as chef, she transports the reader to France half a century ago. I used "My Life in France" as dessert, savoring a few pages every night before going to sleep. Wish there was a sequel!
What a treasure Julia Child is to the culinary world. This absorbing account of an amazing life is a fun read with many surprises. Julia Child inspires so many adjectives: humble, quirky, dedicated to her craft, trail-blazing, hungry, appreciative of life, food, friendship...and so much more. I loved that her character and sophistication (she seems somewhat rough around the edges)were preserved by her co-author. Her phrases, like "cook bookery" are all her own and lend much to the narrative.
This was a wonderful account of a wonderful womans life. Julia Child embodies what every American should be in a a foreign country. She embraced and absolutely loved the French culture, and made it her own. Being Americans in a foreign country could be difficult, but the Child's "became French." Her experience of attempting to learn to French cook in France was encouraging. What a lovely couple too. What good friends, and absolutely endearing people. We can learn much from this story of a womans desire to become very good at something that wasn't popular at her time. I applaud her and her stick-to-it-ness. A wonderful read.
I enjoyed this book and hated when it came to an end. Her grand nephew did her justice and I am so glad I accidentally bought the version with her husband Paul's photographs. How many notes they must have kept! I loved that she could remember her first meal in France down to the wines. It was fun realizing that we may have shopped in the same shops on Rue Cler since their apartment in France was in the arrondissement (the 7th) that we have stayed in Paris. She was a late bloomer who married rather late for her generation to a very good match for her. She learned cooking because she enjoyed eating as simple and as complicated as that. I enjoyed the book enough to buy copies as Christmas gifts for my sisters.
I could hardly put it down. It was facinating to read about life in Europe post WWII. Julia wrote like she spoke. I have a deeper appreciation for the amount of research and refining she poured into her recipes. It was inspirational to see how God used every person and incident in her life to weave the gift in her that would be given to the world, and what it took to get a book published. Having lived in and also fallen in love with La Belle France also (back in the 70's), and sharing a love for food and recipes that are well thought out and written, I hated for it to end. Well done.
I couldn't put this book down, and as I neared the end of it I actually mourned her death for the first time. I love to cook, and enjoyed watching Julia on TV for years. It seems she was always around and would be forever. Her death seemed premature, even though she was past 90! After reading this book, I came to realize how much I liked her as a person and how sad the realization that I would never meet her. I rarely re-read a book, but this is one I shall visit again and again.
I grew up watching Julia Child. I enjoyed learning how she became the great chief she is. The book was well written and gave me a good in site of the type of person Julia was in her private life. Much better than Julie and Julia.
Outstanding biography about a woman who enjoyed life without apologizing for imperfections! A deeply personal look at Child's life and what made her who she was. A written master piece full of emotion, passion, and laughter.
As a very young child I remember watching Julia Child on public TV. I loved her, and I have had a life long respect for her as a chef and as a person. This book made me fall in love with France, Julia and her husband Paul. I think that the anecdotal quality of the writing is very fitting for this type of book. I think that everyone, even people who are not cooks will love it.
As a late in life foodie and wine lover, I only wish I had paid closer attention to Julia Child when she was alive. This book captures her personal spirit and her undying devotion to proper cooking. If there is one thing to get from this book, let it be that anyone can cook.
My Life in France gives the reader a glimpse into the extraordinary and elegant life of Julia Child. The memoir adds another dimension to Julia the TV persona and looks beyond the lighthearted image. Indeed, beyond Julia's fun spirit was an unbelievable level of meticulous research and above all, fearlessness and stamina. My Life in France is a delight to read for anyone who wishes to understand the origin of Julia's passion for French cooking and her ability to transform one's vision of and taste for fine food.
Julia's life story is not only amazing, it's also adventurous and romantic. Julia and his nephew worked together wonderfully to show how much fun she had living in France. Plus the pictures in this book will take you to a very nostalgic time, when Julia's career was blooming to the highest peak!
I simply am not a cook in the catagory of Julia Child. I was astounded reading about her tireless efforts to understand the science of the recipe and about her appreciation for the taste of food and wine. I adored reading about the relationship with her husband and France. It was a truly profound relationship. I hardily recommend this book because it is warm, inviting, and eye opening.