My Life in France
In 1948 Paul Child was assigned by the diplomatic corps to Paris. He and his wife Julia cross the Atlantic to live in France. Julia uses My Life in France to tell their memoirs of their time there. While this is the story of her learning to become a French chef, cookbook writer, and television star, it is still their memoir, not just hers. Paul and Julia Child were a close couple who supported each other in all their different hobbies and jobs.
This is a lively narration. Julia Child's verve, love of life, and passion for cooking fill this book with the Child family's next 40+ years. Paul had lived in France before the war and was able to get started in his new position quickly. Julia is a new housewife in a city the she doesn't know. Nor does she know the language. Her curiosity quickly gets her out in the neighborhoods.
Paul took her to her first French restaurant when they leave their ship and drive to Paris. That started her love of French cooking. After a few weeks she enrolls in Le Cordon Bleu school. The director tries to get her to take the basic housewives class. But that's too pedantic for Julia. She insists on joining the new chef's class that lasts longer and goes into depth on preparation and food shopping.
The Childs make friends in Paris, both American and French. Soon Julia is preparing meals for friends, testing her newly acquired skills. Paul continues with his work, but often feels he isn't making much difference. He also supports Julia in her new interest. In time the cooking turns into a vocation for her. Eventually she joins two other women in writing a French cookbook for the American audience.
If you've seen the movie Julie and Julia, you'll know this part of the story. But Julia Child takes her memoirs further. From Paris they are transferred to Marseilles. Next they go to Bonn, Germany. Their last posting is in Norway before Paul returns to Washington DC, then retires in the early 1960's. By the time they arrive back in the United States, Mastering the Art of French Cooking has become a steady seller. As Paul retires, Julia Child becomes a celebrity, eventually leading to her PBS cooking show.
My Life in France is a joy to read, especially the first 3/4. It feels like listening to a friend as Julia Child recounts her life in Paris as she struggles to learn how to cook. Before this time she hadn't learned how to cook at all. Now she takes on the demands of well done French cooking. In the late 40's and early 50's there weren't many of the modern conveniences we now have. For example, she had to beat her egg whites with a whisk to frothiness - electric mixers weren't available for another ten years or more.
She doesn't talk so much about the mechanics of how to prepare food but instead what it took her to learn. This also is the memoir of her love story with Paul. They didn't meet and marry until they were older. They each seem to have found their other half. After they are transferred to Bonn, Julia skates briefly over the next few years, only giving basics of their lives in Germany and Norway.
The story goes deeper when she talks about all the work involved in publishing the first cookbook. She also discusses how she started her television cooking show. A couple other famous chefs had tried shows on early television, but they hadn't worked out. With Paul's help, she changes the way the cooking is presented, making it easier for the audience to follow what she does as she works on the food.
She touches on the problems in their lives, but Paul and Julia Child were a solid couple. It shows in her recounting of their lives. Julia Child created a tag line for her cooking show, bon appetite! That applies to her story of her life, too.
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