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The Story Behind Julia Child’s French Cookbook

Her husband in a letter wrote, “Lipstick on my belly button and music in the air—thaat’s Paris…What a lovely city…What white poodles and white chimneys, what charming waiters…and gardens and bridges and streets! How fascinating the crowds before one’s café table, how quaint and charming and hidden the little courtyards…Those garlic-filled belches! Those mascara’d eyelashes! Those electric switches and toilet chains that never work! Hola! Dites donc! Bouillabaisse! Au revoir!”

In a simple twist of fate, Julia and Paul were brought to Paris where he served as a liaison between the French and American art worlds. He introduced Julia to all things French from the winding countryside to the experience of dining on elaborate meals served in courses and paired with wine. In her book My Life in France, Julia recounts her ascent in the kitchen which began with her love of French food.

In scouring the Paris markets for inspiration, she would interact with vendors collecting their cooking advice along with the ingredients. When she began to lack direction she poured her energy into courses at Le Cordon Bleu, a prestigious French cooking school with uppity management. She escaped being pigeon holed with the wives playing house and enrolled in professional courses that gave her the skills to begin methodical experiments with sauces and meats.

As she became acquainted with the foodie community she met the women with which she would commence writing her cookbook. Together Simone Beck, Louisette Bertholle and she founded their own Ecole des Trois Gourmandes, School of the Three Gourmandes, and began giving lessons. A gourmand is someone who loves food and doesn’t shy away from dessert, someone who is indulgent of which I am often accused of being. Julia fit the bill. In their test kitchen they began to share the technical skills of French cuisine minus the aloofness of the Cordon Bleu.

Publishing Mastering the Art of French Cooking didn’t come easy. Julia spent years going back and forth between the kitchen and the typewriter to make sure the recipes were failsafe and the end result was an encyclopedic volume that publishers feared would be too overbearing for the modern housewife. Julia stood her ground when it was suggested she whittle it down to petit proportions she refused. Eventually published to her liking, the cookbook was well received and led to her television cooking series and several other recipe books.

I found that when reading on a full stomach I could avoid being too distracted by my stomach, but I would have liked to have seen a few of the recipes Julia spends so much time perfecting included in the book. Emulating her, spending time in the kitchen cooking beef bourguignon or bouillabaisse, a rich fish soup served in the South, is a natural conclusion to reading about it, so a copy of her cookbook would be a nice companion to My Life in France.



The film adaptation, Julie and Julia, intertwines her story with young Julie Powell who aspires to cook all the recipes in Mastering the Art of French Cooking and blogs about her ups and downs along the way. It presents a pretty picture of France and remains true to the book.

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