How she mastered the Art of French Cooking

When I grew up there was always a weighty tome, a two volume cookbook that stood in the bottom cupboard in the service room among other cookbooks and foodie magazines. It was always consulted on special occasions, but more often than not it was put away again because of the vast, expansive, almost encyclopaedic length of the recipes. But when there was time and effort put in and one of the recipes were used, we could be sure of the astounding result of the meal that awaited us. Those of you who have any knowledge of French cooking, and cookbooks on French cuisine bourgeois in particular, know exactly what I’m talking about by now. And, more importantly, whom I talk about. This is a tribute to the marvellous Julia Child and her little gem of a book My life in France.

I guess I really should write about Julia Child’s cookbooks, and in particular Mastering the Art of French Cooking. However, so much needs to go into a post like that that I simply don’t have the time right now. Maybe another day, but not today. If you’re a serious foodie I’m sure you know enough on the subject anyway.

My life in France is a sweet little gem of a book co-written with her husband Paul’s nephew Alex Prud’homme in 2004/2005. It was finished in the year after her death with the help of all the letters she and Paul had written from the 1940s through to his death in the early 1990s, and hours of taped and written down conversations between Alex Prud’homme and Julia in her house in Montecito, California. What’s so wonderful about the book is the honesty to life and the serious love of food and France she manages to convey between the carefully handled lines written by Alex Prud’homme. If you saw the movie Julie & Julia earlier this year you will recognise a lot of the content since this is the book that is the background to the biographical parts of the film where Meryl Streep plays Julia Child. If you haven’t seen it, it’s worth watching the movie for her unsurpassed characterisation alone.

Something else that is striking about the book is that it isn’t just on Julia Child and her way to greatness. It is more concerned with telling the story about how she and her husband Paul enjoyed, discovered and loved in their adopted new home country, how they struggled finding decent places to live in Paris and around France just after the Second World War. How it was damp, cold, hard to find anywhere that was insulated enough, had working gas heaters, running water inside etc. Paul Child’s photos describe this beautifully. He was a truly talented artist with an avid interest in photography. Not just pictures of Julia and her cookery-bookery (as she called it) life is included, there are also a fair amount of beautiful pictures from Paris, Marseille and the trips they did together around La Belle France. One is also taken on the journey of the struggles she and her colleagues Simone Beck (affectionately called Simca after a cheap, tiny and not very reliable Renault car she drove) and Louisette Bertholle had with getting their masterpiece of a cookbook published at all. Numerous publishers said no and others wanted it to be shortened and abbreviated into virtual nothingness. Luckily for us today they were proud and said no to silly suggestions like that and waited until they found someone who wanted to publish it in its entirety.  If they hadn’t carried on with their quest to educate the American housewife in cooking proper food, we would have lost an all-important link to the greatest food tradition in Europe, if not in the World.

The courses Julia Child took at Le Cordon Bleu in the 1950s’ might not haven been worth much, but the chefs she met there, and who recognised her enthusiasm and took her under their culinary wings, was the last living links to the great tradition of the French cuisine bourgeois. The chapters where she describes how chef Max Bugnard takes her to his favourite butchers, fish mongers and vegetable stalls in Les Halles and teaches her to recognise this, that and the other are just amazingly inspiring! They also make me furious that I will never be able to visit Les Halles, this mysterious, today unreachable food Mecca with its weird personalities and fascinating stall holders. And most importantly, what wouldn’t I give to have had the opportunity to taste the famous soupe a l’oignon first hand.

Maybe, though, this is part of the mystery and beauty that surrounds the French cuisine and its reputation that makes it so alluring. The lost connection with the chefs and the now partly lost tradition of manual cooking and how to recognize good produce thanks to the enormous supermarkets that have turned the village markets into a novelty too expensive to be frequented by anyone else than tourists. Would it be better to be back to how it was? Probably not. I’m a romantic born and bred, but even I can see the advantages of a society that have advanced from privies, no running water inside and rats in the kitchen. Still, if you want a touch of La Vieille France, Julia Child’s book is a must. If you’re a serious French foodie, you can’t live without having read it.

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89 Comments

Filed under Food and Drink, France, Uncategorized, Wine

89 responses to “How she mastered the Art of French Cooking

  1. Love this post. I’m fascinated by people who cook with a passion, and who see the art of cooking at synomenous with the art of life. Julia Child was right up there. I, on the other hand, follow recipes. Sigh.

  2. Here’s my question…if I were to read this book would it make me hungry? Because, well, that is what you would call unhealthy reading…:-)

    http://www.runtobefit.wordpress.com

  3. http://abcnews.go.com/video/playerIndex?id=8109928

    I smile every time Julia is appreciated
    for her niche in…. life.

  4. I’m not a foodie but I think I could be.

    The publisher of this book should pay you an advertising fee. Now I want it as a companion to Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Oh, for fresh food sold at a market!

    Thank you for this post! It renews my old daydream about going to Paris and falling in love with food!

  5. I watch Julie & Julia. I like how you reminds me of how much i need to ‘…enjoy, discover and love’ things i’m doing now. Inspiration and fantastic! Glad i stop by here.

  6. This was wonderful!! I was given Mastering the Art of French Cooking for my birthday this past March and I love it. I have made quite a few dishes, true they definitely were the easier dishes in the book.

    I will look for the book you mention and devour it. Thank you!

    • Thank you, and keep us posted on the progress on the slightly trickier recipes 🙂 They’re not that hard with a bit of planning 😉 Just like Julia recommends, I guess!

  7. Schokolate-Girl

    I must admit I’m a bit emotioned right now, I can perfectly understand what you mean, there’s a book in my granny’s house, and happens always the same you just wrote about.
    After watching the movie “Julie and Julia”, I got really interested in the story, and today, few hours back, I wrote on my own blog about the movie, of course inserted in another context.
    Keep on this way.

  8. It’s on my list! I loved the movie – it inspired me to start blogging – I was already cooking.

  9. Hey, your post reminded me of the movie Julie and Julia! I wish you all the very best if you intend to try the recipes 🙂

  10. I really felt that the best part of Julie and Julia was the Julia part and that the rest of the movie didn’t need to be made at all — no offense to the woman who blogged her way to having a movie made about her life.

    So, I bought the book you’re talking about in this post about a year and a half ago — and I still haven’t read it! Thank you for reminding me about it!

    Crystal
    http://www.crystalspins.com

  11. Love your post, and love Julia. Congrats on being Freshly Pressed!
    http://www.thepeoplestuff.com

  12. I loved the book Julie and Julia and am, of course, totally hooked on the movie based upon it. We have a later Julia cookbook that we use sometimes called The Way to Cook, but I am itching to snatch the original from my Mom’s pantry. I was thinking about reading this book and now you have pushed me over the edge…Christmas project between graduate classes! Thanks for the encouragement.

    • Good luck and enjoy the read over the holiday! And I agree, ones life is a little bit more empty without a copy of How to Master the Art of French Cooking at hand 🙂 Talk to your mom asap!

  13. I loved the movie, that I know. I might have to look into the book, however. Great post!

  14. emmacbowler

    Brilliant. It’s on my Christmas wishlist pronto. Only just started blogging about cooking and this sort of post will keep me going! Ahh the l’art de vivre..

  15. the book’s publisher should pay you for this post!;))
    i loved the movie about J.Child and even got inspired to try some recipes from it.
    now you’ve made me want to have the book!

  16. Sunflowerdiva

    Haven’t yet seen the movie, yet I absolutely love Julia Child. This looks like a very good book, so thanks for telling us all about it!

  17. I love this post, my grandpa was a great cheff and since i was a little girl i knew that with the food you can express feelings. Cooking is an art and eating is one of the pleasures, i love it. now i´m reading the book “eat-pray-love” written by elizabeth gilberth, in the chapter about Italy tells the fabulous feelings that the food express and the amazing flavors of the italian food.
    i can´t see the “julia and Julie movie” but afther read your post suddenly i will.

  18. What a lovely soupçon; I thoroughly enjoyedreading this piece. Les Halles was for me a gastronomic treat; so much to see and absorb that I almost suffered whip lash trying to take it all in and not miss out on any single thing. It deserved several visits. I f I am correct then I am sad to report that Les Halles no longer exists, some other giant market in a different location has replaced it.
    Congratulations on being ‘freshly pressed’. It is deserved.
    Take care,

    • Thank you for sharing you memories from this culinary paradise! Les Halles has been lost for over thirty years and it looks nothing like it used to today 😦 That makes it even greater to hear the stories about it from the lucky ones who went there!

  19. As a kid, my mother would watch Julia on PBS. Later, I would watch her cook with Jacques Pepin. Julia is such a part of my life and an inspiration in the kitchen. Yet, I do not own one single book. I think you just encouraged me to own that book.

  20. I love this post!
    I love cooking as much as i looove to eat! 🙂 i was thinking about learning another cooking style other than the carribean cuisine(im from Haiti!) i will definitely look into the french cuisine!
    merci! 😀

    • De rien, et merci beaucoup! Go for the French cuisine and keep me posted on the progress 🙂 Julia’s How to Master the Art of French Cooking is a brilliant starting point and inspiration. Good luck!

  21. Thank you for reminding me that I want to buy this book. I have all of Julia’s cookbooks and used or adapted many of her recipes when I had a cooking school. I was thrilled when I got to shake her hand and watch her culinary wizardry from a front row. I wrote about this remarkable woman on my blog after I watched the movie “Julie and Julia”…a lovely walk down memory lane.
    Congratulations on being on Freshly Pressed today.

  22. Bravo! What a lovely review! I read Julia’s (and Alex’s) book several years ago and found it utterly enchanting. When I saw the Julie/Julia movie last year, I immediately recognized many scenes from the book, and was moved to tears by the film’s portrayal of the relationship between Julia and Paul. (I’m afraid I agree with Chrystal above — I would rather the entire movie had been about Julia.) In a certain, very deep sense, the book is itself a long and intricate love letter. (And yes, it will both make you hungry and inspire you to cook something.)

    Congratulations on being Freshly Pressed, and thank you for reminding me of the many things I loved about this book.

    • Thank you! Yes, the relationship between Julia and Paul seems to have been somthing very special. It is truly wonderful to see how their love to eachother seems to have touched everything they did in life. Let’s hope there will be a movie on Julia soon, wouldn’t that be great 🙂

  23. ………. das Buch muss ich haben!

  24. theasycooking

    I love those all books!! I recently purchased Jules Gouffé’s book: “le livre de cuisine”.
    Really old style french cooking and very impressing.

    http://www.theasycooking.wordpress.com/

  25. Optimisme

    It was a pleasant surprise to read your post. I watched the movie “Julie and Julia” a few months ago & fell in love with it. I liked Julia Child’s attitude towards life, her passion towards cooking & her relationship with her husband. Also, I was motivated by Julie Powell’s resolution. Hope to read Julia’s book soon 🙂

  26. This one of the books on my list to purchase. Thanks for the nice article. I enjoyed it very much.

  27. “Numerous publishers said no and others wanted it to be shortened and abbreviated into virtual nothingness. Luckily for us today they were proud and said no to silly suggestions like that and waited until they found someone who wanted to publish it in its entirety.” That one line is for all artists like Julia Childs as well to resonate with as it did me. Great review… I am going to buy the book because of your awesome review and wonderfilled comments by all today. Congrats!

    • Thank you! Yes, she really was a great inspiration to all artists, regardless of their field, and we all just have to keep working and enjoy what we’re doing best: be creative 🙂

  28. Nice post. I watched the movie, and it became one of my favourites. I think I’d find that book very interesting.

  29. Julia was the epitome of a moving success: Find yourself living in a new town, dive into the culture, develop a new passion, find your way to a whole new life. Voila!

    • She was such an inspiration! I also find it great to remember that she was in her mid forties when it all started to happen to her, as opposed to today when your a failure if you haven’t achieved it all by the time you hit thirty. An inspiration indeed!

  30. Lovely, heartfelt post. Brought back memories of the first time I ever ate soupe a l’ognion in 1966 at the Au Chien qui Fume in Les Halles just before sunrise. There were bloodied butchers with their long soiled white aprons also eating soup. My friend and I, at nineteen years of age were completely agog taking in the taste sight, the smell of cigarettes, the wafting scent of fish from outside stalls, the steel grey wet cobbles shining by the light of restaurant windows.
    Never had onion soup like that since! G

    • Thank you for sharing this! I can’t stress enough how I envy all of you who had the opportunity to visit Les Halles before it was demolished. Luckily there are still some good food haunts left in Paris 🙂

  31. larly

    The French cuisine

    I have all been taking a romantic weekend break to the French Castle Château Hattonchâtel and had a delicious and romantic dinner with the person I love an cherish.

    You brought back nice memories from your weekend stay or holiday. At home you tried to make the same dinner again ….but you failed miserable. You didn’t use the same ingredients and spices.
    But what is more important … you were not influences by the same ambiance and atmosphere and that is also a very important part of the Art of French Cooking.

    The castle where I enjoyed the memorable gourmet dinner can never be replaces by home cooking, unfortunately!
    The only salvation I have is to repeat the exciting weekend trip to France I had not so long ago with my spouse.

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  34. ryoko861

    My mom loved Julia Child and I have to credit my love of “trying” to cook to her as well. Though I have to admit that the french recipes are difficult to make. But Julia herself was a wonderful, warm and charismatic person! She always seemed to feel comfortable talking to everyone. She is missed.

  35. I love cooking! Very theraputic after a stressful day at work. There’s nothing better than spending an hour or so creating something fun to share with the family!
    Great post and this book is certainly on my christmas want list!

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  37. There’s something so romantic about French cuisine. . .thanks for sharing!

    http://pamanner.wordpress.com/

  38. This is a great post, not talking only of Julia Child, but her great cooking heritage she left with her books. It’s just great. Hopefully I’m gonna read those books sometime but I’ve heard that they’re great and full of tasty recipes. So, it’s a great post.

  39. This is a great post, not talking only of Julia Child, but her great cooking heritage she left with her books. It’s just great. Hopefully I’m gonna read those books sometime but I’ve heard that they’re great and full of tasty recipes. So, it’s a great post. Congrats.

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  41. Great post 🙂 Congrats on being Freshly Pressed – it’s so fun! You’ll gain so many followers and it just feels goooood. Anyhow, Julia Child totally inspires me and I love cooking her food. Her book is currently on my bedside table and I read snippets of it every once in a while. I wrote a post on her a while back: http://bymyink.wordpress.com/2010/08/03/reasons-i-owe-my-happiness-to-the-essence-of-julia-child/

  42. Some books are to be experienced by our senses and clearly from your description this is one of them.

    I loved the way Meryl Streep and Stan Tuzzi captured Julia and Paul’s joie de vivre, the simplicity and child like delight in enjoying themselves, where they were living and everything that goes into making food with love.

    While there is no doubt that Julia Child was a master of French cuisine, the greatest legacy she left to us is her love and willingness to explore with childlike curiosity and hunger the world around her.

    Seems you might have caught her bug?

    Congratulations on your success here – may it continue.

  43. Thank you for this post. I just recently saw Julie and Julia was very intrigued and inspired by the story. I became a barista two years ago and my taste buds have peaked since then. My passion for coffee is equivalent to Julia’s passion for french cooking and I have studied the art and craft of brewing coffee with so much enthusiasm (I’m sure it annoys my family to no end!). Since beginning my coffee education, I have also developed a keen taste for wine and various foods, enjoying picking out the subtle fruity and spicy notes in my drinks and the blending of flavors in my cooking (I also began cooking at home a lot more and considered briefly going to culinary school myself!) This book is now on my list, and I may just make a journey to the book store once I get paid tomorrow!

  44. That seems like such a nice cookbook,
    I love French food, I really have to have it!

  45. I remember watching her PBS show with my mom & sister back in the 1970s as a little kid. What I took away from the adults in the room watching the program was that her ingredient choices were too expensive (try buying rack of lamb in a small Texas town at a reasonable price) or the ingredients were inaccessible (small Texas towns don’t get saffron in the grocery stores until much later — in part because of people trying to follow Julia’s recipes).

    Even with these negative reactions from certain sectors Julia’s cooking pushed the American gastrointestinal experience in the right direction.

  46. I love your post!, Food is not just about food taste, looks, smell but also the history behind it and knowing that story while enjoying that meal would be a really different experience.

    Raymund
    http://angsarap.wordpress.com

  47. Great post on Julia Child. Seems like I should rent Julie & Julia. It’s about time.

  48. I was recently had my friends stage an intervention so that I could watch Julie and Julia. Absolutely inspiring movie, made me very curious about Julia Childs. You’re just one more influence for me to take the plunge and attempt her food!

  49. Thnx for the post I was inspired by the movie, and I never thought of getting the book but I think I should(i wonder if it is available in dubai!!)

  50. It amazes me that until the film came out Julia Child was quite unknown on this side of the pond. Between the movie and your insights I really need to track down a copy of that book!

    http://stovies.wordpress.com/

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