I started this audio book, 20 CDs clocking in at a whopping 26 hours, on September 8th! It is a bit of a bloated mess at times, trust me I could have trimmed some fat, but overall it is a well researched biography of a woman (who died just short of her 92nd birthday) who achieved great things and meant a lot of millions of people.
Julia Child was born in Pasadena, CA with a silver spoon in her mouth. She had a mostly idyllic childhood before going to Smith College where she enjoy the social aspects of the school but was a bit aimless in her educational endeavors. After college she had a few uninspiring jobs before joining the service during WW2; she joined the OSS as a typist eventually finding herself stationed in Kandy (East Asia). It was there that she met Paul Child and struck up a friendship that, several years later, blossomed into romance. Julia had never been a foodie but Paul had a sophisticated palate and opened up a whole new world to Julia. The pair got married in 1946 and Paul joined the United States Foreign Service which, in 1948, sent him and his bride to Paris. That posting changed their lives, and the lives of millions of Americans, forever.
In Paris Julia wanted to find something fulfilling to fill her days, she was nearing her forties and floundering, so she began studying at Le Cordon Bleu. She took to cooking haute cuisine immediately, although she butted heads with the school’s director. She also joined the women’s cooking club, Le Cercle des Gourmettes, where she met Simca and began the most important chapter of her life.
Simca and her friend Louisette were writing a cookbook aiming to teach Americans how to cook classic French recipes. They recruited Julia to give the book more appeal to an American audience; the trio also formed a cooking school. For the next decade the trio (although, really just Simca and Julia) endlessly researched and tested recipes for what would become Mastering the Art of French Cooking. After a false start with one publisher the book found a home at Knopf publishing where it became a best seller.
After bouncing around Europe for years the Childs made their way back to the United States, settling in Cambridge, where Paul took an early retirement and Julia began her career in earnest. Julia went on WGBH’s book review show to promote Mastering and did a omelette demonstration on a hot plate which was revolutionary. This lead to The French Chef which was immediately successful and gave a boost to book sales. For the next several decades Julia was on and off TV, with varying levels of success, and writing books to tie in (and sell!) with each show.
Julia became an American icon and stayed in the public eye, in part because she was beloved but also because she aimed to stay in the public eye. She hated whenever she wasn’t on TV.
Overall, if you’re a fan of Julia Child, this is an excellent biography because it doesn’t skip over any details. Any. Details.
This book could have easily been trimmed to a more manageable size, and been a snappier read, if Spitz hadn’t delivered a mini biography for everyone Julia and Paul encountered in their lives. Not just family members but there were full career run downs for all the chefs Julia worked with in her decades long career. Spitz even gave a history of how the city of Pasadena was developed in the late nineteenth century!!!