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I once had a set recipe for ratatouille that was reliable - full of tasty tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, garlic, onions, etc., chopped up and easily cooked together in a pot. I didn’t care or question why it was mostly a gray mushy goo. Then I tried Julia Child’s more precise, lengthy method, and found that the exact same ingredients could yield a superior dish of distinct textures and flavors, with each vegetable standing out. It’s the difference between doing it and doing it right.
This year, we celebrate the 105th anniversary of Julia Child’s birth. She meandered through her life with no particular purpose till middle age, when she was introduced to French cooking, zealously studied it and became its greatest English language evangelist. Child worked to find easily accessible stateside ingredients that would bring authentic French food within the reach of American cooks. She corresponded with and cross-examined friends and acquaintances on what worked and what didn’t, and experimented with every dish that came her way. She fought with publishers who wanted to dumb down her work. All the smart money said that American cooks were too lazy to learn the exacting methods of the French kitchen, but she proved them wrong when Mastering the Art of French Cooking became a huge success. Then she began televised cooking demonstrations that morphed into one series after another and pioneered American cooking shows. She was relaxed and confident, but always a stickler for doing it right.
You can celebrate her birth by reading about her life and mission to popularize French cooking in America in the book Appetite for Life by Noel Riley Fitch, or by diving in and trying some of her recipes yourself. You can also see her original show, The French Chef, preserved on DVD. You can even see a Hollywood version of her life in France, juxtapositioned with a blogger who spent a year cooking from her book (Julie and Julia).
Learn more about Julia Child ...
France is a Feast: The Photographic Journey of Paul and Julia Child by Alex Prud'homme & Katie Pratt
Through intimate and compelling photographs taken by her husband Paul Child, a gifted photographer, France is a Feast documents how Julia Child first discovered French cooking and the French way of life.
Paul and Julia moved to Paris in 1948 where he was cultural attaché for the US Information Service, and in this role he met Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Capa, Brassai, and other leading lights of the photography world. As Julia recalled: “Paris was wonderfully walkable, and it was a natural subject for Paul.” Their wanderings through the French capital and countryside, frequently photographed by Paul, would help lead to the classic Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and Julia’s brilliant and celebrated career in books and on television. Though Paul was an accomplished photographer (his work is in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art), his photographs remained out of the public eye until the publication of Julia’s memoir, My Life in France, in which several of his images were included. Now, with more than 200 of Paul’s photographs and personal stories recounted by his great-nephew Alex Prud’homme, France is a Feast not only captures this magical period in Paul and Julia’s lives, but also brings to light Paul Child’s own remarkable photographic achievement.
In Julia's Kitchen: Practical and Convivial Kitchen Design Inspired by Julia Child by Pamela Heyne and Jim Scherer
“Most architects I know don’t know anything about cooking, and their designs are not practical for cooks!” Julia Child wrote to architect Pamela Heyne. Indeed, our contemporary kitchens are showplaces with islands, hidden appliances, and cold stone surfaces. They resemble laboratories more than the heart of the home, and they are neither cook friendly nor family friendly. American culinary icon Julia Child embraced the significance of the family meal and was devoted to sharing delicious food with friends and family at the comfortable dining table in her kitchen, a place where conversation was as important as cuisine. Pamela Heyne and Julia’s long-time food photographer Jim Scherer collaborate to share Julia’s kitchen design and lifestyle concepts in this book, which examines the kitchens in her Cambridge, Massachusetts, home; at la Pitchoune, the Childs’ French vacation retreat; and in her television studio.
The authors reveal which materials, layouts, and equipment Julia preferred and why, providing practical advice interspersed with Julia’s inimitable, wry humor. They bring Julia’s wisdom into the contemporary kitchen, exploring current trends, including modern green sensibilities, and varied styles of kitchens, featuring architectural designs by Heyne, Jacques Pepin’s kitchen, a renovation Julia Child consulted on for PBS’s This Old House, several celebrity home kitchens, and more.
The French Chef in America: Julia Child's Second Act by Alex Prud'homme
The enchanting story of Julia Child's years as TV personality and beloved cookbook author--a sequel in spirit to My Life in France--by her great-nephew.
Julia Child is synonymous with French cooking, but her legacy runs much deeper. Now, her great-nephew and My Life in France coauthor vividly recounts the myriad ways in which she profoundly shaped how we eat today. He shows us Child in the aftermath of the publication of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, suddenly finding herself America's first lady of French food and under considerable pressure to embrace her new mantle. We see her dealing with difficult colleagues and the challenges of fame, ultimately using her newfound celebrity to create what would become a totally new type of food television. Every bit as entertaining, inspiring, and delectable as My Life in France, The French Chef in America uncovers Julia Child beyond her "French chef" persona and reveals her second act to have been as groundbreaking and adventurous as her first.
Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julia Child by Bob Spitz
It’s rare for someone to emerge in America who can change our attitudes, our beliefs, and our very culture. It’s even rarer when that someone is a middle-aged, six-foot three-inch woman whose first exposure to an unsuspecting public is cooking an omelet on a hot plate on a local TV station. And yet, that’s exactly what Julia Child did. The warble-voiced doyenne of television cookery became an iconic cult figure and joyous rule-breaker as she touched off the food revolution that has gripped America for more than fifty years.
At its heart, Dearie is a story about a woman’s search for her own unique expression. Julia Child was a directionless, gawky young woman who ran off halfway around the world to join a spy agency during World War II. She eventually settled in Paris, where she learned to cook and collaborated on the writing of what would become Mastering the Art of French Cooking, a book that changed the food culture of America. She was already fifty when The French Chef went on the air — at a time in our history when women weren’t making those leaps. Julia became the first educational TV star, virtually launching PBS as we know it today; her marriage to Paul Child formed a decades-long love story that was romantic, touching, and quite extraordinary.
A fearless, ambitious, supremely confident woman, Julia took on all the pretensions that embellished tony French cuisine and fricasseed them to a fare-thee-well, paving the way for everything that has happened since in American cooking, from TV dinners and Big Macs to sea urchin foam and the Food Channel. Julia Child’s story, however, is more than the tale of a talented woman and her sumptuous craft. It is also a saga of America’s coming of age and growing sophistication, from the Depression Era to the turbulent sixties and the excesses of the eighties to the greening of the American kitchen. Julia had an effect on and was equally affected by the baby boom, the sexual revolution, and the start of the women’s liberation movement.
Chronicles the iconic chef's lesser-known contributions as a member of the OSS during World War II and her efforts at the side of her husband to support an agent accused of being a spy, drawing on recently declassified documents to reveal how their wartime experiences shaped their characters, relationships and ambitions.
As Always, Julia: The Letters of Julia Child and Avis DeVoto : Food, Friendship, and the Making of a Masterpiece selected and edited by Joan Reardon
With her outsize personality, Julia Child is known around the world by her first name alone. But despite that familiarity, how much do were really know of the inner Julia?
Now more than 200 letters exchanged between Julia and Avis DeVoto, her friend and unofficial literary agent memorably introduced in the hit movie Julie & Julia, open the window on Julia’s deepest thoughts and feelings. This riveting correspondence, in print for the first time, chronicles the blossoming of a unique and lifelong friendship between the two women and the turbulent process of Julia’s creation of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, one of the most influential cookbooks ever written.
Frank, bawdy, funny, exuberant, and occasionally agonized, these letters show Julia, first as a new bride in Paris, then becoming increasingly worldly and adventuresome as she follows her diplomat husband in his postings to Nice, Germany, and Norway.
My Life in France by Julia Child with Alex Prud'Homme
The bestselling story of Julia’s years in France—and the basis for Julie & Julia, starring Meryl Streep and Amy Adams—in her own words.
Although she would later singlehandedly create a new approach to American cuisine with her cookbook Mastering the Art of French Cooking and her television show The French Chef, Julia Child was not always a master chef. Indeed, when she first arrived in France in 1948 with her husband, Paul, who was to work for the USIS (United States Information Service), 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 with her newfound passion for cooking and teaching. Julia’s unforgettable story—struggles with the head of the Cordon Bleu, rejections from publishers to whom she sent her now-famous cookbook, a wonderful, nearly fifty-year long marriage that took the Childs across the globe—unfolds with the spirit so key to Julia’s success as a chef and a writer, brilliantly capturing one of America’s most endearing personalities.
Bon Appetit! : The Delicious Life of Julia Child by Jessie Hartland
In a starred review, Publishers Weekly raves, "Chef and TV personality Julia Child likely would have delighted in and hooted over this wide-ranging picture-book biography.... Readers young and old will devour this fete pour les yeux."
Follow Julia Child—chef, author, and television personality—from her childhood in Pasadena, California, to her life as a spy in WWII, to the cooking classes she took in Paris, to the publication of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, to the funny moments of being a chef on TV. This is a comprehensive and enchanting picture book biography, told in many panels and jam-packed with lively, humorous, and child-friendly details. Young chefs and Julia Child fans will exclaim, "ooooh la la," about this book, which is as energetic and eccentric as the chef herself.
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Julie and Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen by Julie Powell
The author recounts how she escaped the doldrums of an unpromising career by mastering every recipe in Julia Child's 1961 classic, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, a year-long endeavor that transformed her life.
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Featured Image Credits: The featured image collage includes a photo of Julia Child (photo by Lynn Gilbert, Wikimedia Commons) and Julia Child's Kitchen on display at the National Museum of American History (photo by RadioFan at English Wikipedia).