Categories: Slaves Over the Stove
Tags: Cookbooks, French cooking, julia child, julie & julia, louisette berholle, mastering the art of french cooking, meryl streep, nora ephron, simone beck, the french chef
When I began writing Something We Dreamed, I was also starting a SUNY research project. In this ninth post, I continue to share what I discovered. (Some of this material was originally posted on August 4th, 2009.)
“Find something you’re passionate about and keep tremendously interested in it” — Julia Child
THE BELOVED FRENCH CHEF:
IN HIS BOOK A History of Cooks and Cooking, author Michael Symons notes that “Mass Foodism” (also known as being a “foodie”) has been on the rise for years — as can be observed in the booming gourmet food/cookware industry as well as soaring sales of cookbooks. Part of this rise, Symons adds, is due to television bringing “foodism to the masses” via charismatic instructors like Julia Child.
Julia Child made what was once intimidating obtainable,* and became an international icon after first appearing (in 1963) as “The French Chef” on Public Television. Child’s greatest contribution to the art of cookery, however, is most certainly Volume One of Mastering the Art of French Cooking (published in 1961).
Child (along with her colleagues Simone Beck and Louisette Berholle) spent a decade researching and writing Volume One — the “style and clarity” of which, according to Noel Riley Fitch (author of Appetite for Life: The Biography of Julia Child), makes it “a genuine masterpiece in culinary history.”
In 1950, Child, Beck and Berholle started their work with a goal to create a book novice American cooks could understand, yet would still be “interesting for the practiced cook.” Ten years later, Knopf’s Judith Jones wrote that the soon-to-be-published book
“will do for French cooking here in America what Rombauer’s The Joy of Cooking did for standard [American] cooking.”
Directed by Nora Ephron, “Julie & Julia” opened to generally good reviews and earned millions at the box office. The film also spiked sales of both My Life in France (released by her grandnephew, Alex Prud’homme, after Child’s death) and Mastering the Art of French Cooking (now one of the top selling cookbooks of all time).
“Julie & Julia” is the first of what might well become many motion pictures based on Child’s fascinating life encompassing great loves, world-wide travels, epic feasts — and perhaps even a stint as a WWII spy. Standing over six-feet-tall, Julia Child’s dynamic physical presence and positive personality drove her ever-increasing popularity as a TV performer and delivered her passion for cooking to an international audience.
Writer Christopher Lydon, quoted in Fitch’s biography, states that:
Even after her death (in 2004 at the age of 91), the cult of Julia Child is still hungry for more: DVD collections are available for purchase, her home kitchen has been moved into the Smithsonian Museum, new books are inspired by her life, bumper stickers read “What Would Julia Do?,” and the truly obsessed can buy devotional candles.
If you haven’t yet had your fill of all things related to ‘the original spice girl,’ check out Flickr’s Julia Child group (lovingly administered by the author of this blog.)
NEXT UP: Following in Julia’s Footsteps (TV/Celebrity Chefs)
Want to learn more? Check out:
- Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. (Knopf)
- Noel Riley Fitch’s Appetite for life: the biography of Julia Child. (New York: Doubleday.)
- Laura Shapiro’s Julia Child: A Life. (New York: Penguin Lives.)
- Michael Symons’ A history of cooks and cooking. (Urbana: University of Illinois Press.)
*In sharp contrast to Julia’s style, an even more commercially successful TV food instructor/cookbook author/icon — Martha Stewart — leaves most of her audience with an inferiority complex. Stewart’s tables are set with expensive pieces and her personal appearance (that of a former fashion model) is difficult for most buyers to relate to. It may have been Stewart’s time in jail (after she was convicted for lying about a stock sale) that saved Stewart’s career. With the public able to view her personal suffering, has Martha Stewart become more understandable (and believable) to the average consumer?