“Ooh, those lovely roasted, buttery French chickens, they were so good and chickeny!” Anyone who remembers the iconic, deceased Julia Child (1912–2004)—or perhaps Dan Aykroyd’s affectionate imitation of her—will recognize the singular voice.
It’s employed in this memoir to full advantage, and to the reader’s great pleasure. As relative and writer Prud’homme recalls, at the end of her long life, Child was busily recording her years as a budding chef. In 1948, newly wed, she moved to Paris with her diplomat husband Paul, whom she had met while on wartime duty for the OSS (now there would be a story) in Asia. The first meal she cooked for him, she recalls, was “a disaster,” and she arrived in France “a six-foot-two-inch, thirty-six-year-old, rather loud and unserious Californian,” but in every aspect of her life, she was determined to do better. With self-effacing humor, Child recalls her efforts at learning French, finding an apartment and coping with life in a different culture. No matter how embarrassing or baffling the course of her learning curve, Child’s francophilia and zest for life shine through, and nowhere more than in the pages devoted to her sentimental education at the Cordon Bleu, the world-renowned culinary institute, in whose cramped basement she “learned how to glaze carrots and onions at the same time as roasting a pigeon, and how to use the concentrated vegetable juices to fortify the pigeon flavor, and vice versa,” among other talents. Matching her growing skills with a formidable armada of kitchen gadgets that will make cookery-loving readers swoon, she then recounts the difficult conception and extremely difficult birth of her book Mastering the Art of French Cooking, which brought her fame.
Charming, idiosyncratic and much fun—just like its author, who is very much alive in these pages. A blessing for lovers of France, food and fine writing.