Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2012-07-09
- Reviewer: Staff
On November 3, 1948, a lunch in a Paris restaurant of sole meunière, the sole so very fresh with its delicate texture and cooked like an omelet in nothing but a bath of clarified butter, changed Julia Child’s life. In that moment, Child (1912–2004) recognized and embraced food as her calling, setting out initially to learn the finer points of cooking, and French cooking in particular. In this affectionate and entertaining tribute to the witty, down-to-earth, bumptious, and passionate host of The French Chef, Spitz (The Beatles) exhaustively chronicles Child’s life and career from her childhood in California through her social butterfly flitting at Smith and her work for a Pasadena department store to her stint in government service, her marriage to Paul Child, and her rise to become America’s food darling with the publication of Mastering the Art of French Cooking and her many television shows. In spite of her miserable failures in her early attempts to prepare food for her husband, a determined Child enrolled in courses at the renowned French cooking school, Le Cordon Bleu, where she mastered everything from sauces to soufflés. Spitz reminds us that Child had always possessed a tremendous amount of excess energy with no outlet for expressing it. With the publication of her cookbook and the subsequent television shows, she discovered the place where she could use her cooking skills, her force of personality, and her abundant charm. Released to coincide with Child’s centenary, Spitz’s delightful biography succeeds in being as big as its subject. Agent: Sloan Harris, ICM. (Aug.)
A taste for the good life
In his acclaimed biography, The Beatles, Bob Spitz delivered an intimate and enduring portrait of four rock stars who changed the course of popular culture. Now, timed to coincide with Julia Child’s 100th birthday, Spitz offers an admiring portrait of the woman who became a rock star in her own world, changing forever the way Americans think about food and cooking.
Drawing deeply on Child’s diaries and letters, Dearie exhaustively—and exhaustingly—chronicles her life from her rambunctious childhood and her socially active days at Smith to her early adult life in government service, her whirlwind romance with Paul Child, and her rapid rise to becoming the television star without whom the Food Network and the passion for celebrity chefs might never have developed.
As Spitz points out, Julia Child wasn’t a natural when it came to the kitchen. In November 1948, an extraordinary meal in Paris changed her life, and she enrolled in Le Cordon Bleu, gaining the skills she needed to prepare everything from sauces to soups to soufflés. In 1961, she published Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and though critics called it a monumental work, it was not until Child promoted the book on the “Today” show that it began flying out of bookstores and ended up on kitchen counters around the country. In 1962, Child’s energetic personality and her love of teaching landed her before the camera for her groundbreaking public television show, “The French Chef,” where she cultivated an audience with her down-to-earth ways, her off-color humor, her lack of concern for perfection and her devotion to making sure that everyone—even the unskilled—could cook the dishes she prepared.
As Spitz so cannily observes, Child was determined to stand at the center of her own world. The story of her emancipation runs parallel to the struggles of post-war American women who were frustrated that the demands of being a perfect hostess and a perfect wife kept them from pursuing other dreams and desires. In Julia Child, these women had not only a role model who steered them from beans-and-franks casseroles to Sole Meunière but also a fiercely independent woman who lived above the rules of both the kitchen and culture.