Reading Journal: My Life in France, Julia Child and Alex Prud’homme

In this series, I’ll be posting my reading notes from books, chapters, and articles. These posts are not meant to be comprehensive summaries or critiques; instead, they will tackle the moments and themes in a piece that have moved and encouraged me to dive into a personal experience or further research.

My Life in France, Julia Child and Alex Prud’Homme, 2006.

This memoir, told in first person from Julia’s point of view, is an exciting, giddy look at the sensory development of this iconic figure. If you’ve seen Julie & Julia, you’ll recognize some of the Julia Child narrative from this book. I was moved by how excited Child was, learning how to smell, taste, feel food in France. How hard she worked at being good – at cooking, teaching, writing. The gusto with which she approached her learning was amazing – she focused on food and technique day and night.

What I was especially fascinated with in this book was the latter half: the part in which Julia details the undertaking of “The Book,” i.e. Mastering the Art of French Cooking, the tome that put her on the culinary map forever. I spoke with a friend once, about how I was starting to realize that I couldn’t just improvise on a recipe of an unfamiliar dish. How I was beginning to recognize (partially because of my recent acquisition at the time, the gift of The Best Make-Ahead Recipe published by Cooks Illustrated, which details the testing process of America’s Test Kitchen), how recipes were tested, that they were published in a certain way (most of the time) because they had been proven to work in that way, each time. My friend commented, “Yeah, especially Julia’s recipes have been tested.” I didn’t understand what he meant until I read My Life in France. Yeah, she tested the recipes. Majorly. For nearly a decade, I think.

While some of her dishes may have now fallen out of favor, such as the aspics and buttering and creaming vegetables, her roasting techniques and sheer work that went into making sure the recipes would be accessible to the home cook is astounding. Aesthetics are one thing. Fashion is one thing. But the value of work, of trying to codify la grande tradition, (if that’s a phrase) to be passed down to generations of cooks trying to cook at home, is something that doesn’t go out of style.

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