Tuesday, February 15, 2011

My Life in France

Motivation for reading:
I added Julia Child and Alex Prud'homme's book My Life in France to my reading list after a friend recommended it. He found Julia’s story fascinating and was convinced her husband Paul worked as a spy while they were in Europe. The book is also included on the list of 50 Books Every Young Woman Should Read.

What is the book about?
The book was written by Julia Child in the last few years of her life with the assistance of her grand-nephew, writer Alex Prud'Homme. It is based on the letters Julia and her husband Paul wrote to family and friends while living in Europe most notably the letters Paul sent to his twin brother Charles. The book begins when Julia moves to France in 1948 and covers her life while emphasizing her passion for French cooking.

My thoughts:
This book is a delightful read; there is so much to learn and enjoy from Julia's story:

First, I have come to the conclusion there is not a woman out there who has not suffered from imposter syndrome at some point during their lives.

When Julia and Paul first arrive in France:

Paul strode ahead, full of anticipation, but I hung back, concerned that I didn't look chic enough, that I wouldn't be able to communicate, and that the waiters would look down their long Gallic noses at us Yankee tourists. (Pg. 16)
My biggest problem was my continuing lack of worldliness. Maybe if you concentrate on the fact that you are 41 years old. I scolded my reflection; you'd remember to be more worldly. (Pg. 177)

Maybe there is hope for me yet ~ Julia was a late bloomer:
Julia married Paul Child, the love of her life, when she was 34. Upon arriving in France, she didn’t know a word of French, nothing about the country or French cooking. She was 37 when she enrolled in Le Cordon Bleu cooking school:

Upon reflection, I decided I had three main weaknesses: I was confused (evidenced by a lack of facts, an inability to coordinate my thoughts, and an inability to verbalize my ideas); I had a lack of confidence, which caused me to back down from forcefully stated positions; and I was overly emotional at the expense of careful, “scientific” thought. I was thirty-seven years old and still discovering who I was. (Pg. 67)

Julia's success has to be attributed to her perfectionism and her uncompromising work ethic:
While working on her first book, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, which took her almost eight years to complete, she tested, and re-tested the recipes, sometimes dozens of times. All of this was done with no guarantee that the book would ever be published.

I had to iron out all those questions of how and why and for what reason: otherwise we'd end up with just an ordinary recipe- which was not the point of the book. I felt we should show our readers how to make everything top notch, and explain, if possible,, why things work one way and not another. There should be no compromise. (Pg, 133)
Her cooking advice ~ don’t make excuses:
I don't believe in twisting yourself into knots of excuses and explanations over the food you make. When one's hostess starts in with self-deprecations such as "Oh, I don't know how to cook...," or "Poor little me...," or "This may taste awful...," it is so dreadful to have to reassure her that everything is delicious and fine, whether it is or not. Besides, such admissions only draw attention to one's shortcomings (or perceived shortcomings), and make the other person think, "Yes, you're right, this really is an awful meal!" (Pg. 71)

And have fun:
My hope was that readers would use From Julia Child's Kitchen as if it were a private cooking school. I tried to structure each recipe as a class. And the great lesson embedded in the book is that no one is born a great cook, one learns by doing. This is my invariable advice to people: Learn how to cook- try new recipes, learn from your mistakes, be fearless, and above all have fun! (Pg. 297)
On why she never opened a restaurant ~ she knew herself:

I had long ago decided not to go into the restaurant trade myself, because it required total commitment; furthermore, in a restaurant one is restricted to cooking what’s on the menu, and I preferred to experiment with many different dishes. (Pg. 294)

A lesson on moving on ~ giving up La Pitchoune her beloved home in France:
People seemed surprised when I told them that it wasn’t an especially difficult or emotional decision. But I have never been very sentimental. La Pitchoune was a special place, but the heart had gone out of it for me now. It was the people I shared it with, more than the physical property, that I would miss. (Pg. 300)

In closing:
Julia’s success in a male-dominated field came at a time when few American middle-class women worked out of the home. There are many business and life lessons to attain from her story, for example how Julia used her network to get Mastering the Art of French Cooking published, how she managed working with her two partners and her graduation from Le Cordon Bleu despite initially failing the final exam. In addition to her incredible work ethic, Julia was gracious and had fun. Read her book to learn how she did it.


  1. Sounds worth the read. I'll have to see if I can get it on Kindle - a trip coming up!

  2. This book sounds great, I've wanted to read it since I saw Julie and Julia last year.