Like any good dish, be it soup or stew, dessert or appetizer, French or American, a book must have a good base. Julia Child’s book is quite unsurprisingly based on France and food. But just because it is a simple and predictable stock doesn’t mean that the book will be bland and tasteless. It is a stock so well made and so lovingly written, that you taste the book as both a literate masterpiece and a culinary one. One glorious whiff of the book and you’ll want to whip up a batch yourself!
And whip up a batch I did! My mother and I decided to make Pommes Anna, a cake made out of potatoes. We clarified butter, peeled potatoes, sliced them up, and poured the butter in a skillet. I started to put in the potatoes, slice by slice, but my mom told me that I was putting them too far apart. She tried to fix it, but just made it worse! We were upset and frantic trying to figure out what to do. But wait. In both the book and Julia Child’s cooking shows (which we had recently watched) she displayed how important improvisation is. “Just keep going,” we thought. “It’ll turn out fine, even with a few mistakes.” So we trudged on, putting the potatoes in as much of an order as possible. Then we tried to put in some pepper. And of course as in any well-planned procedure, an essential ingredient was missing: we realized that we had no pepper left in the mill, and could not find any more in the cupboard. To get the peppercorns! We raced around putting on the potatoes, sprinkling butter on, and trying to find peppercorns. Finally, voila! We found them somehow and ground some on. Next, the cookbook said to put a cover on the skillet. Cover? What cover? We had just bought the skillet today, and there was no cover when we got it. We rummaged through our pots and pans and found a cover that just fit inside. Crisis averted.
My Life in France is a delicious book. Julia Child is a master of describing food in exactly the right way. You feel as if you are eating the fish, drinking the wine, and soaking up France from the window of a tiny restaurant. The book isn’t all about pure happiness through food, though. She tells of the awe-inspiring cooking lessons at the Cordon Bleu. Once she graduates, she starts making a cookbook. Very possibly the most important cookbook of all time, Mastering the Art of French Cooking brought America out of the stone age of food. Julia put years and years of pain-staking research into this book. She worked day and night over trying to find which exact measurement of cream would make the perfect Burre Blanc, or how the measurements of flour would differ in France from America because American flour has less fat in it.
Julia Child was definitely a hero. Not the kind of hero that does his or her job because they have to, but the kind of hero that just loves what she does. She spread the art of French cooking and should be praised as one of the greatest cooks that have ever lived.