Monday, October 1, 2012

by Bob Spitz 

She was larger than life. At six foot three (big height ran in her family; her sister was six feet five and her brother was six feet four), she could fill up a room but had a physical grace. The voice alone was another entity in and of itself. It was a combination of being both lyrical and breathless. In the McWilliams family, all of the women warbled. But it was this voice and her personality that would catapult her to stardom. When she appeared on public television in 1962 (age 50) armed with a hot plate, a pan and groceries to show how to make an omelet, the food revolution began. Millions of viewers tuned in and nothing was ever the same again. She made a huge impact on cooking and influenced thousands of chefs that is continued to this day.
Julia Child grew up privileged in Southern California. She was a gawky child and directionless as a young woman. Julia went to Smith College and after graduating was more of a social butterfly because she didn't really know what she wanted to do. At the age of thirty, she finally realized that she had to do something with her life and joined the OSS in Southeast Asia during World War II. It was here that she met her future husband, Paul Child, who was an illustrator. If it wasn't for him, she would have been nobody. Paul changed her life exponentially. He supported Julia, encouraged her, was her mentor, and their love for each other was enduring. They were inseparable. Julia would stop working for the OSS and Paul would continue with it. He was sent to different countries and Julia would go with him. It was when they lived in Paris (for six years) that Julia found her life's calling. The food was so enticing and delicious that she wanted to cook it herself. Originally Julia had no skills in the kitchen but that all changed when she enrolled in a cooking class at Le Cordon Bleu. Soon she was turning out incredible food at home. Julia was a perfectionist and would test and retest everything that she made. She compiled lists of recipes which would eventually be published in Mastering the Art of French Cooking. This book sold hundreds of thousands of copies. From it the idea was created of having a cooking show and The French Chef was born. 
I have read several books on Julia Child and none of them have come close to this one. Bob Spitz is a terrific writer and even though it's quite a hefty tome (529 pages), it was quite a pleasure to read. There's so much detail and information that I never knew about. For instance: Julia and Paul lived in Marseille, Plittersdorf (Germany), and Oslo; on their wedding day, they were in a car accident; one of the homes that they lived in burned down; Julia had a mastectomy. With all of the tribulations and health problems, though, Julia always plowed on. Everyone loved her. On camera, she was a natural and a great communicator. Julia had a great sense of humor. She was unconventional forging ahead to do things that most people would refrain from. (Julia did cooking shows well into her eighties and nineties and wrote more books.) 
She was an amazing woman.
Very highly recommended.