My Life in France
is the 2006 autobiography of the famous chef, television celebrity, and author, Julia Child. Julia and her husband Paul’s grandnephew, Alex Prud’homme, co-wrote the book, though Prud’homme insists, “Almost all of the words in these pages are Julia’s or Paul’s.” In the Forward, Prud’homme describes their collaborative writing process. The two would share memories and stories over a meal or trip to a farmer’s market, or by reminiscing over family correspondence. Julia died in 2004 at the age of 91, shortly before the autobiography was finished. Prud’homme completed the book the following year.My Life in France
follows Julia’s experiences from her first visit to France through her studies at Le Cordon Blue to her work on her landmark cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking
, and finally to her success as a television chef. Along the way, Julia grows in self-confidence and self-esteem, and reveals her passion for her family, her friends, and food. Julia describes My Life in France
as “a book about some of the things I have loved most in life: my husband, Paul Child; la belle France
; and the many pleasures of cooking and eating.”
Julia and Paul meet in Ceylon during World War II. They both work for the OSS: Julia processing agents’ reports and top-secret papers, and Paul, an artist, designing war rooms for General Mountbatten. They marry in 1946. Ten years older than Julia, Paul is a painter, photographer, and a type of cultural attaché. Julia describes Paul as a “cultured man,” and a “natty dresser” who adored good food and wine. Paul is an “inspiration” to Julia, and she declares she was lucky to marry him.
At the start of My Life in France
, Julia is thirty-six-years old, six-foot-two-inches tall, and a self-professed “rather loud and unserious Californian.” Growing up in Pasadena in a staunchly Republican household, Julia had no interest in cooking, and neither did her mother, who hired cooks to make the family meals. Until her trip to France, Julia had never even heard of a shallot. Julia is a liberal Democrat, which causes tension between her and her conservative father, “Big John” McWilliams.
When Paul takes a job for the USIS (United States Information Service) doing cultural and propaganda work, he and Julia move from the US to Paris. Paul’s task is to build good-will between France and the U.S. following WWII, ensure that the Marshall Plan is positively perceived, and caution the French against trusting Russia. Julia and Paul arrive in France on November 3, 1948. Julia has never visited France before, cannot speak French, and knows next to nothing about the country.
Julia and Paul pile their belongings into a blue Buick station wagon and drive to Paris. On the way, they stop in Rouen for lunch. At La Couronne (“The Crown”), Julia orders sole meuniere
and a glass of wine. The meal is an “epiphany.” Julia rhapsodizes, “It was the most exciting meal of my life.”
As Julia and Paul settle into their apartment in Paris, Julia quickly falls in love with the city. She calls it “magical,” and “her favorite place on earth.” She loves “the people, the food, the lay of the land, the civilized atmosphere, and the generous pace of life.” Growing frustrated with her inability to communicate, Julia takes language classes at Berlitz. She explores markets and restaurants and her “tastes grow bolder” and she begins to cook more. Her language coach, Hélène, gives her an old-fashioned cookbook by Ali-Bab that Julia reads obsessively. Julia declares, “By now I knew that French food was it
Julia signs up for classes at L’Ecole du Cordon Bleu, Paris’s famous cooking school. There she joins a group of eleven former GIs studying under Chef Max Bugnard. The year-long class is “pure flavorful heaven.” Julia becomes even more earnest about cooking. She writes, “I had never taken anything so seriously in my life—husband and cat excepted—and I could hardly bear to be away from the kitchen.” Paul and Julia frequently entertain friends and relatives at their apartment. Julia realizes that while she has opinions about politics, they are really “emotions.” She sets out to educate herself on world issues of the day, commenting that she is “still discovering” who she is.
Completing her courses at L’Ecole du Cordon Bleu, Julia recognizes that French recipes do not transfer exactly to American cookbooks because of differences in ingredients and chemistry. She begins researching, practicing, and perfecting recipes to make them accessible to cooks in the US. Julia teams up with two French friends, Simone (“Simca”) Beck and Louisette Bertholle and they start a cooking school in her apartment kitchen. The two have been working on recipes for a cookbook and ask Julia to help. Julia realizes the cookbook is a “jumble” and proposes they re-write it. “The Book” as Julia and Paul call it, grows slowly but steadily larger.
Paul’s work takes them from Paris to Marseille, Germany, Norway, and finally back to the United States. Julia and Simca finish the cookbook but face multiple rejections from publishers. They succeed at last, and Mastering the Art of French Cooking
is published in 1961 to wide acclaim. Julia is drawn into television interviews to promote the book, and Boston public television station WGBH invites her to tape educational cooking programs. Her show, The French Chef
, premiers in 1963 and runs for ten years. It is one of the first cooking shows on American television.
Julia becomes a celebrity. She and Paul build a small house in France, and Julia publishes the second volume of Mastering the Art of French Cooking
in 1970. Julia concludes by remembering her first meal in France, writing, “It now reminds me that the pleasures of the table, and of life, are infinite—toujours bon appétit