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My French Life: Bon appétit and Bon anniversaire

Julia Child at KUHT, CC Wikimedia Commons

Today would have been the 100th birthday of the rather marvellous Julia Child, chef, author, TV star and darling of Americans everywhere.

I came across Julia Child when I saw the film Julie and Julia. The Julie in the film is a young woman in New York, stuck in a depressing job dealing with victims of 9/11. Slowly succumbing to unhappiness she decides to cook every recipe in Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking in a year and blog about it as she goes along. Her journey is half of the film the other half is about Julia’s life – taken from her autobiography.

It is a gentle and whimsical film and gives an insight into the woman who seems to have single-handedly introduced French cuisine to America.  A woman who outside of America few had heard of before the film.

In the UK of my youth we had fabulous TV chef Fanny Craddock, born in England but with French ancestors. She was assisted on her TV programme by her husband Johnnie who seemed to be under the influence of alcohol much of the time and was bossed about relentlessly by his Betty Davis look-a-like wife (or so she seemed to me). She married him after being misinformed about the death of her previous husband who it turned out was still alive and well and refusing to give her a divorce. I found her terrifying and Johnnie looked like he did too. He would be ordered about the kitchen in her gravelly, 150 cigarettes a day voice and only allowed to speak when spoken to but he certainly made some memorable utterances – ending the Fanny Craddock Christmas special with the immortal line “may all your mince pies be like Fanny’s”.

Julia Child is undoubtedly America’s most famous TV chef and cook book author and after I saw the film I was left wanting to know more about her so I read the book “My Life in France” written by Julia and her nephew Alex Prud’homme.  It’s a wonderful book; the strength of character of this indomitable and indefatigable lady is abundant on every page. She never dwells on bad things but glides over them as if they are not the most important thing and she moves on to something else – you get the feeling that there are sad times and bad times but she is pragmatic, intrepid and she has an infectious joy of life. Her love of France, her delight in her discovery of French cuisine “I was 32 when I started cooking. Up until then, I just ate”, her enthusiasm for hard work and her great sense of humour easily won me over.

Since then I’ve watched some YouTube clips of her TV shows – at times amateur, fiendishly funny and not remotely pompous, irreverent, full of laughter and fun – hugely inspirational. You get the feeling she made her audience feel that they too could produce great food and – importantly – enjoy preparing it. Of course if you read the book you will know that Julia actually put an immense effort into learning how to cook, how to transform a great French recipe into an accessible American great French recipe, and the time that she spent on “cookery bookery” was nothing short of heroic.

In the US there are plenty of plans underway to celebrate the life of this extraordinary woman – restaurants serving her dishes, TV programmes, DVD releases, press features and books dedicated to her, there is even one about Julia Child and her cat. Eight years after her death Julia has become more popular than ever as people continue to discover her wonderful talent as a chef, presenter and writer. I think a fitting tribute is to give the last word to Julia herself though this typically Julia statement:

“The best way to execute French cooking is to get good and loaded, then whack the hell out of a chicken. Bon appétit. ”

A bientôt



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