Just finished reading Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julia Child, written by author and biographer extraordinaire Bob Spitz.
Let me start with my – very few – gripes, then we’ll move on to the good stuff.
I did say Ouf! when I was done, not because I didn’t love it. I found the book’s size and heft (529 pages, hardcover) bordering on the presumptuous. Last time I devoted the time to read a book this size was for FDR, JFK, Anna Karenina, Rockefeller and other titans. Was Julia Child a giant? Duh! And in every imaginable sense of the word. But clearly in this case, the editor was out to lunch when the book was allowed to go to press without shaving 200 pages right off the top. Please guys, give us a break! 300 pages, 350 pages tops, would have done the job beautifully.
Likewise, I am afraid the editor wasn’t looking when he let fall between the cracks some inconsistencies (nothing alarming), the most egregious of which was this line (page 217): It was a boisterous affair. more than a hundred people crammed elbow to elbow in a salon the size of Versailles. This little slip I forgave him in no time when I read the delightful chapter immediately following that line, titled A Memorable Feast. Like the whole book, bar none, it is beautifully written and most captivating.
Who should read this book, and who will enjoy it immensely, laugh and cry with it, its occasional longueurs notwithstanding?
– Everyone who loves a success story, especially of the improbable kind. Chere Madame Brassart of Le Cordon Bleu, eat your heart out! You thought Julia Child was just another gawky garish bored rich American who would never grasp the subtlety and refinements of French Cuisine, and threw every stumbling block her way in the hope she would forget Paris and take the first boat home. Big mistake!
– Everyone who loves food. Good real honest-to-Gd food. (cake mix club members need not apply). Heaven help me, I remember running to get ingredients for some dishes that were described in great detail to cook the dish right on the spot: I just had to have that dish. TODAY. NOW
– Everyone who loves Paris, Provence and all things French. Reading the pages, you can smell the lavender, admire the mimosa, hear Minette purr contentedly, smell the good stink of the morning fish catch au Vieux Port, catch a whiff of all the wonderful goodies being prepared, eavesdrop on some animated and vehement arguments between Les Trois Gourmandes (always, always rooting for her), even crash some of the endless, raucous, delicious parties. What I would have given for a little toe in the door at Roo de Loo or her mobbed Boston kitchen!
– Everyone who loved Julia Child and her timeless contributions to cooking, and still does. Bob Spitz really does it: he takes on this force of nature, indomitable and larger than life, and gives us the full measure of Julia, in the kitchen and beyond: paillarde, unabashed gourmande, full of joie de vivre, gorgeous (Repeat: Gorgeous! Look at the cover! And there are more pictures inside: Gosh, who knew she had legs?), free-spirited and not-for-sale. Although her talent knew no bounds, he makes it clear that it was she herself who built the brand, much more than her cooking and her legion of handlers. Hello, Louisette Bertholle, Simca Beck, Madeleine Kamman, why didn’t you achieve Julia’s fame? You could cook all right, but you didn’t have her je ne sais quoi that brought the crowds to their knees (this seems to include her abhorred Republican President, former President Bush, who managed to charm her during a five minute tribute phone call to her!)
– Everyone who needs some refueling about their notions on marriage, true love and devotion. Julia and Paul (he needs a stepstool all right) What a pair! They might cure you of any sarcastic or wistful view of marriage you might harbor on your bad days.
– Everyone who likes to be star-struck and wants to peek into the grueling and dazzling world of Food and Cooking’s Who’s Who. Too numerous to list, but just a few: Judith Jones, MFK Fisher, James Beard, Craig Claiborne, Jacques Pepin, Sarah Moulton, followed by the subsequent generation of stars of the American Food Scene: Jean Georges, Emeril, Alice Waters, Wolfgang Puck and many more.
– Everyone who hates the swashbuckling bluster of so many modern cooking shows who put on a lot of sensationalism, very little flavor and very little common sense (my husband often asks, “is this a food show or a freak show?). She was the real thing, doing her thing exactly as a housewife might do it in her own home. Spilling, dropping, cutting, bleeding? Bring it on down: A woman and a cook after my own heart!
– Everyone who admires unflappability, fearlessness and Chutzpah in a woman. Consider this answer to Dr Nathan Pritikin’s followers’ numerous accusations of what he – and they – considered Julia Child’s outrageous excesses in the kitchen: “I must say, after learning something about the severity of his diet and knowing not only of Pritikin’s long illness but of his relatively early death, I have often wondered if a good meal once in a while might have kept him going a little longer”. Touché, non?
– Everyone who hates pandering to commercialism. Can you imagine a long useful life like hers, with a prodigious career, without once caving in to any commercial brands, or to her employers, the TV channels and publishing houses powers that be?
– Last but not least: Everyone who might think it is too late to embark on a project, any project, and find their age too daunting. She had a De Lorean motor running in her system, marvels the author, and who knows, so do many of us. Just open that door a crack, and turn on that key, even un quart de tour!
Have I left anyone out? Je ne crois pas! Hunker down to the book, dearie, with a stiff baguette slathered with butter, and a glass of good wine! Bon Appetit!