Given that I adored Meryl Streep's interpretation of Julia Child in the movie "Julie and Julia," naturally, I rushed out and bought My Life in France. Oh! What a marvelous book! This is one of those books where there really aren't enough exclamation points to do it justice.
I was pleasantly surprised to learn that Julia Child had quite a persnickety side to her. The recipes had to be right! Her frustrations with Simone Beck were rooted in that intuitive flair that the French chefs that I knew had and with which "Simca" approached their collaboration. Julia thought that all fine and good, but not for a cookbook. The bit on beurre blanc cracked me up. But that sort of dogged pursuit characterized her personality and, I think, was critical to her success. Although she had flair, it wasn't about her flair. It was about you and her cookbook propped open on your kitchen counter. By god you were going to make something that would make your guests grin with pleasure. She guaranteed it. You didn't need flair. You had her looking over your metaphorical shoulder, telling you to add the stock NOW.
Of course, there's lots of description of the food, but the food doesn't exist in a vacuum. It's the people at the table, their friends, the conversations, the ambiance of the restaurant, the collective appreciation of the food and the people eating it, in short, it's the whole enchilada that makes France so magical for her. As much as this book is about her evolution into the persona that became "Julia Child," there isn't a chapter that doesn't include descriptions of people, who they meet, who they like, the people who become their dear, dear friends. The book is as much a paean to her love of food as it is her love for the table and who is sitting around it.
This is certainly why I went into cooking. It was the ambiance around my mother's dining room table that inspired me cook. That wonderful moment when you raise your glass of wine to each other in the most basic spirit of camaraderie. We are breaking bread. Together.