I spent the weekend with Julia Child and her friend and executive chef of more than twenty years, Nancy Verde Barr. I haven't smiled so hard, nor has time passed so quickly, in a long time.
This intimate portrait of Julia Child allows a brief glimpse into the personality and dynamism of perhaps America's most influential chef of the 20th Century. Going backstage and behind the scenes with Verde Barr offers a tantalizing glimpse into the American culinary scene as it exploded, and became a dominant industry in American pop culture. But mostly it allows us to see Julia through the eyes of love.
Was the woman who became known and referred to simply by her first name a cooking diva? Was she a kitchen princess, a prima donna d'cuisine? In this sweeping characterization of the First Lady of American Cooking, spanning 30 plus years, Julia's executive chef of live demonstrations, TV shows, and special features like Parade magazine, reveals the truth behind Child in and out of the kitchen.
The book takes us through the early days just after publishing Mastering the Art of French Cooking, through the last days spent struggling to fulfill commitments while nursing the declining health of her husband and partner, Paul Child, and all the exciting years in between. Her larger-than-life personality and playful approach to life teaches a powerful lesson about remaining young of mind and body. We see firsthand how Julia, and such
powerful women in food as Sarah Moulton, Marian Morash and Verde Barr, helped advance the reputation of the American culinary industry within the world view, as well as influencing the role of women in the field.
The good natured Verde Barr--- chef in her own right--- not only helped write two cookbooks with Julia but also authored two comprehensive cookbooks of her own, chronicling Italian cooking. This highly respected owner of cooking schools, television cooking producer, talented chef and author, paints a beautiful, sometimes funny and often poignant picture of Julia as friend, confidant and mentor. She shares a personal look into the loving relationship between "Pulia" (better know as Paul) and Julia Child, the dynamic cooking/cookbook writing and photography team. But mostly she shares the precious times spent with one of her best friends, cooking, and exploring food.
In her later years, Julia's body aged, but never her spirit. Perhaps that is her greatest legacy a philosophy and life view Verde Barr encapsulates particularly well with one anecdote:
"Other than shoes that would suddenly start falling off my feet and hair that would rudely sprout in unwelcome places, she did not suggest that I would have to make any concessions to age. Lord knows she didn't! Not even in 1992 when she turned eighty. Despite the fading ink on her birth certificate, she did not consider herself to be in her twilight years. Nor could she identify with her contemporaries who did. When she returned from her sixtieth reunion at Smith College, I asked her if she'd had a good time.
"No!" she bellowed disgustedly. "I'm never going to another one."
"Why not?" I asked, foolishly thinking that the two-hour road trip from Cambridge to Northampton had been too much for her.
"They're all old people!" she said.
When Julia said "old," it had nothing to do with years and everything to do with attitude. Many of her contemporaries had settled into complacent, sedentary lifestyles and she simply could not relate to them."
Her ageless energy, spirit of curiosity and boundless appetite for life kept her going strong until one day her kitchen timer ceased ticking, and at the age of ninety-one, just two days prior to her ninety-second birthday, Julia Child, America's iconoclastic ideal of super-chef, quietly hung up her measuring spoons to enter a celestial kitchen.
Was Julia a cooking diva? Not at all. Julia was devilish, fun, loyal and WYSIWYG. WYSIWYG? What-You-See-Is-What-You-Get sums up her personal style, in a nutshell. Her onstage or on-camera presence mirrored her off-screen personality, with the exception that she was not klutzy. She only dropped one item while on a live show, throughout her entire career. All the other items that landed on the floor were deliberately thrown there by Julia!
But to fully get to meet her and fall in love with her as I have, I'm afraid you will have to read the book and spend a weekend with her. It will be a seriously delicious gustatory treat for your brain and spirit.