After graduating from Smith College and working for the OSS during World War II, Julia Child and her husband, Paul, moved to Paris where she studied at the Cordon Bleu and began her career as one of the most well-known chefs of all time. My Life in France tells the story of Julia’s time in Paris and her transition from hopeless cook to culinary teacher, author, and television show host. Each chapter provides quirky tales of Julia moving to France and adapting to the Parisian culture specifically the Parisian cuisine. As I have mentioned in my previous posts, for me one of the most enjoyable aspects of living in Paris has been realizing my love and appreciation for food.
“I was a six-foot-two-inch, thirty-six-year-old, rather loud and unserious Californian. The sight of France in my porthole was like a giant question mark,” described Julia as she and Paul initially arrived in France (14). Julia had never been to France and did not speak a word of French, but her optimistic, ambitious attitude proved anyone could move to France with the right mindset. Julia’s husband Paul was a French connoisseur. He spoke the language, knew the best wines, and chose the best dishes when they visited restaurants. Before reading My Life in France, I had no idea what a great inspiration Paul was for Julia’s career. I would go as far as to say Paul is the reason Julia strove to become the best chef she could be.
In the beginning of her book, Julia describes her initial impression of Paris as she drove into the city. She states, “we continued to Paris along a highway…it reminded us of the Hutchinson River Parkway outside of New York City. That impression faded as dusk came on and the unmistakable silhouette of the Eiffel Tower loomed into sight, outlined with blinking red lights. Paris!” (20). Similar to Julia, I understand the excitement of driving into New York for the first time and witnessing the New York skyline; however, nothing can beat your first glimpse of the Eiffel Tower. In fact, I see the Eiffel Tower everyday and it still excites me. While reading My Life in Paris, I recalled my own, very similar experiences as Julia.
Julia knew very little about cooking. Continually growing frustrated with her disappointing meals she prepared for Paul each day, she decided it was time for her to take advantage of Paris and enroll in one of the best cooking schools in the country, the Cordon Bleu. Although the director was hesitant to let Julia enroll, she eventually found herself standing among a group of men learning from one of the best chefs in France. Throughout her memoir, we see Julia’s yearning to become the best chef she can be, which shows through the progression of her cooking. She goes from hopeless housewife to expert chef quicker than you might think.
Julia immerses herself in the French food world. She knows every vendor at her local farmers market, and she befriends her neighborhood butcher, cheese, and bread experts. Not only is her ability to engage with her local providers admirable, but also her adventures to local neighborhood restaurants are informative. As I sat in the Palais-Royal Garden reading My Life in France, my mouth watered as I read a chapter on her experience at the restaurant Le Grand Vefour. When I was finished reading, I got up turned the corner and voila! There was Le Grand Vefour. I love finding Julia’s favorite spots and hidden treasures throughout the city.
At the conclusion of her book, Julia brings us back to the first meal she ever had in Paris. She described the sensations she felt when she walked in the restaurant, watched the people around her, and took the first bite of her sole. Reflecting on my own experiences in Paris, I can still remember the first meal I ate here with a group of my friends- a perfectly prepared mushroom omelet with a glass of red wine from Café de Flore. Julia’s My Life in France has inspired me to not only enjoy but also appreciate both French cuisine and cooking.