“This is my invariable advice to people: Learn how to cook – try new recipes, learn from your mistakes, be fearless, and above all have fun!” – Julia Child
I’m not a good cook. I study food so inevitably one of the first questions I get asked is if I can cook. I always laugh it off and respond with a variation of, “No, but I wish.”
I grew up in a household where four-course meals were abundant. My mom is a self-taught chef (“home cook” does not do her justice) that would prepare careful and masterful meals for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. She wouldn’t allow me into the kitchen for anything more than being her taste-tester – a job I took very seriously. But I never had a reason, or opportunity, to cook. Her food was just too damn good for me to even want to try.
But then I went to college. I no longer had easy access to the homemade, meaty crab cakes or rich beef bourguignon I had grown up with. It was now stir fry and scrambled eggs. For a while, though, I’ve been feeling like I needed a reason to learn to cook – and to cook well. That reason has come by Julia Child’s My Life in France.
She was an American doing top-secret research for an agency that was the precursor to the CIA. She was told she was too tall to enroll in the Women’s Army Corps or in the U.S. Navy’s WAVES so she joined the Office of Strategic Services in the 1940’s. (She was six foot two). She met him, Paul, in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) and they transplanted to Paris. She writes lovingly of Paris from the minute she steps off the boat – although it was very different than what she had heard from her father, who was rather cynical and crass.
It didn’t take Child long to fall in love with Paris. It’s truly a hard place not to love. The language, the people, and the food are magnificent. Oh, gosh, the food. I came to Paris for the food and with every bite of my daily pain au chocolat, I remember why this is my favorite place in the world.
With Child’s love of Paris, a love of cooking soon followed. She learned the language rather quickly in order to be able to communicate with the vendors at local markets, ate out at practically every restaurant in the Michelin Guide, and enrolled in a year-long cooking course at the Cordon Bleu – with eleven male GIs.
It’s pretty remarkable reading how much this city that I’m currently in influenced one of the most important women in the food history of the United States. She talks about so many places I know of and places I’ve been to. It sounds cliche, but it gives me hope that I, too, can learn because we already have this love of Paris in common.
She didn’t start cooking until she was 32. She needed a reason to start. I think I found that push and it came in the form of a snarky, quick-witted woman that is often lauded for bringing French cuisine to America. How appropriate. I don’t think I can study food without *studying* food (AKA cooking) anymore.