As much as they devoured her boeuf bourguignon, Julia Child’s legions of spatula-wielding fans could hardly restrain their appetites for the woman herself. The phenomenon began more than 50 years ago with the publication of her first ground-breaking book, “Mastering the Art of French Cooking,” and reached a fever pitch when, in 1963, Child took her boisterous talents to the fledgling medium of public television.
The adoration continued for decades after her debut. She has inspired books, blogs, blogs about her books and a movie about a blog about her book. Now, those with a hunger for all things Julia have a substantial new biography by Bob Spitz to sink their teeth into.
“Dearie” clocks in at 500-plus pages, a length befitting the 6-foot-3 outsize personality that threatens to burst from between the covers.
Fans raised on PBS reruns of the matronly Child tooling around her Cambridge, Mass., kitchen may not recognize the young firebrand Spitz introduces in the early chapters of his sweeping narrative. We learn about her propensity for throwing mud pies at cars as a child before graduating to boarding school and on-the-sly martinis. Later, at Smith College, Spitz drily observes, “Julia minored in partying.”
Spitz has cherry-picked photos as well as antics. A 1939 photo of Child (then McWilliams) in her home town of Pasadena, Calif., screams va-va-voom, as “the social butterfly” reclines in a chair, her eyes seductively half-closed. In a 1944 picture from Ceylon — where she was a sort of information manager for the Office of Strategic Services — her dress is pushed up to her knees, showing off “the legs that transfixed” the man who became her friend and then her husband, Paul Child.
While their relationship developed around many hearty meals at restaurants, Julia was a total novice in the kitchen. “Word around our house was Paul’s girlfriend couldn’t cook,” Spitz quotes Paul’s nephew Jon Child as saying. “The joke was she could burn water if she boiled it.”
It’s the kind of anecdote that Spitz excels in mining to telling effect. Only a few pages later, he sits us down at the restaurant in Rouen, France, where Julia and Paul had stopped for lunch on the way to his new government posting in Paris. The meal set Julia on her path as a culinary icon. “For an instant, there was sweetness of a kind she had never experienced before — butter perhaps, but more full-bodied, like a butter bomb, with a smoky scorched tang. An instant later, the sea — probably a briny fish fume with a splash of white wine. Wait! A faint lemony whiff drifting by . . . now gone.” Read more at the Washington Post