In Homage to Julia Child on her Birthday
Thursday August 15, 2019

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“Julia was good because she was curious.” —Russ Morash

[~Russell Morash a television producer and director of many television programs produced through WGBH and airing on PBS. His shows include This Old House, The Victory Garden, and The New Yankee Workshop. He also worked with Julia Child to produce The French Chef and other cooking programs, beginning in 1963.]

It is no secret that TSLL is an admirer and finds great inspiration in Julia Child. From podcast episodes to blog posts to dining at the famed La Couronne where she herself ate her first French meal and sharing my experience, each year during the annual French Week, on this date, because it is her birthday, a post is shared to pay homage to Julia Child.

Having thought I had read all of the biographies and memoirs about Julia Child, I was remiss to discover I had not read her authorized biography – THE biography of Julia Child by Noël Riley Fitch which was originally published in 1997, and reissued in celebration of her 100th birthday complete with a new introduction I highly recommend reading, in 2012. Appetite for Life: The Biography of Julia Child is a bohemoth of a biography – 569 pages – but it has to be. Julia Child’s life was vast and full of experiences and delicious details as she worked, came into contact with and inspired so many people.

It was in 1992 that Fitch began her work on the biography that Julia Child fully authorized and is quoted as saying,

“Yes, I would be happy to give you exclusive rights as a biographer . . . in other words, anything you need is available to you—there are no secrets. Your having access to things would not bother me, as long as I don’t have to do anything, Since I am absorbed in my work—as you are too.”

—Julia Child to biographer Noël Riley Fitch

A woman whose home phone number in Cambridge, Massachusetts, was listed and in fact, she would answer and offer her advice to individuals who would call asking for her help. While certainly a different time in society’s history, such openness demonstrates her sincere passion for teaching people how to cook and enjoy what they create.

Tidbits from the biography that caught my eye and made me adore her even more:

  • Her neighbors in Cambridge would recognize her because of her car: a large tin spoon was attached to the antenna
  • During the busy times while she shot her first cooking show that catapulted her to the success in America as she was now in their living rooms, she used laughter as a release and Paul remained her ‘balancing wheel’
  • Julia and Paul chose to keep up their heavy schedule sharing with his twin brother Charlie, Paul wrote, “We love it [it keeps] our juices flowing . . . we are not wondering what to do in our retirement.”
  • Julia Child believed and modeled that “We learn so much through mistakes!” as shared aloud in a cooking demonstration in San Francisco in the 1974 and captured by Calvin Tomkins who was profiling Julia for The New Yorker (read the profile here).
  • She reveled in sensuous pleasures – an excerpt from one of her journals while living in Paris in the early fifties, first introduced by her biographer and then her quote is the inset. “One day in May, as she listened to Weber’s ‘Overture to Oberon’ on the radio and could smell the soup gently simmering on the stove, she wrote that the ‘gentle soft night was lovely. Brie cheese is at its peak right now, strawberries are just coming in, and cream is thick and butter yellow’.”
  • Julia described by her French friend whom the Childs called upon to help them settle in to French life in Paris, Hélène Baltrusaitis, “Julia was sharp, quick, and perceptive. Her mind was always working, but sometimes she could look naive. She had these wonderful faces: she cooked with all her heart and seriousness, but could dissolve into laughter and silliness the next minute.”
  • Robert Mondavi’s wife Margrit Biever, who was Swiss, described her tall California friend as both strong and feminine. [This was after Julia and Paul bought a house in the 1980s in Southern California near where she spent her childhood.]
  • Alice Waters (the co-founder of Berkley’s restaurant Chez Panisse) used Julia’s books as a reference and her life as a model, “[Julia Child] paved the way for Chez Panisse because she was an unpretentious Francophile who taught the generation who became my customers to value good food.”
  • “I learn something new everyday,” Julia told one reporter. “It’s endless. You’re never going to live long enough.”
  • Television producer who worked with her at PBS for The French Chef, “[she was] curious, professional, and scholarly about her art . . . these are the three keys too Julia. She was never casual. She does not sit around and worry, she trusts professionals.”
  • Described by her neighbor Jean deSola Pool and cooking colleague Lynne Rosetto Kasper (from The Splendid Table), “Julia has self-esteem and extraordinary intelligence.” “[She is a] focused and centered lady . . . one who knows who she is, her desired place in the world, and is fulfilled by it.”
  • Regarding the choice of title for her biography, the biographer shares “her appetite for life will never be sated”. Julia is quoted as saying, “Retired people are boring. In this line of work, you never have to retire. You keep right on until you’re through.”

While these are just a handful of snippets from the biography that spoke to me, when you choose to read this book, you will begin with her family background, her childhood, her service during WWII and everything that follows. Nora Ephron certainly read this biography as a primary source for her film Julie & Julia, and undoubtedly many others, but from the journals and letters that Julia gave Fitch full access to, if you too are drawn to Julia Child and her legacy, this is a book that will come close to satiated your appetite, but never completely, of that I am certain. There will always be more episodes of The French Chef to watch, episodes of Baking with Julia and cookbooks to read or reread and recipes to try.

So today, here on TSLL, to Julia Child, I say thank you and bon appétit!

TSLL’s 4th Annual French Week posts thus far . . .

SUNDAY August 11th

MONDAY August 12th

TUESDAY August 13th

WEDNESDAY August 14th

THURSDAY August 15th | The Simply Luxurious Life

6 thoughts on “In Homage to Julia Child on her Birthday

  1. This is one of those instances where I am very happy someone else raised their hand with the question 🙂 In other words, I too somehow missed this. Yay you for being the brave one and saying, “Thought I knew , but nope, I did not,” so that you could remind the rest of us little bunnies of some Julie Child awesomeness we might be missing. You really do have a knack for exploding my library/TBR list…

  2. thank you Shannon for this recombination. I recently read My life in France by Julia Child and it was fascinating reading. I have been online to look up your recommendation and I have come across a book called Provence 1970 by Luke Barr which is about a group of food writers including Julia Child and M F K Fisher when they were all in Provence at the same time which looks very interesting so I have ordered this as well !!

  3. Shannon – I must chime in with another book that you must read about Julia if you already haven’t: It’s called As Always, Julia: The Letters of Julia Child and Avis DeVoto:
    It details the fascinating correspondence between Julia and her penpal and literary mentor Avis DeVoto – I loved it!

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