My Life in France

By Julia Child and Alex Prud’homme

Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf
Publisher: April 2006

On November 3, 1948, Julia and Paul Child arrived in Le Havre, France, aboard the SS America.  Julia — who thought of herself as “a six-foot-two-inch, thirty-six year-old, rather loud and unserious Californian” — had never been to Europe, didn’t speak much French, and was not a very good cook. As she peered through the fog at the twinkling lights of the harbor, she had no idea what she was looking at. “France was a misty abstraction for me, a land I had long imagined but had no real sense of.”

Paul was ten years older than Julia, a diplomat, and a gourmand who spoke fluent French. They had met in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) in the OSS during world War II. Paul loved France, and when he was offered a job there with the US Information Service, Julia says, “I tagged along as his extra baggage.”

Driving to Paris in their Buick, they stopped to lunch in Rouen, at La Couronne, a restaurant built in 1345. They ordered portugaises oysters, Sole Meuniere, a green salad, and Pouilly Fume; for dessert, fromage blanc and café filtre. Julia, who had never had such food, was transported. “It was,” she recalled, “the most exciting meal of my life.”

In Paris, the Childs settled into a quirky apartment at 81 Rue de l’Universite (“Roo de Loo”), and immersed themselves in the cafes, restaurants, and marketplaces of the city. While Paul worked at the US embassy, Julia began to shop and cook and learn the language. Eventually, she graduated from the famous le Cordon Bleu cooking school, taught her own cookery classes with two “food-mad” French friends, Simone (Simca) Beck and Louisette Bertholle, and turned their recipes into Mastering the Art of French Cooking — the cookbook that would revolutionize America’s ideas about food.

The first two-thirds of My Life in France are about Paul and Julia’s six years in Paris and Marseille. Here Julia recalls her triumphs and failures behind the stove, how Chef Max Bugnard taught her la cuisine bourgeoise, and the nine years it took to write and rewrite Mastering before Knopf finally published it in 1961. These were what Julia called “the best years of my life,” the crucial moment when she defined herself, and experienced “an awakening of the senses.” The last third of the book is about the Childs’s later adventures in France, their house in Provence, Julia’s TV career as “The French Chef,” her friendship with James Beard and Roger Verge, the dissolution of her collaboration with Louisette and Simca, and the many fine meals she and Paul enjoyed along the way.

Judith B. Jones, who edited Mastering, and worked with Julia for over forty years, was also the editor of My Life in France. She lived in Paris at roughly the same time that the Childs did (though they didn’t know each other there), and so when the twice-rejected manuscript for Mastering the Art of French Cookinglanded on her desk, Judith instantly understood it in a way that no one else did. She was a young editor, but her passionate advocacy for Masteringpersuaded the rather skeptical Alfred Knopf to publish it. He didn’t like the title, saying, “If anyone buys a book with that title, I’ll eat my hat.” After forty five years, Mastering is still in print. “I like to think Alfred’s eaten a lot of hats!,” Judith says.


13 Responses to My Life in France

  1. […] memoirs.  In fact, I prefer non-fiction and have enjoyed numerous memoirs.  I absolutely loved My Life in France – by Julia Child and Alex Prud’homme about Julia Child’s life, which I hold as the gold standard for foodie books.  Why did I not […]

  2. Nada says:

    Absolutely loved the book and the chance to see the more personal side and professional growth of Julia Child. By chance do you have a travel companion to the places mentioned in the book? I’m taking my kids to France for the 1st time this summer and would love to visit some of the places mentioned. (if not I’ll create it and forward the link to you). Thanks!

    • Alex says:

      Thanks Nada — no, I don’t have a TC, but that’s a good idea. If you create one, please forward and I will post it (with attribution, of course).
      Have a great trip, and bon appetit! — Alex

  3. […] Burns and The Fault in Our Stars by John Green (4 votes each). My Life in France by Julia Child and Alex Prud’homme received 3 votes, and all of the others received one or […]

  4. […] I wasn’t ready to leave Paris yet, I then plucked Julia Child’s My Life in France out of my collection. A thicker novel that is an epic read, My Life in France takes you on […]

  5. Doug Davis says:

    Just wanted to thank you, Alex, for you role in bringing “My Life in France” to bear. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it!

  6. […] at Le Cordon Bleu, something I’d been wanting to do for years–ever since I had read My Life in France by Julia Child with Alex de Prud’homme. Le Cordon Bleu has produced many culinary luminaries, but none as famous as The French Chef and […]

  7. Lisa Breslof says:

    I grew up watching Julia Child every evening around supper time. After returning home from school, I prepared all the foods she prepared even if they were not our dinner that evening taking away any part of the show that I could as “prep chef” for my family as a nine year old. She taught me how to cook and most of all to enjoy cooking. From this experience, I never cooked a meal that I didn’t enjoy cooking even if it needed more testing. Julia was my mentor and first real influence before high school where I discoved what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. Lisa Breslof

  8. Mr. Prud’homme,

    I just finished “My Life in France” that I bought on the side of the street in Williamsburg, NY. It is fabulous! And Mrs. Child’s passion and determination with every recipe is inspiring and contagious! I studied abroad in France in 2008 and lived on the Cote d’Azur, in Jean les Pins, so I absolutely loved the descriptions of Grasse and Nice and Cannes. I too, like Mrs. Child, think I’m French, deep down, although I was born and raised in South Africa and currently live in Milwaukee, newly married to a wonderful southern gentleman. I ordered my “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” last week and it is due to arrive tomorrow! I am beside myself with excitement and cannot wait to spoil my husband with delicious smells from our little apartment kitchen. As Mrs. Child is now entertaining the angels with boeuf bourguignon and beurre blanc, I wanted to thank you for documenting her life on paper. By the end of the week I will have tried my very first true Julia Child recipe!

    Merci beaucoup,

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