Student guide to My life in France and  Julie & Julia

I have received many emails from students who are interested in Julia, how we wrote MLIF together, and what it was like to be part of the movie, “Julie & Julia.”  Here are answers to some of the questions I’ve gotten over the years:

– How well did you know Julia and paul?

Very well. Paul was my grandfather’s twin brother, so I was related to Julia by marriage.  Paul and Julia never had children, but they were always very generous to me, my sisters and our cousins. We had a lot of good meals together, especially Thanksgivings.

– Why did you decide to write a book with Julia?

She was a fascinating person with a great story to tell – not only about her own adventures in learning to cook, but also about France and Europe during a crucial moment in history.  And her rise as a cookbook author and television celebrity mirrored the rise of the American interest in good food and in the rise of television.

– How was it to write a book with Julia?

The best.  We had a lot of fun together, even when it was just the two of us alone.  We both liked to eat, go to movies, discuss politics, and tell stories.  She was mischievous, even at age 91.  In telling me about her life with Paul, I learned a lot about my family, about France, about cooking, about Julia, and about how to live an exeplary life.

– What do you think about Julia Child being a spy?

She wasn’t really a spy, although she liked to hint that she was.  She was a clerk typist in the OSS (the precursor to the CIA).  But she worked with a lot of spies.

– Did she contribute to the spy game?

Yes, she typed up the spies’ reports.  And Paul helped to design secret war maps and war rooms for Allied generals.

– Do you think she left a legacy?

Yes, when Julia Child fell in love with French cooking, published her cookbooks and did her TV shows, she  helped to change America. One of her most lasting gifts was to encourage people to be optimistic, work hard, and have fun – whether it was in the kitchen or somewhere else.

– Did Julia inspire you? Do you use her recipes?

Yes, Julia was – and is – one of the greatest inspirations in my life. I still use her recipes all the time (most are quite easy), and you should, too!

– Do you have a favorite recipe she cooked?

Boeuf bourguignon: it sounds fancy, but its just beef stew, which is easy to make and delicious. Also tarte tatin (apple tart) for desert — yum!

– Why do you think Julia’s favorite charity was Planned Parenthood?

I think that she believed in a woman’s right to decide what is best for herself.  She believed women and men should be strong individuals and equal partners.

– Did Paul ever cook? What did he cook?

Paul cooked simple things, but he and Julia were hardly ever apart and she cooked all the time.  Paul liked to invent cocktails.

– Do you remember some TV shows she was on? What were they?

She had her own show, “The French Chef,” but she also appeared on “The David Letterman Show,” “Good Morning America,” and many others.

– Did you have any part of the film Julie & Julia? If so, what?

Yes, I was an extra. If you blink, you’ll miss me playing a guest at a party at the American Embassy in Paris (shot in NYC), right after Julia meets Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle for the first time. I am standing by the door, holding a fake cigarette and a fake drink, but dressed in a real brown suit from the 1940s.  (You basically see my nose, forehead, and arm.) My cousin, Julia Prud’homme, who plays “the bridge teacher,” is standing next to me, with Corby Kummer (in a beard), who is a wonderful food writer and editor at The Atlantic magazine.  It took all day to make that one shot, but we had a great time watching Meryl Streep do a different entrance every time she came through the door.

–  Have you seen the film? How did you feel they portrayed Julia?

I’ve seen it many times, and I loved Meryl Streep’s performance.  She wasn’t the real Julia, of course, but she gave a nuanced portrayal of “Julia” as imagined by the blogger Julie Powell (played by Amy Adams). Meryl is short in real life, but she did a good job at moving like a tall woman in the film, and she got Julia’s distinctive voice and mannerisms down very well.  She should have won an Oscar for the role.

– What was your purpose for writing My Life in France?

To share Julia and Paul’s wonderful stories of living in France after WWII, to get people interested in food and cooking, to help people understand how hard Julia worked, and to extend her legacy.  Plus, Julia and I were close, and it was really fun to spend time together at the end of her remarkable life.

– Have your impressions of your great-aunt’s life changed at all before and after writing the book with her?

I always admired Julia, but after spending a lot of time with her, I admired her even more — she is the most exemplary person I’ve ever met.  She treated everyone exactly the same, was funny, and was curious about the world.  I discovered that her life was even more adventurous and richer than I had previously thought.  And in learning about the many ups and downs she went through to get her cookbook published, I realized how tough and gracious she was under pressure. She is a great role model.

– How were you able to finish writing the book after Julia’s death?

It took me almost a year to finish the book after her death.  I used the interviews we had done together, the letters she and Paul wrote to my grandparents, and some of the books and articles she wrote. But I still had a question for her every day of my writing.

– What are your cooking abilities compared to Julia’s?

I am an enthusiastic amateur cook, and Julia was a trained professional.  I enjoy cooking with my wife and kids, and we like to try new things; we like to host dinner parties for friends and family.  Julia cooked for the President, on TV, and aboard the Queen Mary.  But she was unpretentious, and always invited us to help her in the kitchen.  She taught me how to make all sorts of things, from soups and cookies to omelets.  Most of all, she taught me to take chances and be unafraid of failure — in the kitchen, and in life.