In his acclaimed biography, The Beatles, Bob Spitz delivered an intimate and enduring portrait of four rock stars who changed the course of popular culture. Now, timed to coincide with Julia Child’s 100th birthday, Spitz offers an admiring portrait of the woman who became a rock star in her own world, changing forever the way Americans think about food and cooking.

Drawing deeply on Child’s diaries and letters, Dearie exhaustively—and exhaustingly—chronicles her life from her rambunctious childhood and her socially active days at Smith to her early adult life in government service, her whirlwind romance with Paul Child, and her rapid rise to becoming the television star without whom the Food Network and the passion for celebrity chefs might never have developed.

As Spitz points out, Julia Child wasn’t a natural when it came to the kitchen. In November 1948, an extraordinary meal in Paris changed her life, and she enrolled in Le Cordon Bleu, gaining the skills she needed to prepare everything from sauces to soups to soufflés. In 1961, she published Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and though critics called it a monumental work, it was not until Child promoted the book on the “Today” show that it began flying out of bookstores and ended up on kitchen counters around the country. In 1962, Child’s energetic personality and her love of teaching landed her before the camera for her groundbreaking public television show, “The French Chef,” where she cultivated an audience with her down-to-earth ways, her off-color humor, her lack of concern for perfection and her devotion to making sure that everyone—even the unskilled—could cook the dishes she prepared.

As Spitz so cannily observes, Child was determined to stand at the center of her own world. The story of her emancipation runs parallel to the struggles of post-war American women who were frustrated that the demands of being a perfect hostess and a perfect wife kept them from pursuing other dreams and desires. In Julia Child, these women had not only a role model who steered them from beans-and-franks casseroles to Sole Meunière but also a fiercely independent woman who lived above the rules of both the kitchen and culture.

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