Appetite for Life

The Biography of Julia Child by Noel Riley Fitch

Noel Riley Fitch (Anaïs: The Erotic Life of Anaïs Nin, 1993) offers a loving, overstuffed biography of the cook from Pasadena who introduced French cooking to the American kitchen.

Julia McWilliams, a leggy California girl, was an adventurous child with a huge appetite who rarely strayed into the kitchen. Equally adventurous as a young woman, and bored with her career in advertising, she joined the OSS.

In 1944, while in Asia, she met the dashing Paul Child, an OSS officer and artist with a love of women, food, and poetry. After a rocky start, the two fell passionately in love. Paul introduced Julia to the pleasures of the table, and she became fascinated with food and its preparation. When Paul’s new role as an American cultural attaché took the Childs to Paris after the war, Julia began cooking in earnest, even attending the famed Cordon Bleu school, where she wedded her American enthusiasm and sense of fun to the serious world of the gourmand.

In Paris she met her lifelong collaborator, Simone (“Simca”) Beck. The two set out to create a cookbook. Mastering the Art of French Cooking, published in 1961, proved an immediate success. American cooks used it to escape the tyranny of frozen foods and grew to appreciate Childs’ reliance on good food, not food snobbery.

With her husband watching proudly from the wings, she went on to do television shows. Audiences loved her quick wit, her vibrant voice, and her slightly awkward presence in the kitchen–she was famous for getting splattered. While Riley’s book is short on recipes, her details are exquisite: Julia and Paul’s defense of a friend accused of communism in 1955, despite the threat to Paul’s career; Julia telling her lonely sister to “get a diaphragm and move to Paris to complete your education”; and Paul’s gorgeous love letters to Julia. The side we see of Child is down to earth and eminently likable, the same qualities that persuaded America that fine food needn’t be elitist. At one point, the author writes of Child, “she snatched a set of cannelloni out of the pot of boiling water with the cry, ‘Wow! These damn things are as hot as a stiff cock.’”

An exhaustively researched, charming story of a life well lived, and an admiring portrait of a good marriage.

APPETITE FOR LIFE: The Biography of Julia Child by Noel Riley Fitch (Doubleday, ISBN: 0-385-48335-X)

 You May Also Like

Rebecca Kurson

Rebecca Kurson writes about literature, pop culture, television, science fiction and music. Her work has appeared in Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, Observer, The Federalist and Rodale's Organic Life.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *