The Journey Behind the Finished Product: Julia Child

I received a Nook as a gift during the summer and couldn’t wait to buy some books for it. I assumed I would have downtime while in China and could read them. However, that wasn’t the case and it took me over a month to finish one book: My Life in France, written by Alex Prud’Homme and Julia Child.

I first read Julie and Julia, written by Julie Powell, this summer (blog post). I knew of the book after watching the movie version some time ago. I always meant to read it but didn’t get the chance to, or rather I didn’t take the initiative, until this summer. I had some free time this summer and after starting Hunger Is the Best Chef, I felt like it was time I read some “food” books.

Reading Julie & Juila at Central Park

Reading Julie & Juila at Central Park

Reading Julie & Juila in the NY Public Library by Bryant Park

Reading Julie & Juila in the NY Public Library by Bryant Park

I had assumed that the movie Julie & Julia was based only on the book of the same name. However, after speaking to Suzen O’Rourke, President of Cooking by the Book (encourage corporate team building through cooking), she mentioned that the movie was also partly based on Julia Child’s memoir. I knew that I just had to read it. Who was the woman that inspired and even saved the life of another? By that, I mean giving her life meaning and direction. Who was this woman who inspired so many to cook? How did she get to a place where she was content?

I don’t quite remember when I last saw the movie Julie & Julia. I vaguely remember some portions, but it was mainly focused on the struggles of Julia. After watching the movie, I searched on YouTube for the videos of Julia on The French Chef. All that I knew of this spectacular woman was the end result of all her hard work. When you see the finished product of anything, you never know what came before it. The struggles. The doubts. The failures. Of course no one wants you to know that when you see his or her accomplishments. People need to try and fail a couple of times before they can succeed. Those who succeed on the first try, well you’re damn lucky.

There are definitely people I look up to, but I only hear of them after they attain they become accomplished. Whether it is by word of mouth or television, I heard of them. But all I knew initially was their end result, not the journey that brought them to where they are now. After overcoming struggles, your success becomes even sweeter.

Reading My Life in France showed me what Julia Child had to overcome. The work she put in to learn French. After realizing she liked cooking, she set her eyes on the Cordon Bleu. She cooked her way through it, even though she was the only woman in her class. In order to get the final examination, she fought for it. She had to ask many times and finally, her instructor was able to pressure the school to test her. She practiced and memorized all the recipes.

She became well known after publishing Mastering the Art of French Cooking with Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholie. But creating a recipe takes more than just writing what to do. You need to test it over and over again. It needs to be foolproof. It needs to actually work! When I see my mother cook, you just tosses in some spices because she has the feeling of how much to pull it. When I try to recreate her recipe, such as a tofu and scallion dish, I was not able to get the amount of seasoning right. It tasted too salty. But she just knew how much to put in so that every time she made it, it tasted exactly the same. A newbie doesn’t have that same understanding. He or she won’t understand what a pinch of salt is or a spoonful of sugar. It needs to be more accurate. You need to make sure that the other person understands what you mean.

Back in 6th grade, I had a biology teacher who showed us the importance of writing proper instructions during a lab experiment. She had us imagine that we were instructing an alien how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. This alien has never encountered these ingredients. If you just say spread the peanut butter on the bread, what does that mean? How do you spread it? Do you use your hand? Or that strange tool that looks like a tongue depressor but can cut you with its sharp edges? How much should you put on? Where do you spread it? There are so many questions and when writing a recipe, you need to be clear with your intentions. You need precision.

Aside from this, Julia Child tested many methods to develop the best way to prepare a French dish. She practiced many times in order to create a way to make the typical American oven into a French bread baking machine. Before she started on Mastering the Art of French Cooking, she spent many days developing the perfect recipe to make mayonnaise. There are many ways to create a dish, but it takes time and effort to find one that is clear to the new cook. He or she has never created this recipe and wants to get it right the first time.

When I write my recipe, I tend to only cook them once. I do not cook it over and over again to make sure it is foolproof. I’m not someone who is looking to revolutionize the cooking world, but rather I am someone who just wants to share my interest in food. I mention my mistakes while cooking and the reasons why I do certain things. Posting the recipes on this blog is a learning experience for me. It is motivation for me to explore the realm of cooking and hopefully for someone to try my food by cooking it themselves.

Aside from Julia Child’s ambition to create the most accurate recipes, she found a life in food. Before, she was just an employee of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS). But after finding her calling in food, she had an agenda for the rest of her life. No more did she have to wander around lost. She had a mission. That is something I admire in her. She went after something that was a hobby and made it into her career. Sure, there was some luck, but it was mostly all her doing. Sometimes, life has a way of making everything all right. And when life became difficult, such as when her husband was in the hospital, she was able to bring peace to her mind by perfecting her new book, From Julia Child’s Kitchen. Or else she would have gone “cuckoo!”

Life shouldn’t be about doing what you think is right or what you should do. It is about doing what you know with all your heart is right for you.

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