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Archive for July, 2011

Dwarfed by a Giant

Since I wrote my book, “Discover Cooking with Lavender,” I’ve learned behind every book, there’s a story with twists and turns, challenges and breakthroughs and plenty of hard work. That’s exactly what fascinated me about “As Always, Julia – The Letters of Julia Child & Avis DeVoto.”

Everyone has heard of Julia Child, her masterpiece, “Mastering the Art of French Cooking,” and her popular television program; but what I learned and loved about this book is how Julia stepped onto the culinary stage and became a legend in the culinary world.

“As Always, Julia – The Letters of Julia Child & Avis DeVoto” gives us a glimpse of their friendship through their own words. These letters reveal how over a ten-year period, Julia persistently worked at “cookery and bookery,” dealt with setbacks, received encouragement from her mentor Avis DeVoto

, and finally in May 1960 got word that her book proposal had been approved by Knopf.

 As I read the letters of Julia and Avis, I felt inspired by their friendship. Their correspondence tells of recipe-testing, technique trials and the search for clear and understandable descriptions. I could relate to the tough choices about which recipes to include, or how to explain rare ingredients, or how to specify details such as best pan size. How often do you read a book that changes your life? I’m adding these five life lessons into my recipe for success.

"As Always, Julia: The Letters of Julia Child and Avis DeVoto

   1. Be generous. When you can help someone, don’t hold back.

In 1952, more than half a century before Facebook, Julia Child responded to a journalist, Bernard DeVoto, who ranted against the American kitchen knife. Julia, living in Paris then, sent him a carbon steel paring knife. That act of kindness was the beginning of a lifelong friendship between Julia Child and his wife, Avis DeVoto.

An excerpt from Julia’s March 8, 1952 letter to Bernard Devoto:

“Your able diatribe against the beautiful-beautiful-rust-proof-edge-proof American kitchen knife so went to my heart that I cannot refrain from sending you this nice little French model as a token of my appreciation.”

The journalist’s wife, Avis DeVoto, responded with a letter of thanks. Like many of today’s Facebook “friends,” Julia and Avis corresponded for nearly three years before they finally met one another in July 1954.

   2. Collaborate with people who share your passion.

Excerpt from Avis DeVoto’s letter of March 20, 1953:

“I made a beautiful omelet for my lunch with chives and parsley, but I still have to use a spatula to make it roll. We are going to have poached salmon with beurre blanc for dinner. Honest to God, Julia, you have brought a revolution into this household. I wholly expect the completed book to cause a real revolution.”

   3. Focus on quality, and keep your standards high.

Julia Child - She Never Gave Up!

Julia focused on doing her very best while she worked on her book. This excerpt is taken from her February 12, 1953 letter to Avis.  

“I am determined that this book is to be as perfect as we can possibly make it; and that every point in the basic explanations is to be absolutely mastered and masterfully explained. I think the Sauce chapter is on the whole, a damn good job, and sets us a pretty high standard for the rest . . . which must be even better.”

This excerpt is taken from her February 6, 1955 letter to Avis.

“There will be so many things to come out ahead of us, I refuse to worry, but I want very much to study everything that does appear, so we can try to better it … Which I think we can in many instances. But . . . we weren’t born into the trade, more’s the pity. Had we started in at 12, apprenticed to a good master, we would be far ahead of where we are now. But we also have the advantage of being housewives, which gives a different approach.”

4.   Never give up.

Julia Child worked on her book for ten years. In Paris, she began her formal culinary education at Le Cordon Bleu in 1949. She found friends who shared her interest and perspective on food. In 1952, Julia, along with two friends, taught cooking classes. The three women teamed up to create a cookbook. The book was published in October 1961 by Knopf. By August of 1962, 100,000 copies were sold and by 1974, sales rocketed to 1.4 million books.  Julia’s television series, “The French Chef,” was broadcast between 1963 and 1966. In 2009, the film “Julie and Julia” attracted more attention to Julia Child and her book, “Mastering the Art of French Cooking.” Book sales soared. Today this book is considered one of the most influential works in American cookbook history.

5.  Lighten up and be playful.

These women had fun and adopted a playful approach. When I read their letters, and noticed how they lightened up the moment with a chuckle here and there, I realized their light-hearted style added fun by spicing up everyday lives. I will give you several of my favorite examples.

From Julia’s letter to Avis on January 5, 1953:

“I can’t tell you my emotions of love and gratitude for all your interest and hard work on behalf of our book; you display the true marks of a Great Gourmande . . . which always includes the warmest and most generous of natures . . . and is why people who love to eat are always the best people.”

From Julia’s letter of November 2, 1955:

“Certainly don’t want any photos of us on our book, we’ll be too old by that time anyway, and besides I don’t think it helps the appetite and might hurt the sales.”

Avis DeVoto "Foster Mother, Wet Nurse, Guide and Mentor"

From Avis’s letter of February 8, 1953:

“Now that I know Paul {Julia’s husband} is a photographer, I have a definite request to make. (Don’t for the love of God send me any more French cookbooks. …) I want Paul to take a photograph of you at the kitchen stove. With or without decorated fish.”

From Avis’s letter of February 27, 1954:

“You know, it’s funny. By the time we develop real taste in food, and begin to learn how to prepare it, digestive disorders set in and weight piles up. When I think what I could have done in my youth, when I ate like a horse with no bad results at all, with the knowledge I am getting now, I could cry.”

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