In ‘Dearie,’ Bob Spitz gives an in-depth biography of a cook like no other: Julia Child.
Who knew that a local from Pasadena would grow up to be a world-famous cook? Child’s presence was commanding — both in her physical stature (6 feet 2 inches), and with her larger-than-life personality.
Spitz follows Child’s privileged upbringing through the onset of World War II, when she volunteered for government service and was sent overseas to Ceylon. It was there that she met Paul Child and began a romance that turned into a marriage. The couple eventually settled in Paris, and the rest is history.
Child’s book, "Mastering the Art of French Cooking," gave her world recognition, and at the ripe age of 50, she went on air as ‘The French Chef,’ providing viewers with the entertaining how-tos of French dishes. Child paved the way for cooking on television, and Bob Spitz is here to tell us more about who the confident, daring, endeavoring, and endearing Julia Child really was.
Highlights from the interview:
On the title of his book:
"I was so taken by the fact she that she always called me 'Dearie' – I thought we had some kind of connection, until I realized that she called everybody 'Dearie,' including the town beggars and the local feral dogs."
"It was Julia's way of communicating with people. She wanted to be able to look you in the eye and call you something and have you feel an attachment to her."
On Julia's quest for a more fruitful life:
"She lived right off of 'Millionaires Row' in Pasadena, and her dad was one of the leading lights of the town ... Julia always felt, when she was younger, that she was nothing more than a social butterfly, a dilettante."
"She was looking for something meaningful in her life. She was almost through her 30s and she couldn't get there; she felt like she was an empty vessel."
"She worked for W. & J. Sloane for awhile, writing advertising copy, and more than socialized with the Chandlers – she actually was proposed to by Harrison Chandler and would have had that dynasty to her name, but she turned him down. He wasn't exciting enough."
"She was on a troop transport, with 2,600 G.I.s and just eight women bound for India, and Julia wound up in Southeast Asia, really up to her eyeballs in the spy business. She was at the elbow of 'Wild Bill' Donovan, who was the head of the O.S.S. at the time."
On Julia's marriage to Paul Child:
"It was a storybook romance, just like in the movies. Her father considered Paul the handmaid of Satan. He was everything that her father detested: an intellectual, sophisticated, worse, a liberal democrat. It really put Julia and her father at odds for the rest of his life and her life."
"Paul was looking for someone who would measure up to his intellect. Julia at the time didn't, but he kind of filled up that empty vessel. He taught her everything he knew about politics and philosophy, and he had friends like the Hemmingways and Gertrude Stein, and his photograph buddy, Steichen."
On Julia's food 'epiphany':
"It was what Julia referred to for the rest of her life as 'That lunch in Rouen.' The very first day she set foot in France, never having eaten a bite of French food, [Julia and Paul] drove to [a restaurant] Rouen. On that plate was a piece of Dover sole just as naked as the day was young, with molten butter around it. Julia couldn't believe what it tasted like, and that was her epiphany."
"Once she put that first forkful in her mouth, she knew she was a goner. She knew that somehow, food was going to be a part of her life in a big way, and that her life was changed."
On Julia's dedication to her cooking:
"Julia would detour to the markets, buy every ingredient again, that she had just had, and she would work all the rest of the morning so that when Paul came home for lunch at one, she would have this fantastic meal ready for him. She would have made it four or five times, just to try to get it right."
On Julia's death:
"Julia was promised another two years of life by her doctor if she would have conformed, and that would have meant taking a medication which would have dulled her taste buds completely. If Julia couldn't eat, Julia didn't want to live."
"She decided not to take her medication and to what she called, 'just slip off the raft.' She did it on her own terms."
On Julia's legacy:
"Even going on TV and cooking without any flair or flash, just being completely natural. That was Julia's greatest contribution. She never had media training to change that warbly voice, she didn't have stylist to dress her up, in fact, I think she wore the same three blouses for the 30 years that she was on TV."
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Bob Spitz, author of “Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julia Child”