Bonny Wolf is the author of Talking with My Mouth Full: Crab Cakes, Bundt Cakes and Other Kitchen Stories (St Martins, 2006), the host of Kitchen Window, NPR’s food podcast; a commentator for NPR’s Weekend Edition; and a food columnist for The Washington Post. More information is available at www.bonnywolf.com.
Julia Child and Judith Jones both went to Paris for the first time in 1948, beginning a journey that changed their lives and the way Americans cook.
“It’s quite possible that we passed Judith and Evan (her husband) on the street, or that we stood next to each other at a cocktail party, for we were leading parallel lives,” Child writes in her memoir My Life in France. “But we never met in Paris.”
They didn’t learn of each other until the summer of 1959 when a huge manuscript on French cooking by Child, Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle landed on Jones’ desk at Knopf where she was an editor.
“I was bouleversee, as the French say – knocked out,” Jones writes in her memoir The Tenth Muse: My Life in Food. “This was the book I’d been searching for.”
My Life in France was published in 2006, two years after Child’s death at age 91. Her grandnephew, Alex Prud’homme, put together the story of her formative time in France from conversations with her, letters, notes and photographs, many taken by her husband Paul.
Their voices are different: Jones is reserved and private while Child is exuberant and forthright. Their stories, however, are similar. Both grew up in homes with hired cooks and were educated at eastern women’s colleges (Smith for Child, Bennington for Jones). Both married older men who they considered soulmates and neither couple had children. Both women fell in love with France and its food, and both believed home cooking could be excellent.
Jones went on to bring out books by many important food writers including Claudia Roden, Marcella Hazan, Edna Lewis and Marion Cunningham. She was also the editor of literary figures such as John Updike and Anne Tyler.
Her publishing career began when she pulled from the reject pile Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl. All of this is part of the story told in The Tenth Muse. (The 19th-century French gourmet Brillat-Savarin called food the 10th muse.)
Julia Child, of course, went on to become Julia Child. My Life in France is a wonderful window through which to look at how she went from, in her words, “a six-foot-two-inch … rather loud and unserious Californian” to the meticulous cook who taught Americans how to cook like the French.