Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Cooking as Celebration

"I, for one, would much rather swoon over a few thin slices of prime beefsteak, or one small serving of chocolate mousse, or a sliver of foie gras than indulge to the full on such nonentities as fat-free gelatin puddings.

. . .The pleasures of the table--that lovely old-fashioned phrase--depict food as an art form, as a delightful part of civilized life. In spite of food fads, fitness programs, and health concerns, we must never lose sight of a beautifully conceived meal."--Julia Child, The Way to Cook

I enthusiastically read this quote to Emma yesterday morning. When Nathaniel joined us at the breakfast table, Emma asked him, "Guess what happened?" His eyebrows shot up, and he answered with a question, "The Dow? (stock market)"

"No, silly," Emma explained. "Mom's fallen in love with Julia Child."

It is true. I've never watched her television shows, but I have been looking for a systematic approach to learning how to cook. I decided that I would check out The Joy of Cooking and Mastering the Art of French Cooking from the library. The latter is Julia Child's classic work, volume 1 of which was published in 1961. It was not on the shelf, but I did grab her more recent book, The Way to Cook. As I was checking out, I lamented to the librarian that The Art of French Cooking was not on the shelf. The other librarian at the desk asked me if I had read Julia Child's book, My Life In France. I told her that I hadn't heard of it, but I was interested. She leapt from her chair and procured it for me. I haven't been able to put it down. It details how she learned how to cook after she and her husband moved to Paris in the fall of 1948. She was already 36 years old! That one fact encouraged me considerably.

More than that, though, is the overwhelming catholicity of her approach to life, though as far as I can tell so far, she was not religious at all and leaned left politically. She rejected the American style of doing business where the primary goal is profit and embraced the French style based on the careful building of relationships. She gave this example: "Once, a French friend took us to a wonderful little cafe' on the Right Bank--the kind of out-of-the-way place one needs a local guide to find--and introduced us to the proprietress. 'I've brought you some new customers!' our friend proudly said. With hardly a glance in our direction, Madam waved a hand, saying, 'Oh no, I have enough customers already. . .' Such a response would be unimaginable in the USA."

I look forward to getting to the point in the book that recounts the writing of The Art of French Cooking, which was a collaboration with gourmettes, Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle.

I do like The Way to Cook. It teaches you a master recipe for something and then all the variations that you make once you know it. It uses modern conveniences like the food processor and has lots of color pictures, which I really appreciate in a cookbook. Still, I plan to buy The Art of French Cooking. I want to learn, and I want my children to learn, the "pleasures of the table" the way that Julia Child learned them.

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