After the wild success of “Mastering the Art of French Cooking,” Child cultivated an apolitical mien. But, as she became more comfortable with her fame, she spoke more openly about her beliefs.
“In 1942, Julia McWilliams moved from New York to Washington, D.C., where she was hired as a file clerk at the Office of Strategic Services, the newly formed federal intelligence agency. She had been feeling at loose ends—unmarried at the decrepit old age of thirty, and nursing dashed hopes of becoming a writer. Less than a year later, she found herself stationed in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), where she met and fell madly in love with Paul Child, a cartographer and aesthete ten years her senior. They were eventually both transferred to Kunming, China, and then returned to America after the war. They got married, in 1946, and landed, after some time, in France, where Paul worked in the U.S. embassy, and Julia was left to find a way to fill her days. She ended up at Le Cordon Bleu, in a morning class taught entirely in French and attended entirely by American soldiers on the G.I. Bill. The rest is the stuff of gastronomic legend: the love affair with French cuisine, and then the meandering and often tumultuous path to publishing ‘Mastering the Art of French Cooking’—the two-volume compendium, co-authored with Simone Beck and Louisette Berthold, that would make Julia Child the most famous French chef in the world, despite the fact that she was not a bit French, nor even (as she insisted her entire life) a proper chef. The public Julia Child—Julia Child the culinary titan—looms so large that she often eclipses the person who existed outside the kitchen. Her private sides emerge, in part, in her biographies, especially those written by her nephew, Alex Prud’homme, as well as in her own voluminous correspondence, much of which is archived at Harvard’s Schlesinger Library. In a new volume, ‘Julia Child: The Last Interview,’ a collection of conversations with journalists from throughout her life, the Child on display is quick and insouciant, as one expects her to be, pronouncing on methods for turning mushrooms and the pleasure of making one’s own vinaigrette. But in nearly four decades her voice evolves, revealing a steadily growing mastery in matters beyond the kitchen: the craft of making public television, for example, and theories of education and academia. A part of Julia that stands out in the volume (for which I wrote the introduction), one that I hadn’t previously appreciated, is her passionate political engagement. …”
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