ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT

'Mastering the Art of French Cooking'

RecipesJulia ChildPoliticsBill DaleyElections

Every so often a book comes along that changes the world in some way. Maybe it heralds the start of a new social movement, or enlightens the world about events long hidden. Only in hindsight can we see what a difference such a book made. Here is one such book.

What it is: "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" by Simone Beck, Louisette Bertholle and Julia Child (Alfred A. Knopf, 1961).

How it changed the world: Though Julia Child gained immortal fame as television's "French Chef," it was this 524-recipe book that served as her launchpad. Aimed at the "servantless American cook," this accessible yet serious-minded cookbook helped a generation or two of women — and men — achieve success in the kitchen.

The book "was revolutionary in that it was the first genuine teaching book," wrote Judith Jones, a senior editor and vice president at Knopf, in an email. It was she who got "Mastering" published in 1961. "It changed forever the way a cookbook should be written. Moreover, Julia with her detailed instructions and earthy language and pleasures in the art of cooking released American home cooks from the attitude that cooking was a chore and a bore.

"Julia's premise was that you had to understand all the whys and wherefores of this classic cuisine in order to cook well, and that once you had mastered them you could apply them to all the variations of a classic recipe and even create your own," she added. "So the master recipes are filled with explanations of technique, and why you do something a certain way."

Why you should read it now: "We keep producing generations of new cooks, and the best place to start is with 'Mastering,'" wrote Jones, herself a cookbook author. "There is no book like it in terms of learning how to become a decent cook."

What we think of it: This is the book I turned to when I had to make cheese balls for my high school French class (page 196). Today, "Mastering" is still my first go-to when exploring a classic recipe or learning a new cooking technique or meeting up with a new vegetable or meat cut. My mother may have sniffed at a half-page-long recipe for peas back in the day, but I've come to appreciate Child's detailed, length-be-damned approach to imparting kitchen wisdom in this age of sound bites and Twittered recipes.

wdaley@tribune.com

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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