Julia Child is the subject of a new book, "Julia Child Rules," by Karen Karbo. (Los Angeles Times / August 9, 2013)
So what’s to be learned from the new book “Julia Child Rules/Lessons on Savoring Life”?
Much -- and we mean much -- has been written about the chef, TV star and author (“Mastering the Art of French Cooking,” “The Way to Cook”). Type “Julia Child” into the search field on Amazon/Books, and you’ll see more than 7,000 entries. But anyone with even the slightest interest in cooking and pop culture may find it hard to resist this series of epigrammatic guidelines for living large, especially when they come from a master at doing just that.
This is not the first time that Karen Karbo, the book’s author, has immersed herself in a lighter approach to biography. She is also the author of “How Georgia Became O’Keeffe: Lessons on the Art of Living” and “The Gospel According to Coco Chanel: Life Lessons from the World’s Most Elegant Woman” (in addition to her novels, short stories, essays and reviews).
Child feels like a natural addition to the list. “She despised rules,” Karbo writes, “and her lifelong way of dealing with them was, in any given situation, to neglect to know them.”
Thus, the first rule: “Live with abandon.” The first chapter’s first anecdote, all about a cross-country trip made by Julia McWilliams and the man she would marry, Paul Child, has a boozy charm: “A bottle of vodka and a thermos of mixed martinis rolled around the back seat of Julia’s Buick. It was a time before air-conditioned vehicles and open-container laws.” It was also a time when women were supposed to know their place, a maxim that Child seemed to ignore or miss altogether.
Another rule (and chapter title): “Learn to be amused,” in which Karbo describes Child’s years at Smith College: “She spent her time partying and continued to specialize in pranks large and small.” Ultimately, Karbo writes, “her college education, an excellent one by all standards, did nothing to inform her future.”
Rule No. 4? “Obey your whims,” a chapter in which Karbo explains how those whims led Child to Washington, D.C., during the war, to the OSS, and to what is now Sri Lanka, where she worked with Paul Child, whom she married in 1946. Karbo continues with the Childs’ experience in post-war France and Julia’s adventures in “cookery-bookery.”
Other rules (and chapters):
Cooking means never having to say you’re sorry.
Karbo describes a scene in which Child prepares French onion soup for “The French Chef,” her classic PBS show. After slicing and simmering and grating, Child then pulls a casserole from the oven that appears blackened, rather than browned … only to pronounce it ready. “She reassures us that this is a sensational meal, and then comes the moment that seals the deal, that causes us to bond with the strange cooking teacher now and forever: She leans toward the camera and confides, ‘When you’ve added all those French touches, who’s going to know?’”
Make the world your oyster (stew):
“No one,” Karbo writes, “told Julia that middle-aged women weren’t allowed to hog the spotlight, or that if they did, they could only do it if they passed as someone much younger.... Middle-age was the time of Julia’s life.”
Karbo, who includes passages on many of her own adventures in the kitchen, is, clearly, more than a fan — she is a disciple of sorts. When she writes how Child “stood up for butter and cream as though they were her children,” you may very well find yourself abandoning all thoughts of kale and gluten-free menus. That tarte Tatin recipe may be calling you.