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Appetite for Life:
The Biography of Julia Child


by Noel Riley Fitch

Noel Riley Fitch's savory new biography, Appetite for Life, reveals a woman as appealing as the good food and serious cooking she popularized. As a California girl and Smith College undergraduate, Fitch writes, Julia McWilliams was notable for her high spirits and voracious appetite. Performing intelligence work in Asia during World War II, she met Paul Child, and their marriage of mutual devotion and affection endured until his death in 1994. His postwar assignment took them to France, where she discovered her true calling.

Fitch reminds us that Child championed fresh ingredients at a time when frozen foods and TV dinners dominated American supermarket shelves, and that she demystified haute cuisine with her earthy humor and casual attitude toward mistakes. This affectionate portrait of the remarkable Julia Child reflects her fervent belief that the pleasures of the table are a natural accompaniment to the pleasures of life.

I read this book immediately after reading a recent biography of James Beard. Before having read both books, I was sure Beard was deservedly at the pinnacle of American culinary expertise and influence. I now believe that position belongs to Julia Child, who, with her two French colaborators, was almost entirely responsible for the text of their books, unlike Beard, who employed a sizeable number of ghost writers in much the same way that 'Martha Stewart' is more of a brand for a team effort than itis the identity of a single worker. At the same time, one can easily trace the rebirth of interest in things culinary by the conjunction of Childs books and early PBS shows with the advent of the Kennedy White House French Chef hired by Jackie Kennedy. I also have an enormous respect for Child in comparison to Beard for scrupulously avoiding product endorsements and other commercial entanglements.
I know this book was written without the active cooperation of Ms. Child, and I believe it shows. The author had access to all of Child's papers and correspondence and, I'm sure, interviewed a large number of Child's friends and colleagues. This makes me yearn to read Julia's own memoir. Until that is available, this will do just fine.

B. Marold (Bethlehem, PA)



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