A Chat About Julia’s Second Act with ‘My Little Bird’

I am in Washington DC for the second annual Julia Child Award (this year’s recipient is Rick Bayless), and will present The FCiA at the Smithsonian on Sat 10/29 (3:30 pm). Nancy McKeon and I had a nice chat about Julia in the 1970s for her blog My Little Bird. Here’s an excerpt and the link:
A DECADE AGO Alex Prud’homme helped his Grand-Aunt Julia write a memoir of the years she and husband Paul spent in France. In that book, My Life in France, we readers watch as Julia Child learns to cook, then begins teaching cooking and then, with French friends Simca and Louisette Bertholle, embarks on the decade-long writing of the canonical Mastering the Art of French Cooking.
Capturing Julia’s memories wasn’t an easy task, Alex says: Julia didn’t like to talk about herself, always steering the

Alex Prud'homme and Julia Child

Alex Prud’homme and his grand-aunt, Julia Child, in her Montecito, California, garden a few days before her death in 2004. / Photo by Sarah B. Prud’homme.

conversation back to the other person. “I would ask about her house in the South of France and she would say, ‘Oh, it was a lovely little place . . . How are your children?”
Alex found his way in by reading aloud some of the letters Julia and Paul had written to, and received from, Alex’s grandfather Charles, who was Paul’s twin brother. “That triggered stories,” he says. “And soon she was talking,” especially when Alex would get her to describe the Paris apartment, the markets, some of the meals they had. It also didn’t hurt, he suggests, that he looks a bit like the young Paul.
This second book, The French Chef in America, is “a slightly different beast,” Alex explains, a work of research and reporting. It essentially picks up the story in the mid-1960s, when Julia and Paul have come back to the States and moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts. With Paul working with her every step of the way, she becomes public television’s French chef, sharing her skills while wooing her audiences.
Julia’s second act really took place in the 1970s. “It’s a period that most people don’t really know about,” Alex says. “I didn’t, really.” After MyLife in France, published after Julia died, two days short of age 92, Alex went back to his other subjects, mostly energy and the environment. But questions he had while working on the first book made him think perhaps he could circle back to Julia.
In his reporting, Alex discerned the “hidden” history of Julia in the 1970s, how in mid-life and mid-career she got away from the French canon and explored other cultures, other tastes. “She reinvents herself and takes off like a rocket in her 60s.”
For the rest of the story, please follow the link …

A Chat With Author Alex Prud’homme