In The French Chef in America, Julia Child’s great-nephew, journalist Alex Prud’homme, treats Child’s “second act” like a carefully crafted menu. He pays exquisite attention to the details without ever losing sight of the overall experience.
The effervescent Child is alive and well in these pages, which include scenes from her hit TV show, “The French Chef,” as well as an intimate look at her boundless relationship with her husband, Paul, and the often prickly partnership with her co-writer, Simone “Simca” Beck. The depth of Prud’homme’s research is evident in the particulars: He never tells us about one of Child’s escapades without taking us right to the scene. Learning about how frog legs are cooked, for instance, takes us into a tiny kitchen where Child relentlessly questions the chef even as the cameraman worries about melting his equipment in the intense heat.
Prud’homme follows Child from her roots in Escoffier’s grand cuisine through the trying transition to Gault’s nouvelle cuisine. The shift wasn’t easy on Child, but she navigated the changing culinary scene with a combination of stubbornness and grace. We see the gleam in Child’s eye, but also her need to stick her head into every pot to see exactly what was going on in there. Her nephew applies the same good humor and insistent analysis to his topic, serving us a nuanced dish we feel compelled to linger over.