Julia Child and Judith Jones

Julia Child and Judith Jones oversee the production of the six-part video series, The Way to Cook, 1985.














It was in the spring of 1960, as I recall, when a very hefty manuscript--a treatise on French cooking by an American woman, Julia Child, and two French co-authors, Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle--landed on my desk at Knopf. It had been sent from Cambridge by Avis de Voto, who worked as a scout for the Knopfs. She was the wife of the historian and writer, Bernard de Voto, who had had a lively transatlantic correspondence with Julia on the subject of knives. Avis soon became involved in the project that Julia was working on in Paris with Mesdames Beck and Bertholle and wanted to find an American publisher for their book. The first choice had been Houghton Mifflin, but when the editor there reviewed the manuscript, her reaction was: Why would any American want to know this much about French cooking?

Well, I was one American who did. I had lived in Paris for three-and-a-half years and adored French cooking. But most of what I had absorbed was learned from the butcher, the baker, the greengrocer, and the fishmonger of whom I would ask questions. When I returned to the States, I realized how totally inadequate the few books dealing with French food really were. They were simply compendiums of short recipes and there was no effort to teach the American reader about techniques and ingredients, about what to expect and how to rectify mistakes--in other words, translating the mysteries of French cooking into terms that Americans could understand. And here it all was in these copious pages that I had been asked to look at. It seemed like a godsend and the more I pored over it, the surer I was that it would become a classic.

But how to persuade Blanche and Alfred Knopf? I had been hired as the French editor to deal with translations, not with food. So I enlisted the help of Angus Cameron, who had been around at Bobbs Merrill when they published The Joy of Cooking. He was a canny Scotsman who loved food and had just enough larceny in his soul to know how to sell the project. I was too lowly to be invited to editorial meetings, but Angus told me later that Alfred finally agreed, saying, "Oh, let's give Mrs. Jones a chance," whereupon Blanche walked out of the meeting.

The rest is history. The book was published in the fall of 1961 under the confidence-inspiring title of Mastering the Art of French Cooking (Alfred said to me, "if you can sell a book with that title, I'll eat my hat"). And the big guns of the food world--Craig Claiborne, Jim Beard, Dionne Lucas--embraced it enthusiastically and helped launch it. Before Christmas, we had to go back for a second printing. But it wasn't until the following spring, when Julia appeared on a Boston talk show and took along a little portable burner to cook up something, that she broke into the world of television and won the hearts of Americans all over the country. That first appearance elicited so many phone calls that the station decided to do a cooking show with this tall, lanky Smith College graduate who managed to make French cooking not only accessible but fun. Soon people were demanding shallots in their supermarkets, vocal about it.

Her subsequent books and television shows have all been aimed at the same audience she defined in the opening lines of Mastering--"the servantless American cook who can be unconcerned on occasion with budgets, waistlines, time schedules, children's meals, the parent-chauffeur-den-mother syndrome, or anything else which might interfere with the enjoyment of producing something wonderful to eat." Her most recent master tome, The Way to Cook, embraces good French home cooking as well as many things American, and utilizes new innovations, such as food processors and nonstick pans, that make cooking easier.

At 86, Julia is still going strong. She has just completed a 22-part public television series with Jacques Pepin, to be launched in the fall of '99, with an accompanying book, in which these two legendary culinary experts share their knowledge and their special ways of doing things, not always agreeing, but having fun cooking together. The chemistry between them is great, and one cannot help but think that Julia's maxim of eating well, enjoying a little bit of everything, is a fine prescription for the good life. She is certainly the living proof of it.

Judith Jones
Vice-President and Senior Editor
Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.
August 1998