We all know Julia Child taught Americans how to cook French food through her cookbooks and TV shows. By gosh, Child even called her first show The French Chef, on which she demystified sauternes and souffles, and was bravely unflappable in the face of culinary disaster. • Several of her cookbooks are enjoying new life and big sales, thanks to the Julie & Julia movie. Though Child died in 2004, her legendary warble and famous boeuf bourguignon recipe live on. • So if Child showed us the secrets of the mother sauces, then who taught the French how to cook their own storied cuisine? • That would be Ginette Mathiot, whose name is not so familiar and who has not been played by Meryl Streep in a movie. Unlike Child, Mathiot did not learn to cook from the masters at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris. She was a home economist and her forte was the kind of cooking Grand-mere might do, not what was served at a four-star Parisian restaurant.
Mathiot's I Know How to Cook, or Je sais cuisiner, is the Joy of Cooking of France, initially written with the young bride in mind. First published in 1932 when Mathiot was just 23, what became France's home-cooking bible contained nearly 2,000 recipes. Mathiot died in 1998 at the age of 91.
The book was recently translated into English and Clotilde Dusoulier, award-winning Parisian cookbook author and blogger (chocolateandzucchini.com), updated and adapted it for an international audience. The recipe tally is down to 1,400, but still includes hindquarter of wild boar and a recipe for "plainly cooked truffles," perhaps rooted out by that wild boar before he met his end.
Though she grew up in food-centric Paris, Dusoulier's love affair with food was kindled when she lived for a time in San Francisco, another food-bent city. Her blog is published in both English and French.
We recently talked with Dusoulier, 30, by phone about the nearly 1,000-page book, published by Britain's Phaidon, and the state of French cuisine. Here is some of that conversation:
How is this cookbook different from books in America?
The style of French recipe writing is very brief, and even though we tried to make them more accessible, we wanted to keep the original spirit of the book. It's not a Julia Child approach that leaves no stone unturned and tells you how to do things exactly. We give you the spine of the recipe.
In France, it's a reference book for seasoned cooks and also traditionally a book that parents give their kids when they go out in the world and into their own place. Many generations have this book.
What are your favorite recipes in the book?
Lamb Shoulder Provencale. It's a rolled-and-stuffed lamb shoulder. It's a recipe I like to prepare when I have friends over because I can make it in the afternoon. And the apple meringue.
What is the state of home cooking in France today? Are people there having the same challenges finding time to cook as they are in the States?
That is also going on in France. We do have a lot of fast-food options and people work a lot. In France (like in the United States), we also have the missing link, women who came of age in the '60s and '70s who wanted to break away from the classic cliche by working. (Because of this) a lot of women in my generation did not know how to cook and they really want to now. There are now lots of cooking classes, and the cookbook publishing business in France is really thriving.
My generation sees cooking as something you can do to please yourself, as a hobby and for entertaining. They feel more free to experiment other cuisines.
Do you think Julie & Julia returned French cooking to the front burner?
I do think it's a very good climate in which to offer another book on French cooking. French cooking has a bit of a problem, a mixed message. You have restaurant-style cooking that restaurants try to promote as something special. It does exist and it has its good things, but people tend not to differentiate between that and French home cooking, which is more basic and simple.
We have a lot of different regional cuisines. It's not a large country but it has very different identities in each region.
Your blog produced a successful cookbook and you've been posting musings about cooking in Paris for six years while writing other books. Is the blog still important?
To me, it's the spine of everything I do. It's truly what started me in food and writing. A blog is such a dynamic thing for a writer. You cook, you write and people give you feedback.
If you aren't surrounded by people who are passionate like you, you feel like you should tone down. You need people who understand why you are so excited about making your own English muffins. I still get excited when I press "publish."
Janet K. Keeler can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8586.