Author recalls famous great-aunt, Julia Child

Alex Prud’homme. — Michael Lionstar photo
Alex Prud’homme. — Michael Lionstar photo

“Good food is love,” television celebrity chef Julia Child once said. By good, she didn’t mean exactly according to some recipe book, said her great-nephew, Alex Prud’homme, a 56-year-old freelance writer and author from New York City. Rather, she meant put your heart and imagination into it.

“Julia encouraged people to take risks in their cooking, and have fun, and not apologize if they made mistakes. It was a powerful message,” he said.

Prud’homme has written a book about Julia Child in the United States called The French Chef in America: Julia Child’s Second Act, which has just been published in paperback by Anchor Books.

Prud’homme who is related to Child’s husband, Paul Child will talk about his great-aunt and new book Tuesday, Dec. 5, at Wilton Library, beginning at 7.

His previous book about Child, My Life in France, was a best-selling memoir that was made into a popular Hollywood movie called Julie and Julia.

In the heartwarming tale, Julie Powell decides to spice up her uneventful life by cooking all 524 recipes outlined in Julia Child’s classic cookbook.

There were several classic Julia Child cookbooks, in fact. Child was the leading chief author of cookbooks of her time and was the first bona fide TV celebrity chef. She reinvented herself several times in her life, starting from scratch as a cook who could barely boil water and often burned toast.

“Her memoir is kind of a fairy tale, because she can barely boil water and comes back a sophisticated woman of the world who is a French cook and teacher and writer, so that’s a fairy tale,” said Prud’homme.

“This book is more of a drama — it has higher highs and lower lows, a really interesting story nobody has paid attention to. It’s really a love story, Julia’s love of France, and food, and love of each other, that’s what comes through.”

Prud’homme takes his great-aunt’s advice to heart. Having helped her in the kitchen as a child, whipping up French-style breakfasts, he now cooks a number of her recipes,

“I do a lot of cooking. I’ve cooked a lot of Julia’s stuff, to get to know my subject. I was brought up with Julia, and my mother, my aunt everybody was a good cook,” he told The Bulletin.

“It was a food-oriented family, and I love to cook and try new things. This time of year I’m making heartier fare, like stews and pastas with rich sauces to keep you warm. My wife likes to cook and has two teenagers who like to cook. It’s really fun — I try to get everybody involved.”

As a freelance writer, Prud’homme has delved into a variety of subjects from terrorism to hydrofracking but one of his favorites, he said, is his great-aunt. His grandfather and Child’s husband were twin brothers.

“Paul and Julia never had children of their own, but they were generous to us and we grew up as surrogate grandchildren for them. We spent time with them in their place in Cambridge, Mass., or visited them outside of Cannes, in France, in their little house, or in New York,” said Prud’homme.

“I learned a lot by osmosis, just by standing next to her, because she was always working on something delicious. She’d put you to work, and we’d all have to do the dishes afterward, but she made it fun and exclusive.”

Prud’homme remembers her cooking pumpkin soup for Thanksgiving, served in a pumpkin shell. “That was pretty dramatic for me as a kid,” he said.

As a boy, Prud’homme said, he was not fully aware of her fame.

“When we went out to a restaurant, they’d always put us at the biggest table in the middle of the dining room. People would have her sign their napkins,” he said.

“She taught us a great deal about how to comport yourself,” he said.

Child loved to talk to people, and always had a lot of questions, always eager to learn from people, said Prud’homme. It inspired him to become a writer.

“She was naturally inquisitive, was always asking questions. It was genuine, it wasn’t an act. She had such fun doing it, and made other people feel good,” he said.

“That’s lodged in my mind as one of my reasons I became a writer and a journalist, to talk to people and gather stories.”

Prud’homme’s author talk at Wilton Library will be followed by a Q&A session and book signing. There is no charge, but registration is highly recommended.

Information and registration: wiltonlibrary.org, 203-762-6334.

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