Thursday, March 4, 2010

Julia's Life in France

Bon appetite! Can't you just hear Julia singing out that salutation on her PBS cooking shows? When this year's "Julie & Julia" movie came out it really spoke to me. Not because I am a gourmet cook but more because the story revolves around Julie, a blogger (which I am), and Julia, an expat trailing spouse (which I am too). Julia Child was a remarkable woman with a fascinating life story. In her late 30s while in Paris for her husband's job she wanted to do something meaningful with her time so she signed up for a class at Le Cordon Bleu. The rest is history.

The movie is a blend of two books. The first a summary of Julie's modern day blog, in which she embarks on preparing every recipe in Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking. But also on Julia's autobiography, My Life in France.

Together with three expat girlfriends we read Julia's story of her time in post WWII Paris. It is a page turner not only about the rise of an American culinary phenom, but also a tremendous love story of Julia's marriage to Paul and a mesmerizing true tale of living completely immersed in a foreign culture - and loving it! I am sure Paris in the 1940s was a far cry from my Brussels experience today - but there are familiar overlaps in the French laissez-faire ways that will make any expat knowingly chuckle.
And so to honor Julia and our love for her zeal the four of us booked day tickets from Brussels to Paris to walk in Julia Child's footsteps as described in her book. Somehow we all arranged for kids to be cared for at home to have a real ladies day stepping out in gay Paris! Nikki, Dallas and Jill were mes trois amies joining the adventure. 90 minutes from Brussels to central Paris and 40 euro round trip tickets set the stage for a cheap, easy commute and a picture perfect day. We did spend a lot of time on the Paris metro whizzing from spot to spot, but we certainly covered a lot of ground in 5 hours!We popped up first by the Musee D'Orsay and walked along the River Seine. The day was breathtaking with a robin's egg sky and elegant Parisian buildings glistening in the sun.
Our first stop was a photo op by Julia and Paul's apartment at 81 Rue De L'Universite - or "Rue de Loo" as she and Paul affectionately referred to it.Here right in the heart of everything they lived on the 2nd and 3rd floors. Interestingly, Julia Child is not at all known in France. Her fame came in translating French cooking to an American audience. So regular people live here and we probably looked super strange posing for photos. But hey, we were on a mission!Julia, are you home?!?!Next stop, the cooking utensil store of Dehillerin. This place specializes in professional chef tools. Julia writes extensively about her beloved store, right next to the Halles food market. So you know we had to pay it a visit too!There were copper pots and bins of knives, whisks and molds galore. The aisles were dark and stacked to the ceiling. It was a marvelous treasure hunt to pick souvenirs. I opted for stainless steel cookie cutters and a frosting knife that reminded me of my grandmother.I knew ahead of time the salesmen worked on commission and the pricing was cryptic to figure out. I did not expect the joyful, bald salesman who seemed to want to hug and be in photos with me?!?!There she was, right behind the cash register!Starving by this time, we lunched at a French cafe. To complete the look we sat outside in the sunshine and enjoyed escargot and creme caramel!Only appropriate we dine in the shadow of a bustling public garden and a grand dame French cathedral.The best came last. We arranged ahead of time to tour Le Cordon Bleu, the top notch cooking school where Julia learned her trade. We arrived with little expectation and left floating on air!Karine met us and whisked us all over the school. We greeted chefs preparing for an upcoming demonstration...And students hard at work in boiling kitchen quarters...This master chef even let us taste some of his students' pastries...It was a unique behind the scenes look at the acclaimed school. There are two tracks at Le Cordon Bleu: a 3 month diploma program and also 1-2 day amateur courses anyone can sign up for to sharpen their skills. I only wish we planned an overnight to have time to join in!Julia was ever present in the halls and Karine graciously took time to tell us the school's historical highlights. The name "the blue ribbon" takes root from knights in the 14th century and is synonymous with superb cuisine.I couldn't be more thankful to Karine for her tour. It was a special, unique opportunity that left us all grateful. And capped off our tremendous Ode to Julia!Click here for Dallas' blog entry recounting our trip
Click here for Le Cordon Bleu's 2010 Course Schedule

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