Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Audiobook Review: The French Chef in America by Alex Prud’homme

Once upon a time in America, ‘furrin’ food had a different definition. Boundaries were built by immigrants settling an area. You couldn’t get a decent enchilada in Vermont. Ask for a bagel in New Mexico and they’d scratch their heads. Certain types of cuisine though seemed to bypass borders, particularly French. It had the reputation for being exotic and a little mysterious, certainly something you didn’t prepare at home. Then came this mountain of a woman (all 6’2” of her) with a distinctive warble and boundless enthusiasm. Julia Child led us from the culinary wasteland to a world of international flavors and encouraged us all to be courageous cooks. So we were.

Although she made her first mark as coauthor of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, that was only Julia’s first incarnation. The French Chef in America is the story of her later years when she went on to host a succession of TV shows for public television, specials, and collaborate on other cookbooks. After 17 years and 250 shows for public television she switched to commercial TV doing spots at Good Morning America. It’s a tribute to her remarkable abilities as a culinary educator that her career didn’t begin until she was nearly 50 and didn’t stop until her death at 92.

Alex Prud’homme, who is also Julia’s nephew, writes with affection. He details Julia’s long friendship with Simone Beck, her loving marriage with Paul, and the successful collaboration with Jacques Pepin on television. Readers may be surprised to learn about her bawdy sense of humor when she’d try to crack him up on camera. “There’s a nice piece of tail for you,” she’d say offering Jacques a lobster tail. Or she’d peer into the camera with a chicken and a straight face. “Jacques is a great boner.”

The book covers a lot of ground from her relationship with PBS, the upstarts of Novelle Cuisine, her support of new chefs across all culinary boundaries, to her disgust with the food police and fear of fat. “The only time to eat diet food is when you’re waiting for a steak to cook.” Common sense was always her guide. She was against cultism and felt much of the organic movement was built on balderdash, dousing the public with misinformation and fear. She was all for hard scientific facts before passing judgment.

This review is from the audiobook and, unfortunately, the weakest part is Alex Prud’homme, who also chose to narrate. He’s not awful. He doesn’t mispronounce words or stammer, but a narrator should impart something extra other than a flat reading. He’s obviously not a voice actor and the narration is more like a college lecture series than something to enjoy on a road trip. The text is well-written so my recommendation is buy the print or e-version, but skip the audiobook.

I received this audiobook from Blogging for Books in exchange for a review.

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