by Nancy Verde Barr
Wiley & Sons, 285 pp., $22.95
Julia Child is an American icon who delighted and inspired two generations of home and professional cooks in her 40-year career. For the better half of her 92 years, Child was a bona fide celebrity, beloved for her cooking shows, cookbooks, magazine articles, Good Morning America cooking spots, and tireless personal appearances in support of charitable causes. The viewing public saw polished professional presentations in her classic inimitable warble, spiked with a mischievous sense of humor. This charming new memoir provides a firsthand account of what went on backstage: the planning, organization, hard work, and just plain fun experienced by members of "Julia's team" in preparation for those seemingly "effortless" presentations. Rhode Island cooking teacher/cookbook author Nancy Verde Barr spent 24 years working alongside the statuesque Child. Backstage With Julia reveals that the private Julia Child was much like the public version a woman perfectly comfortable in her own skin, possessed of an insatiable curiosity, a wicked sense of humor, and the confidence to be generous and collegial with her loyal staff.
According to Barr, being part of "Julia's team" required devotion to serious cooking and the energy necessary to keep up with the indefatigable Child. While use of the "T-word" (tired) was strictly forbidden, the job had obvious perks. In addition to accomplishing all of the backstage preparations necessary to produce Julia's cooking demonstrations, members of her staff regularly accompanied Child on her recreational travels, to public appearances, restaurant openings, and charity galas. They met and worked with all of the movers and shakers in the international culinary world in the process, and their high-profile association with Julia provided invaluable career opportunities, as well. Barr makes it clear, however, that Child's generous mentoring and genuine friendship were the most priceless gifts of all. Her book is a chronicle of a dynamic era in American culinary history, and reading it made me envious, wishing I'd had been lucky enough to be a member of Julia's team.
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