“A house without a cat is like life without sunshine!” Taking those words right out of Julia Child’s mouth (by way of her memoir), Susanna Reich has whipped up a refreshing biography light on conflict but filled with humor and sensory appeal.
The nation’s most celebrated chef, whose passion for food shone in her quirky yet authoritative cookbooks as well as on her television show, did, in fact, take in a tortoiseshell cat when she and her husband Paul Child lived in Paris in the late 1940s. The author picks up on this angle to craft a child-friendly story of Julia Child and her picky feline, which displays a finicky taste—for mouse, rather than for gourmet food.
Cat lovers will be tempted to paw the cover of Minette’s Feast, which frames Julia smiling and stirring some stock in a copper pot with one hand and with the other, offering a tasty spoonful to the cat perched upon her shoulders. Ms. Bates infuses her watercolor and pencil illustrations with spirited lines and warm colors such as egg-yolk yellow, mustard, and rust, and with touches of French blue and slate gray. Her full menu of other delectable touches includes end papers with a homey pattern of red-and-white checked tablecloths and a mélange of cozy scenes of the kitchen, the outdoor markets and, of course, atmospheric cafes.
Ms. Reich’s pleasant plot captures the energy and curiosity of the tall, big-boned Julia, as well as the loving relationship between her and her shorter, affectionate husband, Paul. The couple shared many simple joys as they made themselves at home in Paris: “They munched on baguettes in bistros where birds warbled in cages. They dined on rolls in restaurants where little white poodles nestled at ladies’ feet.
‘You are the butter to my bread,’ Paul told Julia.”
After they adopt the cat they call Minette, Julia shares the leftovers of the splendid lunches she makes in their apartment near the Seine. Minette turns up her nose at a platter of fish heads in broth, as “mouse and bird were much preferred.” Even after Julia enrolls in classes at the famous cooking school, Le Cordon Bleu, the cat persists in her preference.
With her delicious use of quotes from Julia Child’s memoir, My Life in France (2006), and from the couple’s letters, the author provides a savory little slice of life for young readers. Ms. Reich provides added value with her afterword, notes, bibliography, a crisp black-and-white photo of the chef and Minette, and a glossary with a pronunciation guide.
Julia Child (1912–2004) no doubt would have chuckled upon reading this charming biography. This reviewer can’t help but echo her with a hearty “Bon appétit”!
Reprinted with permission of New York Journal of Books.