EXACTLY two weeks ago today marks what would have been Julia Child's 100th birthday. I recently was given the opportunity to sit down and chat with Susanna Reich, author of the New York Times reviewed, Minette's Feast: The Delicious Story of Julia Child and Her Cat! An accomplished woman (professional dancer, contributing editor, and award-winning author just to name a few), I was curious to know what had led her to writing her latest book...
PB: I've read that you were once a professional dancer, studying at both the Royal Academy of Dancing in London and the American Ballet Theatre School in New York; spent a decade as a floral designer and owner; and currently, are the author of several award-winning books for children and young adults. Had you previously thought about writing books for children?
SR: No, not at all. I did do a little writing when I was dancing and designing flowers--an article in a scholarly dance journal, a piece about floral bouquets in Bride's magazine--but nothing related to kids. I became interested in children's books after our daughter, Laurel, was born. By that time, my husband and I had become friends with Ed Young, an illustrator who later won the Caldecott Medal. Reading with Laurel and hearing Ed talk about the process of creating books inspired me to write for kids.
PB: What had led you to writing your latest book about Julia Child and her cat?
SR: I always thought Julia would make a great subject for a picture book, but it took a long while to find the right angle for the story, something that would capture her enthusiasm, sense of humor and joie de vivre in a child-friendly way. Then I read her memoir, My Life in France, and found out she was a cat lover who got her first cat, Minette, while living in Paris and studying at the Cordon Bleu. Julia would bring home special tidbits from the market for Minette, like fish heads. In return Minette would leave mice on the living room rug.
|an image from Minette's Feast|
PB: When did your interest with Julia Child begin?
SR: I come from a family of foodies and grew up watching Julia on TV. When I was married, my aunt gave me both volumes of Mastering the Art of French Cooking. I've been cooking from it ever since.
PB: Have you ever had the privilege of meeting Ms. Child herself?
SR: Yes, and as you can imagine, it was a big thrill. The year she turned 80, my brother, Matthew, was President of the NY chapter of the American Institute of Wine and Food. Through him I got the job of designing flowers for Julia's 80th birthday party at the Rainbow Room. In the middle of each floral centerpiece was an 18" whisk with a red rose inside. I also decorated a 40" whisk with roses and pearls for the AIWF to give to her as a birthday present. She slung it over her shoulder with a big grin.
PB: Why a book about Minette?
SR: Julia and her husband, Paul, never had any children, but they doted on Minette. She was the first of their many cats. Through her story, kids get to know Julia at a crucial turning point, when she was discovering her purpose in life, working hard to become an accomplished cook, and reveling in all that Paris had to offer. It's a love story, really--about Julia's love for Paul, for Minette, for French food, and for Paris.
|Minette weighs the options: mouse or meunière?|
PB: Can you explain the process of writing Minette's Feast? I imagine you'd had to do your homework when it came to researching Julia's early life in Paris!
SR: As a nonfiction writer, you have to love research, and I do. I read Julia's memoir, of course, and every book that's been written about her. Articles and interviews, too. I studied Mastering the Art of French Cooking, pored over maps of Paris, watched videos of Julia. I even researched the history of cat food! Then I had to turn all this material into a text that would be fun and accessible for kids. I played with the language and especially enjoyed incorporating French words and quotes from Julia's memoir and letters.
PB: And lastly, what did you do to celebrate Julia Child's 100th birthday?
SR: I made Vichysoisse and Coq au Vin. My cat ate the leftovers.
Through the generosity of Ms. Reich and Abrams Books, FBTOT will be giving away a copy of Minette's Feast: The Delicious Story of Julia Child and Her Cat to one lucky winner! For your chance to win, simply send an email to: FromBehindTheOpenTable@gmail.com with "Minette" in the subject line. One winner will be selected at random on August 31st, at 11:59 p. m. and notified via e-mail. Bonne chance!