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Mastering The Art Of French Cooking Is A Bestseller

The article is both encouraging and slightly sad. I am shocked that this book didn't sell more then 20,000 copies per year prior to "Julie and Julia".

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/24/bus...

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  1. especially considering the amazing reprint with both books sold as a set for under $40. I have my Mother's copies. She is not interested in cooking like that at all anymore, and, well, I am. Love finding her old notes in the margins.

    3 Replies
    1. re: smtucker

      My fiance just bought me the book for a gift upon my request and I am so GLAD to see a post on it, but kind of bummed out that it is kind of old and people are probably done with it! it took me a while to figure out the topic of this discussion, then I read the article. I love reading old books and I loved the movie and story of Powell. It is fun to look through old stuff and the recipes are great. I wish I could have found a really old copy; that would be soooooo cool. I don't know why people make such a big deal that the recipes use butter, some RECIPES IN HEALTh books are HEALTH ARTICLES contain butter. THESE RECIPES are not SUPPOSED to be eated in large portions cause they are soooooooo filling who could eat a tone of potato soup or beaf boulion. Actually most of the recipes do not call for as much butter as one would think. Some equal to only like less than a tsp per serving. I am not a carbohydrate phobic and I believe carbs are fine to eat. The recipes are a lot of work they are a challenge; you might not like the results at first, but follow them carefully. I like the easier recipes like the potato leak or onion soup one. By the way, I do not think society is obese or unhealthy from eating food with butter; they are obsese from eating all that FAST FOOD AND JUNK FOOD. THE same people at my job who read calories and sugar grams and carbs on everything are the same people who buy their children all that sugar cerial and processed food. Of course if you eat big portions of those recipes you will be overweight, but you should not eat a lot of anything. I care a lot about my health and love to eat healthy, nutritious food. I don't like red meat cause I love animals, but I love all the other recipes in the book. Also, she tries to make the recipes affordable for almost anybody; that is why she give you suggestions on how to use frozen or fresh or canned veggies and does not say you need specific brands, also she says you could omit the liquor I believe and that is the only thing that cannot usually be sold in a regular store I guess. However, it is often difficult to cook a recipe for a family that everybody will like; perhaps not a lot of Americans will eat liver or brussel sprouts and calf brains and I thought that aspics thing sounded a littoe questionable, so before you buy it, see if you like it the recipes; maybe get it from teh library. THERE IS a LOT of recipes though and I think most people will at least like the desserts, which are fine in modeation. But Remeber, most people are probably NOT OVERWEIGHT From eating this stuff, as I said.

      1. re: krissyafite

        You might enjoy perusing the threads linked to here:

        http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/4463...

        This is when Julia Child's books were "Cookbook of the Month" - I did quite a bit of cooking from Mastering the Art .... I was thrilled that, while I was in London, I found a small trade paperback copy of the book - perfect to throw into a suitcase when traveling somewhere where I know I'll be cooking.

        More about Cookbook of the Month -

        http://www.chow.com/cookbook_of_the_m...

        1. re: MMRuth

          I love the idea of loving a cookbook so much that you need a traveling copy of a it.

          ~TDQ

    2. Yeah, I have my mom's reprints from the sixties! I used to read them like novels...mouth watering.

      1 Reply
      1. re: amyzan

        Coooooooooooool! Of course you are a lot older than me; the book was kind of out of style in the 80s! That was when everybody became butter and carb phobic. (Actually in the 80s and 90s everybody was on that all carb little fat binge) so you rarely saw these books stores and the Internet was not seen in homes back then. We take amazon for granted. Still I like my new copy and it is still cool to look at.

      2. Ha! That is great. I'm disturbed by this quote from the article, however, discussing some substitutions someone made to Julia's bouef bourguignon recipe because she was "horrified" to cook with pork fat:

        "I actually did a can of cream of mushroom soup, and a can of French onion soup, and a can of red wine — it was the same can — I filled it with the bottle that I had been drinking the night before."

        Oh my.

        ~TDQ

        29 Replies
        1. re: The Dairy Queen

          That is one of the quotes I found slightly sad.

          1. re: KTinNYC

            I have been thinking about this issue a lot lately, particularly after reading Pollan's piece in the New York Times a couple of weeks ago, as well as some posts on the Bittman expert thread.

            I have decided that I am all for people cooking, period, and that, whereas I have made my own choices about my cooking, and the time and money I have available to me to cook, many others make other decisions. I'm married, no children, not currently working, and with a household income that, at least for now, enables me to indulge in more expensive ingredients. Not working means I also have a lot more time. My situation probably puts me in a v. small percentage of the population (the one Pollan says is cooking more - married, no children, not working) and, as a result, I'm finding it more and more difficult to make judgement calls about decisions others make about their cooking choices.

            Now, did I wince slightly at the cans of soup, well, yes. But, maybe this person had never even tried to make such a dish before, and, inspired to make it, made it quickly. I'm the first to laugh at Semi-Homemade, but, if it inspires some people to get into the kitchen who otherwise order in or go out to feed their families, well, I think that is a good thing. Ditto for Rachel Ray. I have two step siblings who routinely go out to eat - one maxed out the family credit cards doing so b/c his wife wouldn't cook (she didn't work, three kids), and another one with four kids, no husband, job, and only recently off food stamps. My sense is that they are not making good choices for their families, either nutritionally or financially, and that if Sandra Lee or Rachel Ray inspired them to cook at home, my kudos to both women. And, as I noted in the Bittman thread, the idea of good meals cooked quickly is hardly a new one - just take a look at Edouard Pomiane's French Cooking in Ten Minutes - he usually has a multicourse meal fixed in that time (more or less).

            I'll digress a bit here to add that I think that it is unfortunate that for many, cooking seems like such an overwhelming task. I don't think that pressure from society to make gourmet meals instead will help that. And, rather than Sandra Lee's show, I'd rather see shows that show people how to make simpler but nutritious and delicious meals using a few fresh ingredients, with help from the pantry (spices, oils, etc.), rather than making what sound like fancy meals with bells and whistles, but with prepared foods.

            In some ideal world, in which very few of us live, working parents would be able to stop off on their way home from work at the market to pick up beautiful well priced produce, etc., to add to meals that were prepared and frozen ahead of time etc.

            So, I've decided to stop feeling so sad when I read something like the quote above, and try to look at the positive side of things. More digression - but I was so chagrined to see Pollan dismiss Jamie Oliver's upcoming reality show (which I believe is about feeding school children in Chicago) in the same breath as he did other food-related reality tv programs.

            I wish I knew what to do to help increase the number of people who cook at home rather than eating out, ordering in, or putting prepackaged foods in the microwave or oven.

            OK - off my Hyde Park Corner soapbox now!

            1. re: MMRuth

              I agree. She used the recipe the way we all use recipes: as an inspiration or jumping off point, and she acknowledged that what she made wasn't Julia's recipe. It wasn't like one of those people on the recipe websites who completely change a recipe and then when it doesn't turn out, give the original recipe a bad rating!

              1. re: Ruth Lafler

                Hmm...actually, I respectfully disagree. Of course, I applaud anyone who tries something new and puts a sincere effort towards doing so. Afterall, we don't learn unless we try. I'm not harshing on people for being beginners, for making mistakes or even for making substitutions.

                However, as someone who has invested a huge amount of time and energy over the past couple of years to become more competent in the kitchen, I find it silly that someone who is at the condensed soup level of cooking would purchase a cookbook with the title "Mastering..." and use a couple of cans of soup in order to complete the dish. It's like encouraging someone to take on a big mortgage and buying more of a house than they can afford.

                I just think we don't do anyone any favors by pointing them towards a book that is way over their heads and then praise them for taking the easy way out. It would be one thing if she perservered through the recipes and made all kinds of crazy mistakes that she could learn from. (If you want to see what a pathetic cook I can be, please refer to my post in Krissywats Elvis cake thread, or in the Dunlop COTM "eggs and poultry thread" or even the Ottolenghi "baked goods and sweets thread.") I would even be okay if she said something like, "Wow, I didn't realize how many steps there were to cooking a dish like this, next time, I'll plan ahead a little so I have time to prep the mushrooms..."

                This isn't about achieving perfection or making mistakes or being a beginner or even about making substitutions, but about making a genuine and valient efforts towards accomplishing whatever it is you choose to tackle.

                Personally, I think she needs more of a beginners book.

                ~TDQ

                1. re: The Dairy Queen

                  " I find it silly that someone who is at the condensed soup level of cooking would purchase a cookbook with the title "Mastering..." and use a couple of cans of soup in order to complete the dish."

                  And my take, much as I don't love the idea of using canned soups, is that well, hurrah for her for being brave enough to buy such a book and taking the first steps. Yes, might she be better served by a "beginner's book", yes. But, she was inspired by this one and went for it.

                  1. re: MMRuth

                    Not to nitpick, but I guess the point I'm making is that she didn't really "go for it," she plunged in half-heartedly and that's what makes me sad.

                    But, I understand (and agree with) your primary point, as I understand it: some cooking is better than no cooking.

                    Yes, absolutely.

                    ~TDQ

                    1. re: The Dairy Queen

                      And I'm just saying that, perhaps, for her, this was "going for it".

                      1. re: MMRuth

                        I am certain that you are right, but, if that's the case, it still makes me sad. But, the sadness leads me to another (broader, larger-than-Chowhound and beyond the scope of this forum) discussion about how the cult of self-esteem we seem to have adopted in our modern culture and the rise of the belief that results no longer matter, than only trying, even half-hearted trying, matters.

                        But, yes, some cooking and some trying is better than no cooking and no trying.

                        Bookmark this thread and check back in in 5 years. If we have a great renaissance of cooking in the U.S., then we'll know that you are right and I am wrong and, as your reward, I'll COOK YOU DINNER. :).

                        ~TDQ

                  2. re: The Dairy Queen

                    I agree with MMRuth; I think there's nothing wrong with shooting for the moon sometimes, even if you fail. Just because someone takes some shortcuts doesn't mean she needs a beginners book -- some of the recipes in Mastering are pretty simple, and a beginner could do them. Sure, some are more complicated, but you shouldn't be relegated to a beginners book just because you're not going to do every single step of every single recipe in it. I've made that Bouef Bourginon recipe, and it's great, but I've taken some shortcuts in it, because it takes hours to prep everything for it. Sure, maybe my shortcuts are more chowhound friendly than using a can of cream of mushroom soup, but I'd rather applaud someone for even trying than condemn them for not doing it exactly.

                    1. re: JasmineG

                      I don't agree that she shot for the moon. She gazed at the moon for a bit and then decided to just enjoy the moonlight and stay earthbound. I agree, it's okay to shoot for the moon and fail, but I don't think she a) shot for the moon or b) knows she failed. How can you fail when you don't really try?

                      ~TDQ

                      1. re: The Dairy Queen

                        I genuinely don't understand the problem here: so you think that no one should try any of those recipes unless they are willing to make no substitutions? What is enough? I'm just glad that people are cooking, and realizing that they can make good food come out of their own kitchens, buying a cookbook doesn't mean that you have to pass a test on making the perfect bourguignon afterward.

                          1. re: JasmineG

                            I never said no substitutions or perfection was necessary, in fact, I said quite the opposite.

                            ~TDQ

                          2. re: The Dairy Queen

                            But, what is "trying"? We have no idea, in her case, how what she did here differs from what she usually does. And, in terms of her failing, who are we to judge? She made a meal that she and her husband both thought was delicious.

                            1. re: MMRuth

                              I seldom fault people for failing, only for not trying. I don't know where the line is exactly, regarding how much trying is "enough", but assuming she's a competent literate adult, I think adding several cans of soup to a recipe is far enough over the line that in my judgment, I think it's "not trying very hard." In fact, just the fact that she called the dish "fauxguignon" is her recognition that this was a "faux" attempt, not a real one (in contradiction to what I said earlier on this point.)

                              Maybe this more effort than she's ever put into cooking before, maybe the dish was delicious, maybe she'll be inspired to cook other recipes from the book (with or without canned soup), but given the limited information I have about this situation, if the book is so complicated that this recipe caused her to turn to canned soup, if she were my friend, I might encourage her to start with a more basic book. I don't think blowing sunshine at someone and telling them what a great job they did when I don't sincerely believe they did a great job serves them well.

                              ~TDQ

                              1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                What I can't understand is why people are judging this woman. People (on this thread and on some of the other Julia threads) act as if anyone who doesn't hew to their standard of orthodoxy in approaching this book should be taken out to the village square and stoned. What business of yours is it what books she buys and what she does with them as long as she isn't misrepresenting herself?

                                1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                  Well, of course, it was none of anybody's business until she decided to talk to the New York Times about it. Certainly it's my business to have an opinion on a "news" story. Isn't that what the news is for? To be read and for people to become informed and think critically? If people want their business to be private, they shouldn't blog about it, write two books about it, sell the rights to their story for the purposes of a movie about it, talk to the New York Times about it. It's entirely appropriate to have an opinion on what's published in a newspaper and if weren't, every single word typed on this Media and News board is out of line.

                                  I'm not suggesting this woman should be sent out and stoned. But neither do I think she should be applauded or showered (or sprinkled, no one's really showering her as far as I know) with false praise.

                                  Some people (without trying to put words in their mouth or misstating or oversimplifying their positions) find this kind of news story encouraging, that here's someone who was inspired to buy a classic cookbook and cook from it. They see it as a starting point, perhaps. Perhaps I should be more encouraged by it, too, instead of being such a Debbie Downer about it. Maybe, I'll even wake up tomorrow thinking that way. But, unfortunately, I looked at the same situation and thought it was sad. We're all entitled to our opinions, even if we disagree with each other, but surely let's not expect that people should stop thinking or talking about what's going on in our society.

                                  ~TDQ

                                  1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                    No one is applauding her with praise, but I don't understand why people are showering criticism down on her. The attitude that people are objecting to is that she shouldn't have even bought the cookbook if she isn't prepared to make the exact recipes.

                    2. re: MMRuth

                      Overall I agree with you but the Boeuf Bourguignon recipe has about 10 ingredients and is as simple as can be. It's a great starter recipe. I'd bet the woman quoted in the article could have made the original recipe in almost the same amount of time as her faux version.

                      1. re: KTinNYC

                        Well, she might have been able to, but she might not have realized that she was able to. There are 18 ingredients, two of which refer to other recipes in the book (mushrooms and pearl onions). I note that JC calls for beef stock or canned beef stock. I just think that I, over the years, have made a lot of assumptions about what others know about how to cook that are probably erroneous, which is leading me to rethink a lot of these issues.

                        1. re: KTinNYC

                          KT, I'll confess, I looked at this recipe and when that I saw that it was 5 pages long (including the auxiliary recipes), I decided it was a recipe for another day. http://cooking.knopfdoubleday.com/200...

                          I find it very enlightening that you say this is a good beginner recipe from the book.

                          I wonder if the "condensed soup woman" simply scanned the recipe (as I sometimes do) and didn't realize, until it was too late, that there were these other auxiliary things she needed to do, and that's when she turned to her cans of soup. If I recall from memory, the article said the cans of soup entered the equation when the woman decided she didn't want to cook with pork fat, but, maybe (similar to the point Old Spice made below) it's because the auxiliary ingredients caught her off guard. And that is a beginner's mistake (one, alas, I occasionally still make. I guess I'm still a beginner.).

                          ~TDQ

                          1. re: The Dairy Queen

                            <KT, I'll confess, I looked at this recipe and when that I saw that it was 5 pages long (including the auxiliary recipes), I decided it was a recipe for another day. http://cooking.knopfdoubleday.com/200...>

                            But you aren't going to make all the auxiliary recipes! I was in the book at that recipe last evening, and the recipe itself is less than 2 pages long. and the reason it is that long, is that she tells you what to expect at every step.

                            It IS a great "beginner" recipe from that book.

                            1. re: ChefJune

                              I think maybe what TDQ meant is that the recipe refers to recipes for each of the mushrooms and the pearl onions.

                              1. re: MMRuth

                                That's how I read TDQ's post as well but as ChefJune says it's a very specific step by step recipe as are all the recipes. But the this recipe is really good for beginners. It's not very technical and the results will encourage anyone to keep cooking!

                                1. re: MMRuth

                                  Yes, that's exactly what I meant.

                                  It does seem intimidating from "afar".

                                  ~TDQ

                          2. re: MMRuth

                            I don't have kids yet either, and that is another issue as far as making something everybody likes when you have a larger group to cook for. Sure you could just give it to them and say that's when you are getting, but if they don't eat it, it would be a shame to waste these hard recipes on people who don't like it.

                        2. re: The Dairy Queen

                          "Oh my" is just the perfect response. : D

                          But I'm not buying the "horrified" to cook with pork fat riff. It seems to me that even a barely competent home cook, looking to substitute something for lardons would NOT come up with: one can of cream of mushroom soup and one can of French onion soup. He or she would just leave out the pork and proceed with the recipe.

                          I'm thinking she thought it made her Campbellfication of JC's boeuf bourguignon sound somehow reasonable. In fact, she didn't want to bother with preparing the mushrooms (thus, cream of mushroom soup) or the pearl onions (ergo, French onion soup).

                          And yes, it's great that MTA is enjoying a revival. Made me smile.

                          1. re: The Dairy Queen

                            <"I actually did a can of cream of mushroom soup, and a can of French onion soup, and a can of red wine — it was the same can — I filled it with the bottle that I had been drinking the night before.>

                            I've been making Boeuf Bourguignon since I was in 8th grade, and personally, I cannot see how anyone could look at any version of the recipe and think that a can of Cream of Mushroom Soup could be subbed for the mushrooms in the recipe.

                            What am I missing?

                            1. re: ChefJune

                              I've come to the conclusion (above) that she was caught off-guard by the auxiliary ingredients. http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/6469...

                              ~TDQ

                          2. Just read the NYT article and came here to post and you beat me to the punch, KTinNYC!

                            MTAOFC sold "22,000 copies in the most recent week tracked, according to Nielsen BookScan, which follows book sales. That is more copies than were sold in any full year since the book’s appearance, according to Alfred A. Knopf, which published it."

                            The book will be No. 1 on the New York Times best-seller list Aug. 30.

                            I just wish Julia could savor it! Imagine her joy!

                            6 Replies
                            1. re: maria lorraine

                              According to Nielsen Bookscan which is probably more accurate but less prestigious then the NY Times bestseller list MTAOFC is already #2 and My Life in France is #5. What is the opposite of the over night success?

                              http://en-us.nielsen.com/rankings/ins...

                              1. re: KTinNYC

                                My Life in France is #3 on the NY Times Aug 23 paperback beastseller list (Julie and Julia is #2). So, by any measure, Julia Child is selling like gangbusters.

                              2. re: maria lorraine

                                Maybe it would even make her appreciate Julie Powell just a little bit.

                                1. re: sibeats

                                  Yeah. Pretty ironic after all the discussion on the "what Julia thought" thread about how Julia wanted to "protect her brand." Actually, it's Judith Jones who looks like a sour old biddy -- no wonder she's been backtracking so fast in her attitude toward Julie Powell in her most recent interviews.

                                  While there may be some newbie cooks who are going out and buying MTAOFC, I bet a lot of buyers are people like me: people who realized that even though they are "mature" cooks who have other Julia Child cookbooks they don't actually have a copy of MTAOFC (although my mother does, I should borrow hers, as I don't think she's opened it in decades).

                                  1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                    I got my copy of Mastering cheap in a used bookstore; I bet those are going for a lot more now!

                                    1. re: JasmineG

                                      I was at Kitchen Arts & Letters last week and, though they had stocked the shelves well in anticipation of the movie, they were pretty much out. Apparently they have also had many calls looking for first editions of Mastering - and many disgruntled callers about the lack of availability of same!

                              3. Dang... A couple years ago, Costco had a two book set MTAOFC Vol I and II, for $25 or $30. There were 30 copies so I held off assuming nobody else would be interested. They were gone a couple weeks later.