A love affair with Judith Jones, Senior Editor of Alfred A. Knopf

My Interview with Judith Jones
The Editor of Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and all her other books including, My Life in France featured in the movie, Julie & Julia.
Senior Editor, Alfred A. Knopf

To read Judith Jones own blog, go to www.judithjonescooks.com
No self-respecting foodie will pass on the Julie & Julia movie. Delightful twinned love stories, lots of great food porn shots and romantic Paris porn shots, (for lovers of both). Great 1950’s hats and dresses, worn with pearls and martini glasses. A few good weepy moments, and several fabulous performances––including a channeling–of Julia Child by Meryl Streep.
In the movie, you will notice two contrary depictions, of Judith Jones, the titanically influential book editor at Knopf, who was the publishing champion who rescued Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking after it had been politely rejected by Houghton Mifflin.
Judith Jones appears first as a  “villain,” a legend who uses a New York downpour to duck a scheduled dinner at Julie the Julia-Blogger’s Queens apartment, triggering a major meltdown for our blogosphere heroine. The second Judith is the “savior” who recognizes Child’s importance, titles the book and ushers in the entire American food revolution, courtesy of France. The villain persona, Jones says is a movie plot invention––(she recently escaped from her car after a Vermont bridge collapsed in a torrential rainstorm, clawing her way up the banks, grasping vines and branches). And the savior part? Basically true.
Boston has a special relationship with Julia Child. Did Julia have a special relationship with Boston? Why did she leave us and move to California?
Julia and Paul Child chose Boston very deliberately. They were looking for a community that was liberal and intelligent, where they could make friends––and Boston was a lot smaller than New York. Julia was so attached to the people who made the “food revolution” happen––she felt very close to the local chefs in Boston. She was a very practical person. After Paul died, she decided that the house in Cambridge was too big for her to maintain. A part of her was always a Californian, and the climate was better. She just packed up and never looked back, leaving hardly a trace. She wasn’t sentimental at all. She really didn’t want to do an autobiography, but I told her to think of it as a tribute to Paul. We went through boxes of Paul’s photographs, thousands of pictures, as we were preparing for her autobiography, (the book that became My Life in France). The photos would start to spin memories, and she would say, “Now, Judith, you know we can’t afford to be sentimental like that…”
What did you learn from Julia – aside from cooking?
Julia used to say to me, “Judith, you and I were born at exactly the right time.” I think if we’d been born at any other time, she would have thought that was the best time to be born too. Julia was always very positive about everything. You’ll see that in the movie. When the first publisher rejected her book, she didn’t give up, she moved on to the next idea.  In many ways she did teach me how to think about cooking. She used to tell me, “Judith! You’ll never be a great cook if you worry about how many pots and pans you use, or if you’re following the recipe exactly.”  I learned that you don’t have to measure every tablespoon of flour once you know how to cook; you have to feel it in your hands.
As an editor, what made Julia unique? Was it her recipes or her voice?
It’s hard to separate the two. Julia had a concept and she knew how to deliver it. She was able to dissect French food and translate it into for the American housewife for the American kitchen. She came up with ways of teaching that were reassuring. For example, it was her idea for the ingredients to appear, as you needed them in the recipe, not just to list them at the beginning of a recipe. She invented that. She also wanted to make sure that things that were easy to get in France had reasonable equivalents here. I remember going to Gristede’s in New York to see if they sold shallots. They didn’t at the time. Things are very different now.
From Julia I learned that if a food writer had a strong individual voice, it didn’t matter if they were writing about French cooking, or Middle Eastern cooking, Italian cooking, or Asian cooking. I found that the best cook books were very often written by women who were expatriates from their own culture and yearned for the plates, the pasta, the recipes that they could get from aunts, mothers, friends.  The used sensual words to describe things –like “velveting” the chicken. Think of how lovely that sounds.

Can you channel Julia? Would she have liked the movie?
I hesitate to do that. Julia wasn’t very comfortable with things that were about her. For example, she wasn’t all that taken with the Saturday Night Live spoofs. But with this movie—she would have admired the quality of the performance. Would have very much admired Meryl Streep’s performance…

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