“Well, all I know is this —nothing you ever learn is really wasted, and will sometime be used. You [Julia Child] have come nearer to mastering a good many aspects of cooking than anyone except a handful of great chefs, and some day it will pay off. I know it will. You will just have to go on working, and teaching, and getting around, and spreading the gospel until it does. The alternative, that Americans do not give a damn about fine food and refuse to learn how to make it, is one I simply refuse to face.” —Avis DeVoto in 1958 (Julia Child’s long-time friend who assisted in helping Mastering the Art of French Cooking become published)
~The Simple Sophisticate, episode #124
In 1951 Julia Child graduated from Le Cordon Bleu after having failed her first exam in 1950. In 1952 she began the cookbook that will become Mastering the Art of French Cooking which was finally published in 1961. Nine years. Nine years of perfecting each recipe, cooking and recooking, inviting trusted eyes, such as her friend Avis to read, try and then provide feedback on clarity of instructions and flavor, and within those nine years, receiving many rejectionsfrom publishers, most of whom thought the book was too expensive to publish and not something American women would want, let alone use.
As hindsight does provide the gift of 20/20 vision, we all know how successful Julia and Simone Beck’s cookbook was (the third gourmand, Louisette Bertholle, was given a smaller percentage of the royalty, but no longer worked with the pair). But there is a wonderful reminder how clarity of vision, patience and fortitude are essential in order to be successful. Nine years. Julia Child began the book when she was 40, and finally published just before her 50th.
Recently, I saw an interview with Emmy award nominated actress Tracee Ellis Ross, and she shared that the best advice her mother (the legendary singer Diana Ross) ever gave her and that she still applies to her life now that she is in her forties is, “have a plan”. This directive caught my ear as my mom has well as shared this simple, yet powerful piece of advice with me. “Make a plan,” she shares, “and stick to it”.
The easy part, if there is one, depends upon the person. Perhaps you too are akin to Julia Child and know exactly what you want to do, so the vision and direction are clear. Or maybe you don’t mind the “be patient” part, but just cannot nail down where you want to go or end up. Whichever part is your ‘simple part’, the key is to trust that having a plan will be the key to reaching the success you seek (once you know what you want).
Here is a step by step approach to making the advice of “Have a Plan” pay off:
1.Determine what you want
Yogi Berra said it succinctly, but it really is this simple, “If you don’t know where you are going, you might wind up someplace else.” The key, the crucial key to ending up anywhere worthwhile is to know what we want. Dream big, reach high, seek something that now may seem impossible, but at least decide on where you want to go and what you want to attain. A plan cannot help if we don’t give it a target.
2.Determine why you want to reach your goal
The motivation behind Julia Child’s goal of writing a cookbook for the servantless American cook was the value of eating delicious food after having fallen in love with the bounty and flavor that flooded her palate in Paris. She believed in it 110% regardless of what publishing houses who rejected her manuscript said. Each of us must also believe fervently and obdurately in the goal we seek. It must not be based on what someone else suggests or what will be applauded or raise our status. If any of these come, so be it, but that must not be the end goal. Why? Because none of those events are in our control and none of them will be enough to hold our attention for the entire time that is needed to achieve our goal.
“I am certainly coming more and more to the conclusion that this book, we should frankly state, is for people who like to cook; and who want to be able to produce the most delicious things it is possible to do. There are plenty of simple things, like a plain roast duck; but when you want a great effect, you can’t kid yourself with half measures, as you won’t get a superb result.” —Julia Child to Avis DeVoto in 1956
3. Look at the details
The details are the foundation. Julia knew her recipes had to be delicious and the instructions had to be clear, which is why she and/or her team, Simone Beck, cooked each recipe and edited each item until it was precisely that. The primary reason her classic cookbook is still a worthwhile resource to have in the kitchen is because we always learn how to cook or bake better after reading just one recipe. We taste the food and we sigh with delight. That is due solely to the details and remembering to polish them until they shine.
4. Give yourself a respite from time to time
Paul and Julia Child moved more than a few times during the time Julia was writing the manuscript: Germany, Norway, Marseilles, Paris. And in one letter she speaks about how she has just returned from the skiing, but realizes if she spends all of her time skiing, nothing will get done. However, the key is, go skiing every once in awhile. Clear your head, find your balance, be reminded of why you are so doggedly pursuing your goal. Ultimately, the respite you provide yourself will recharge your laser focus and enable you to work even better.
5. Surround yourself with others who believe in you
Avis DeVoto adored Julia, and Julia Avis. Avis, after her husband died in the mid-50s, spent more time working in the publishing business and played a significant role in introducing Julia’s manuscript to Alfred Knopf publishing. Avis believed wholeheartedly in what Julia had created (as the quote at the top of the post attests), and Julia and Paul were both exceedingly grateful for her help in the states while they were still in Europe.
Sometimes when we have been on such a long journey, when we finally reach it, we forget that it is significant. Subconsciously we know we’ve achieved a grand milestone, but because everything occurred in such gradual increments, the enormity of the accomplishment can be downplayed in our minds. Make sure to allow yourself the reward of celebrating in whichever way you wish. You’ve earned it, and you are amazing.
Julia Child continues to inspire me the more I learn about her life, attitude and tenacity. But just like Julia, there are many other people to look to when seeking inspiration when it comes to sticking to something for an extended period of time and pursuing our goals until they materialize. The funny thing is, when it becomes difficult and our willpower is low, we sometimes believe that we couldn’t possibly be someone like Julia Child. But here’s the thing, Julia Child was once in our shoes, wondering what her passion was, wondering what to pursue. But she kept trying new hobbies and let her curiosity be her guide. And if we too will trust the inner compass of what piques our interest, we can be successful in what we decide to seek as well.
~Quotes from the book As Always, Julia: The Letters of Julia Child and Avis DeVoto by Joan Reardon
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