France: One Souffle At a Time


Anne, James Beard and Julia
Anne, James Beard and Julia

We are honored to have an excerpt and share a review from One Soufflé at a Time: A Memoir of Food and France by Anne Willan and Amy Friedman. Amy Friedman is an award winning writer and will return in 2014 as one of the judges for our Inspiration Travel Writing Contest.


– Ginger biscuits for a midnight feast at my boarding school

–  Exotic fruits and vegetables from Manaus on the Amazon, confiscated in Miami

– Fresh truffles for Julia Child, packed with camphor balls to distract sniffer dogs

– American bacon for the French chefs at La Varenne–so much crispier they said

– Trunks of American flour to France for testing recipes

– French Mars bars to the U.S.A. for the best hot chocolate sauce for the children

– Christmas gingerbread houses from America to France, if the roof collapses it     still tastes the same

– Ypocras, a medieval spiced wine, labeled “spiced vinegar” so it can cross the state line

-A vinegar “mother” from Italy for our U.S kitchen

souflfleFrom Chapter 7, One Soufflé at a Time: A Memoir of Food and France:

On a trip to South America, Mark said we must go to Buenos Aires in Argentina—one of the great cities of the world. There we took a touristy side trip to a gaucho ranch in the countryside where they put on a family-run barbecue, a churrasco. The meat had a gamey, heavy, fleshy smell, totally unlike anything I have ever come across before or since. It had been aged for goodness knows how long—two or three weeks, hanging almost in the open. They cooked it over slow-burning fires, and the flavor was totally unlike European or American beef, not gamey like venison, just tough and earthy, almost primeval.

I had to return home from that first South American trip before Mark was finished with his work in Rio de Janeiro, but he insisted that on my way I stop in Manaus a thousand miles up the Amazon River. On my own, I took a rickety, twice-weekly airplane flight. It was the rainy season, and the rivers were in full flood. I hired a boatman to take me down to the meeting of the black and yellow waters of a major Amazon tributary, and on the way back up river on turbulent water, we saw on land the most primitive tribe of people I have ever seen—they lived in hammocks with no shelter, classic Amazonian inhabitants who today almost certainly no longer exist. “We must be careful,” the boatman warned as we set food on the land. “Don’t try to talk to them or threaten them in any way.”

Anne in the Dales
Anne in the Dales

I was to catch a plane that evening in Manaus and was jittery about making the flight, and as the little boat turned us upriver back to the town, the motor died, and I had one of my most harrowing moments on any journey. We were drifting rapidly downstream and away from the bank. No one knew where we were, or indeed of my presence in Manaus. For a few fraught minutes, I was terrified, but somehow the boatman finally managed to restart the engine. Back safely in the city, on my way to the airport I stopped at the market where all sorts of strange fruits and vegetables were on sale. I loaded up, but alas, everything was confiscated by Customs in Miami. That became a great lesson. Years later when, for instance, I wanted to bring fresh truffles from Paris to Julia Child in Boston, I packed them with camphor moth balls to distract the sniffer dogs.

Mark and I became more and more intrigued by South America and traveled to what then were considered faraway places—Ouro Preto in Brazil, Machu Picchu in Peru, and from there across Lake Titicaca; at 12,500 feet where only two fish native to the lake remain, we opted to eat rainbow trout, a species introduced in the ‘30s because Orestias and Trichomycterus were endangered. We traveled on, into Bolivia. We had an overnight cabin on a remarkable old chug chug English steamship with belle époque furnishings that, in the 19th century, had been sailed round Cape Horn, taken apart, carried on mule-back up the Andes and reassembled.

I still remember a fancy cracked china washbasin. Mark almost always found themes for our travels, a reason for going to various places. For instance, Ouro Preto excited our interest in colonial capitals which naturally led us to visit Quito in Ecuador, the oldest capital city of South America, 10,000 feet above sea level.

Mark taught me how to be truly adventurous.

Anne and Julia in front of Le Fey
Anne and Julia in front of Le Fey

Read One Soufflé at a Time: A Memoir of Food and France  by Anne Willan and Amy Friedman for of all the tasty tales!

From the New York Times Sunday Book Review, December 15, 2013 as reviewed by Christine Muehlke

Anne Willan must have gotten an advance copy of the Julia rules as a child in war-torn England. Rich, smart and determined, she was in thrall to the magic of French cuisine, which she learned at the London Cordon Bleu. This Cambridge economics grad was later disappointed by the instruction at the Paris original. And so, two charmed decades later, in 1975 — following stints cooking at Versailles and working at Gourmet magazine — she opened La Varenne cooking school on the Left Bank (and, later, in a Burgundy chateau). Among her advisers were her friends Julia Child and Simone Beck. Willan’s autobiography, ONE SOUFFLÉ AT A TIME: A Memoir of Food and France (St. Martin’s, $27.99), is a delightful sketch of four decades spent in the upper stratosphere of the food world. (The index includes more famous names than well-known recipes.) There’s a lifetime of stories to compress, which Willan’s co-author, Amy Friedman, does graciously. Willan’s noblesse and saltiness come through in equal measure. This is a strong woman who grabbed life by the babas: Imagine an Englishwoman opening a French cooking school — in Paris! — in the 1970s. In this age of the tell-all with recipes, it can be disappointing to only nick the surface (though we do learn why Willan and her husband refer to their lovemaking as “the call to prayer”). By the end, the anecdotes begin to read like a dictated Christmas letter, with Child’s death and the premiere of “Julie & Julia” occupying the same paragraph. But this life of a not quite first-generation culinary figure is worth discovering. ◆

Amy Friedman

Amy is an author and creative writing teacher whose books include Desperado's Wife: A Memoir, Kick the Dog and Shoot the Cat, and Nothing Sacred: A Conversation with Feminism. She also works as a ghostwriter and editor, and her articles, essays and stories have appeared in magazines, newspapers and numerous anthologies. Since 1992 Amy has written the internationally syndicated newspaper feature Tell Me A Story for Universal UClick, a column that has spawned two book collections and three audiobooks. Amy lives in Los Angeles with her husband, the teacher and writer Dennis Danziger.

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