My Interview with Judith Jones, Julia Child’s Editor, at her Home in New York

I arrived at the door of Judith Jones’s compact, six-room apart­ment in a clas­sic brown­stone on New York’s Upper East Side to the sounds of enthu­si­as­tic, high-pitched bark­ing on the other side of the door.

It was her lit­tle white and furry Havanese dog Mabon who was happy to see me and pro­ceeded to jump up and down as I entered the cozy place where she’s lived for sev­eral decades.

It was a few weeks ago and I’d been attend­ing the won­der­ful, first annual Roger Smith Cook­book Con­fer­ence in mid­town Manhattan.

On Day Two of that lively two-day gath­er­ing, I man­aged to find a seat at a jam-packed ses­sion called The Cook­book Editor’s Role.

On that panel were the inter­est­ing editor-in-chief at Hype­r­ion Elis­a­beth Dyssegaard, Rux Mar­tin, senior exec­u­tive edi­tor for Houghton Mif­flin Har­court, and the per­son many of us had come to hear: Judith Jones.

Ms. Jones spent more than 50 years as an edi­tor at Knopf. She worked her way up dur­ing that time mak­ing a name for her­self as the per­son respon­si­ble for pub­li­ca­tion in Amer­ica of The Diary of Anne Frank and as edi­tor for lit­er­ary greats like John Updike, Anne Tyler, John Hersey and William Maxwell.

Most famously, her eye for orig­i­nal tal­ent led to the dis­cov­ery of Julia Child when a man­u­script for the iconic cook­book Mas­ter­ing the Art of French Cook­ing came across her desk, hav­ing been turned down by other publishers.

After speak­ing loudly and firmly to Mabon, who even­tu­ally ceased his socia­ble antics — but not until he cheer­ily chewed a pack­age of gum from my purse — Judith told me how her long-time col­lab­o­ra­tion and deep friend­ship with Julia began.

She grew up in a well-educated, gen­teel fam­ily with homes in Ver­mont and New York. Now in her late 80s, she has bobbed sil­ver hair, a deep, grav­elly voice and under­stated sense of humour. She is soft-spoken, ele­gant and gen­tly opinionated.

When Julia’s name enters the con­ver­sa­tion, her face lights up.

She was the one who got me started,” Judith begins, refer­ring to her even­tual role at Knopf as a key edi­tor of cook­books by authors like James Beard, Mar­ion Cun­ning­ham, Mar­cella Hazan, Mad­hur Jaf­frey, Lidia Bas­tianich, Edna Lewis and Nina Simonds.

She con­tin­ues: “Julia used to say, ‘Judith, you and I were born at the right time.’ When that man­u­script landed on my desk, it was kind of an answer to a prayer. I’d been look­ing for just this kind of book.”

That two-volume ground-breaking tome, first pub­lished by Knopf in 1961, was Mas­ter­ing the Art of French Cook­ing. These days, its sales have spiked, espe­cially among young peo­ple, due to the recent film “Julie and Julia” star­ring Meryl Streep.

Julia wrote it with two French women,” Judith recalls, “but she did most of the writ­ing, the research and the thinking.”

For her part, the book made Judith real­ize her sim­mer­ing pas­sion for food. “I got that awak­en­ing. It was more than about cook­ing. It was with a rela­tion­ship to food and a way of life I was so drawn to.”

That way of life, in par­tic­u­lar the French love of things culi­nary, was ger­mi­nat­ing for both women when they spent younger years in Paris, not together but on sep­a­rate adventures.

Julia Child’s story is told in the lovely book My Life in France co-written by her grand-nephew Alex Prud’homme from audio record­ings he made in Cal­i­for­nia at the end of her life. Julia Child died in 2004 at age 91.

A small stint by Julia on pub­lic tele­vi­sion in the early ‘60s was a spark that ignited her culi­nary career. “Peo­ple said, ‘Get that woman back on tele­vi­sion.’ It was just a nat­ural tal­ent,” Judith recalls with a smile. “What was so refresh­ing was that she was so totally her­self. She shared all she had learned — but, most of all, a real love of cook­ing, some­thing sen­su­ous and visceral.”

Julia’s TV cook­ing show on PBS soon became a hit and her enthu­si­as­tic antics in the kitchen gar­nered a huge following.

Judith tells how some­one asked Julia why she mas­saged the chicken’s breast with butter. Imitating the latter’s mem­o­rable, plummy tones, she repeats the answer: “She said, ‘Well, I think the chicken likes it.’”

Julia’s voice wasn’t as evi­dent in Mas­ter­ing the Art as it would be in later books, all edited by Judith.

That book wasn’t writ­ten in the first per­son,” she begins, “and I think Julia tried to keep her per­son­al­ity down. It wasn’t until later books that her per­son­al­ity emerged. By then, peo­ple knew her from television.”

Here are more top­ics Judith and I dis­cussed dur­ing my visit to her home:

On cook­books: “I can’t imag­ine not being sur­rounded by cook­books. They’re my friends. I think cook­books are an evolv­ing thing — they’re not per­fect. There’s a lot to play with in the elec­tronic age. I have an iPad but haven’t yet learned to use it. The Inter­net is good for young cooks. But I still love cook­books and want to go to bed with them.” She feels there too many cook­books: “They’ve become such a big com­mod­ity and every­body is get­ting into it. It’s become a whole new ter­ri­tory and there isn’t much new now.”

On recipes: “I think you use them to learn tech­niques and rules. Then, like a dancer, you can pirou­ette on your own. If you don’t under­stand those rules — what cut of meat to buy, for exam­ple — you’re not going to have the equip­ment. It’s true of any art form. Peo­ple don’t like to think of cook­ing as an art form — but I do.”

Pet peeves about recipes: “One is the way recipes are writ­ten. A clas­sic exam­ple is ‘In a bowl, com­bine first mix­ture with sec­ond mix­ture.’ First of all what’s ‘In a bowl’ doing upfront? You wouldn’t speak that way. And what do you mean by ‘com­bine’? Do you fold it in, beat it in? Julia always used to say: ‘Beat with a wire whisk and don’t beat too long — you don’t want too much air in it.’” There’s also ‘Set aside.’ It’s the most ridicu­lous thing. What are you going to do, throw it all out after you’ve done all that work?”

Celebrity chefs: “I don’t like to be mean. Celebrity chefs are good if they get some­body into the kitchen. But I just wish there were more seri­ous shows — like Lidia Bas­tianich — where you just enjoy and learn. The empha­sis on com­pe­ti­tion and hurry, hurry, hurry is just exactly what we don’t need.”

On her kitchen: “I have a 25-year-old Gar­land gas stove. And an open ‘apothe­cary shelf’ for dried goods, rice and all the dif­fer­ent beans. I like hav­ing them vis­i­ble to see if they’re run­ning low and for inspi­ra­tion. I think a kitchen should be warm and not so clin­i­cal — every­thing put away as if it were shameful.”

On why Julia was spe­cial: “Julia’s spe­cial gift was her enthu­si­asm. Amer­i­cans have such a strong love/hate rela­tion­ship to food. They’re always look­ing for some­thing that’s bad for them. Look at the whole gluten craze. Every­thing has to be gluten-free. Julia would say: ‘If you need the vit­a­mins, take a pill.’ She’s not going to spoil her cook­ing for the vitamins.”

On cook­ing for one: Judith’s hus­band and col­lab­o­ra­tor Evan died in 1996. Since then she has lived alone. “I had writ­ten my mem­oir (The Tenth Muse: My Life in Food) and the last chap­ter talked about being alone now. I’d cho­sen recipes that typ­i­fied recipes in my life.” Her next and most recent book is The Plea­sures of Cook­ing for One. “The super­mar­kets are so against you. They make you feel like you’re a pariah. Why can’t you buy two big pork ten­der­loins? If I buy that bunch of broc­coli, I’ll have to eat it all and get to hate it like George Bush. I began to strate­gize. It was such fun think­ing through the week how not to waste food — and very creative.”

On cook­ing for her dog Mabon: “I just bought two shoul­der lamb chops in a pack­age. It was too much for me so I gave half a chop to him. It’s such a help. This dog loves every­thing. He imme­di­ately sniffs out the meat, eats it and then goes back to the veg­eta­bles.” Her next project: A book about cook­ing for one’s dog.

On Julia Child’s best advice: “Pay atten­tion, eat mod­er­ately, don’t eat too much between meals and just enjoy. That’s what it’s about.”

I took my trusty Flash­Mic to the ren­dezvous with Judith Jones. Here is part of our inter­view for your lis­ten­ing plea­sure: My inter­view with Judith Jones

The Way to Cook was Julia Child’s favourite of all her books. It’s also Judith Jones’s — and mine. Here’s a superb recipe from it.

Split Pea Soup

This is absolutely deli­cious and, though time-consuming to make as the stock takes about 3 hours, extremely easy. Julia gives the option of using ham bones and left­over scraps from a smoked ham; I used a large smoked pork hock bought from a Euro­pean butcher, with ter­rific results. You can make the ham stock ahead if desired. I chilled it for a few hours before mak­ing the soup itself  in order to remove fat from its sur­face. Adding salt to the soup may not be nec­es­sary depend­ing on the ham you use.

Ham stock:
1 large smoked pork (ham) hock
About 12 cups water, left­over ham brais­ing juices and/or chicken stock
1 cup each: chopped car­rot and onion
1 large cel­ery stalk with leaves, chopped
3 bay leaves
A few sprigs of fresh thyme
5 cloves (optional)

Place all ingre­di­ents in large saucepan. Bring to boil; lower heat and sim­mer, par­tially cov­ered, about 3 hours. Strain, dis­card solids and refrig­er­ate. (I reserve the pork hock before strain­ing, remove and dis­card its bone, skin, fat and gris­tle, then chop the meat coarsely and refrig­er­ate to add to soup later.)


3 tbsp but­ter or veg­etable oil
23 cup each: diced cel­ery and onion
12 cup each: diced car­rot and rutabaga or parsnip
3 tbsp flour
1 12 cups yel­low or green split peas
Salt and freshly ground black pep­per to taste

Melt but­ter in large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add veg­eta­bles; cook, stir­ring, about 5 min­utes. Stir in flour; cook, stir­ring, until blended, about 1 minute. Remove from heat. Add ham stock and split peas, stir­ring well. Return to stove; bring to boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to low; sim­mer, par­tially cov­ered, about 1 hour or until split peas are ten­der. Add salt, if nec­es­sary, and pepper.

Puree soup using a hand blender, food mill or food proces­sor. Add reserved chopped ham to soup. Serve gar­nished with chopped fresh pars­ley, if desired.

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

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