Among the most surprising revelations in this meticulously researched and satisfying biography is that the warbly voiced TV culinarian, whose very name has become synonymous with fine cookery, wasn't always such a Julia Child herself. Raised by wealthy, blue-blooded parents in Pasadena, Calif., and educated in New England, the star of PBS's The French Chef never visited France until she was 36 and didn't take a cooking class until a year later, when she enrolled as the lone woman in the famed Cordon Bleu program in Paris. "Mrs. Child was not marked by any special talent for cooking but by her hard work," the school's punctilious director once said.
Fitch persuasively argues that Child, now 85, revolutionized American household life, not just by replacing meat loaf with sole meunière and pâté de foie gras but also by opening new realms of entertainment (she was the first public television personality to win an Emmy). Yet Appetite is just as much the touching, five-decade love story of Julia and Paul Child, the worldly foreign service officer she met while serving in the OSS in China during World War II. The book includes a delicious 1956 Valentine's Day card picturing the pair in a bubble bath and is replete with tasty lines from their love letters, such as Paul's tidbit from a 1946 missive: "I want to...touch you, kiss you, talk with you, eat with you." Bon appétit. (Doubleday, $25.95)