I can’t think of the last time I read a memoir that was as aptly named as Judith Jones’s The Tenth Muse: My Life in Food. I don’t necessarily mean the “muse” part; Ms. Jones’s “life in food” is so apropos, as each of the book’s three hundred pages devotes practically every single word to food, eating, cooking and cuisine. Not only that, but also consider this: basically each of Ms. Jones’s days has somehow involved the analysis of food.
As an expat in post-World War II Paris, Ms. Jones first learned about cooking and food — well-seasoned, lovingly-prepared food. In addition to waking up her culinary senses, Ms. Jones describes her life traipsing around the French capital, details of which sound positively ahead of their time. Who else can you think of that ran an illicit supper club in a princess’s apartment? Not many names come to mind, if any at all.
Eventually, Ms. Jones becomes an editor for Knopf; while she goes on to work with and befriend such people as Anne Tyler, Marcella Hazan and John Updike, it is her relationship with Julia Child that is by far the most interesting. As the woman who brought Mastering the Art of French Cooking to America, Ms. Jones also brought us Julia Child herself.
Of course, there’s more to both the memoir and memoirist than Julia Child and la belle France; Ms. Jones tells tales of friendship with Jeffrey Steingarten, of cooking with Lidia Bastianich and traveling with her husband. In some ways. Ms. Jones’s writing reminds me of M.F.K. Fisher; both describe their prim culinary upbringing and their food-related travels, and both women came-of-age in Paris — something I’m obscenely jealous of. And, as in the case of Ms. Fisher, I can’t bring myself to call Ms. Jones anything other than that — this is a grand dame of cooking and writing here. She deserves respect, I think. Maybe I’m uncharacteristically old-fashioned in this way, but there you go.