Simone Beck was born in 1904 at Tocqueville en Caux, Normandy. In 1933, she began to study at the Cordon Bleu, then the world's supreme school of cuisine. In 1948 she was approached by a friend, Louisette Bertholle (now Comtesse de Nal che), to collaborate on a French cookbook for Americans. In 1951, at the suggestion of her husband, they began to search for an American to help them, and a friend introduced Simca to Julia Child, then studying cooking in Paris. Soon afterward, the three women formed a cooking school, L' cole des Trois Gourmandes, and began the collaboration that produced the several volumes of Mastering the Art of French Cooking. She died in 1991.
A delightful book from the coauthor of Mastering the Art of French Cooking (Knopf, 1983. 2d ed.) and author of Simca's Cuisine (Knopf, 1972, o.p.) and New Menus from Simca's Culture (HBJ, 1979, o.p.). Beck is perhaps best known in this country as Julia Child's collaborator, but her own cookbooks further established her reputation and, now in her 80s, she continues to receive students from all over the world at her farmhouse in the south of France. Here she reminisces about her privileged childhood and unfortunate first marriage, happily followed by nearly 50 years of marriage to her ``dear Jean,'' the deprivations and tragedies of life in World War II France, and the ``landmark'' and ``fruitful years,'' when she discovered her talent and vocation for cooking. Her memoirs are, of course, accompanied by her wonderful menus to mark occasions of all sorts, with a bonus section of other favorite dishes. An essential purchase.
In 1911, seven-year-old Beck (coauthor of Mastering the Art of French Cooking ) made her first roux ; 20th-century French cooking hasn't been the same since. In this memoir cowritten with Patterson, she tells her life story both as a gourmet and as a woman. Beck begins at Rainfrevillesic , the comfortable family house where her kitchen experiments began. An unfortunate marriage at 19 in Paris led to divorce and Beck's introduction to a man sporting a ``badly tied bow tie''--Jean Fischbachersic , who would become her second husband. Following World War II, she grew interested in writing ``a valid cookbook for Americans'' about French cuisine. An editor's advice to find a collaborator resulted in her fruitful association with the wife of a U.S. government official--Julia Child. Despite the many pages devoted here to the culinary art, Beck's book is essentially the love story of ``Simca'' and Jean, and this story is less compelling than might be expected. Her recipes, however, do transcend--be it in the combination of strawberries, currants and lime juice for a timbale aux fruits rouges or the sorrel, parsley and creme fraiche for soupe a la Suraile . Perhaps it is too much to ask that the memories in Food and Friends uplift like the recipes; the recipes alone are a gift. Illustrations not seen by PW. (Sept.)