”If you consider yourself creative, it is no longer possible to be a bad cook,” legendary editor Judith Jones told Forbes in 1976. ”Pretty cheeky words as I look back,” Jones reflects in The Tenth Muse, her memoir of cookbook collaborations with culinary titans from Julia Child to Marcella Hazan. Cheeky? More like prophetic. Where once you needed Miró posters and a few John Coltrane LPs to prove you were cultured, today’s requirements include All-Clad pots and familiarity with the trendiest new literary genre: the culinary memoir.
If anyone should be able to craft a riveting life story around casseroles, it’s Jones. As a young book editor in the 1940s, she traveled to Paris and experienced an ”idyllic awakening to the delights of French life.” That she also sent Anne Frank’s diary to Doubleday during her sojourn is, alas, treated as a footnote to sole meuniè. But she issues a full report on a subsequent professional coup: In 1959, a bulky manuscript about French cooking by ”this tall gal from Pasadena, California” landed on her desk. The gal was Julia Child, and the rest is history, recounted by Jones in episodes that are intriguing, though guarded and curiously choppy. B+