Julia Child was an American chef whose cooking ability led to fame on television and an established role as a cookbook author. Julia Child is known for bringing French cuisine to mainstream American audiences via the publication of her debut cookbook titled “Mastering the Art of French Cooking.” She went on to host several cooking programs on television, the most successful of which was called “The French Chef” and ran from 1963-1973. Although Julia Child is not commonly considered to be a household name, she was widely popular in her day and even inspired the 2009 film “Julie and Julia.”
Julia Carolyn McWilliams was born in Pasadena, California on August 15, 1912. Her father was a land manager and her mother was the heiress of a paper company. Julia was the oldest of three children. Her brother was born in 1914 and a sister followed in 1917. Julia was well educated thanks to her privileged background. She was 6’2 tall, which was uncommon for a woman but beneficial to her in many of her sports pursuits. Julia enjoyed golf, tennis and basketball and continued to play sports as she attended Smith College where she graduated in 1934 with a degree in History (although some reports claim English as her major).
After college, Julia moved to New York City. She got a copywriting job for the upscale home-furnishing company W. & J. Sloane. She returned to California in 1937 and wrote for local publications for four years, mostly in advertising. Julia joined the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) during World War II and moved to D.C. There she worked as a typist before being promoted to a researcher position. Julia was later posted to China where, as head of the Registry of OSS Secretariat, she was awarded the Emblem of Meritorious Civilian Service. While in Ceylon, Sri Lanka, Julia met and fell in love with fellow OSS employee Paul Child. On September 1, 1946 they were married in Pennsylvania and later moved back to D.C.
Paul Child was an artist and poet who had lived in Paris. Paul is credited for introducing his wife to fine cuisine. In 1948, Julia got the opportunity to experience Paris for herself when Paul joined the U.S State Department and the couple moved to France. While there, Julia amused herself by attending the Le Cordon Bleu cooking school. Showing promise as a chef, she went on to study with Max Bunard who was considered to be a master chef. Julia also joined a woman’s cooking club where she met Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle who were writing a French cookbook geared toward Americans and invited Julia to help them pen it. In 1951, the three women started teaching French cooking to American women in Julia’s Paris kitchen. This is where Julia’s skill as a teacher first became noticeable.
Over the next decade, Julia and Paul traveled around Europe. Upon returning to the United States of America they settled in Cambridge, Massachusetts where Julia continued to research and test recipes. In 1961, the cookbook that Julia had written with Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle was published by Alfred A. Knopf who was unperturbed that the book was an encyclopedia-like 726-page effort titled “Mastering the Art of French Cooking.” The book went on to become a critically acclaimed best seller that was lauded for its helpful illustrations. The book remains in print until this very day.
Following the success of her book, Julia wrote articles for various magazines and a column for “The Boston Globe” newspaper. In 1962, Julia appeared on National Educational Television (NET) in Boston to discuss her book. While on the program Julia demonstrated how to cook an omelet and this segment was so enjoyed by viewers that Julia was offered a position as a television cook. Her program, “The French Chef” debuted on February 11, 1963 to immediate success. For ten years the show ran nationally and won Emmy Awards and Peabody Awards. Julia was not the first television cook, but she was the most famous due to her cheerful personality and enthusiasm. In 1972, the program became the first in history to be captioned for the deaf. Some episodes can be viewed on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zA2ys8C-lNk
Julia went on to publish many more cookbooks, all of which were successful. During the 1970s and 1980s Julia starred in several television programs that centered on cooking and she won a National Book Award for her 1979 publication titled “Julia Child and More Company.” In 1981, Julia founded “The American Institute for Wine and Food.” Julia would continue to star in television cooking shows into the 1990s. Her “kitchen set” was designed by her husband, Paul, who was ever supporting of her endeavors. The kitchen set was such a part of pop-culture that it is currently on display at the National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.
In 1989, Paul suffered a series of strokes and was confided to a nursing home where he died in 1994. Julia, ten years younger than her husband, remained attentive to him while still maintaining her career. In June 1992, she toured Italy where she spoke with American journalist Bob Spitz who would later use his time with her to publish a biography of her life that was released in August 2012. In 2000, Julia received the French Legion of Honor and was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. In 2001, Julia moved to a retirement community in Santa Barbara, California. Despite earing numerous honorary doctorates (including one from Harvard) and being awarded the U.S Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2003, Julia spent her final years relatively quietly and peacefully. On August 13, 2004, at the age of 91, Julia Child died of kidney failure at her retirement community home after enjoying a meal of French onion soup.
Although Julia Child is gone, her legend lives on via her books, voice recordings, films about her life, and authentic cooking clips from her actual programs that are available on YouTube. Julia Child was a talented and motivated person who used her love of cooking to bring joy to others and, for this, she is truly an interesting person who made the world a better place.