This post is a little late on the A to Z schedule, because I got all caught up in reading about her…
What a firecracker! what a fabulous woman!
Julia Child changed the course of cooking in the United States, demystifying French cuisine and encouraging home cooks to GO for it – relax, have fun, and enjoy the process – and the results. Her popularity and wide audience on TV as The French Chef and many other cooking shows, paved the way for The Galloping Gourmet, Jacques Pepin, Gordon Ramsay, and countless other celebrity chefs.
Born in Pasadena in 1912, Julia McWilliams attended Smith College and got her BA in English. She was 6’ 2” and enjoyed playing tennis, golf, and basketball.
After a couple of years in NYC as a copywriter, she returned to California and worked in advertising and wrote for the local Pasadena paper. When World War II broke out, she tried to enlist in the Women’s Army Corps, but was turned down because she was –get this — “too tall” (?! No, it doesn’t make any sense to me, either).
So instead, Julia became a spy! Not skulking around like Mata Hari, but working for the OSS handling top secret files and documents. She was also involved in a project to develop shark repellant, to protect submarine torpedoes from being exploded by curious sharks.
Julia’s OSS bunk in China 1944
She was posted to Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) and then to China, and received the Emblem of Meritorious Civilian Service as head of the Registry of the OSS Secretariat. The award cited her many virtues, including her “drive and inherent cheerfulness.”
[You can read her entire file if you’re curious – it was declassified a few years ago ]
Julia met Paul Child while they were both posted abroad in Ceylon, and they were married in 1946. When he joined the Foreign Service, they moved to Paris. Julia credited Paul with introducing her to fine cuisine. She said her first meal in Rouen – oysters, sole meuniere, and fine wine — was a “culinary revelation.”
“I was 32 when I started cooking; up until then, I just ate”
1956 Valentine’s Day card
By all accounts they were a devoted couple. Paul was something of a poet, and in an ode to his wife on one of her birthdays, he concluded with:
O luscious dish! O gustatory pleasure!
You satisfy my taste buds beyond measure
Gotta love it 😀
In Julia’s words, “We had a happy marriage because we were together all the time. We were friends as well as husband and wife. We just had a good time.”
While living in Paris, Julia attended Le Cordon Bleu, studied with famous chefs, and met Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle at the the women’s cooking club Cercle des Gourmettes.
The trio worked on a cookbook to explain French recipes to an American audience, and The French Chef: Mastering the Art of French Cooking was published in 1961.
Mastering the Art of French Cooking, 50th Anniversary Edition
“Find something you’re passionate about and keep
tremendously interested in it.”
The book was a hit, and led to the launch, in 1963, of the award-winning TV show The French Chef. Audiences loved Julia Child’s relaxed and enthusiastic style of cooking.
“The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking you’ve got to have a what-the-hell attitude.”
After the couple returned to the US and settled in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Paul designed a kitchen to Julia’s specifications (including higher than average counters). The kitchen became the set for Julia’s later TV series.
Julia Child was famously impatient of diet obsessions, arguing that food should be savored and enjoyed, not turned into an enemy.
“The only time to eat diet food is while you’re waiting for the steak to cook.”
“If you’re afraid of butter, use cream.”
“Fat gives things flavor.”
“Everything in moderation… including moderation.”
And, ultimately, very sensible advice that does not involve counting calories. Rather, take
“…small helpings, no seconds, no snacking, and a little bit of everything.”
Over the decades, Julia Child wrote more cookbooks and starred in numerous TV series. She collaborated with other chefs, notably Jacques Pepin. Julia & Jacques Cooking At Home
She founded The American Institute of Wine & Food, along with wine-makers Robert Mondavi and Richard Graff, to promote “the understanding, appreciation, and quality of wine and food.”
Julia was not an haute cuisine snob. She once said her favorite comfort food was “red meat and gin.”
But when an interviewer asked Julia to describe her ideal last meal, she created a more elaborate menu.
As reported in Noel Riley Fitch’s 1997 biography, Appetite for Life: The Biography of Julia Child, the courses would include:
caviar, Russian vodka sauce, and oysters with Pouilly-Fuisse wine
pan-roasted duck, with onions and chanterelle mushrooms
Pommes Anna (thinly-sliced potatoes baked in oodles of butter; see recipe here) and fresh asparagus accompanied by a 1962 Romanee-Conti (a red Burgundy)
French bread with Roquefort and Brie, washed down with a Grands-Echezeauxs Burgundy
- For dessert? perhaps sorbet with walnut cake; ripe pears and green tea, or crème brulee from Le Cirque in New York, served with a 1975 or 1976 Chateau ‘Yquem Sauternes dessert wine.
Julia Child lived life with gusto and passion. She died in 2004, ten years after Paul’s death, and just a couple of days before her 92nd birthday.
Her last meal was reportedly French onion soup.
“Life itself is the proper binge.”
As Julia Child so famously and so often said: Bon appetit!