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"the French Chef"
Julia Carolyn McWilliams was born into a well-to-do family in Pasadena, California, on August 15, 1912. She was educated in private schools and then at Smith College, from which she received a Bachelors in History in 1934. After college she moved to New York City, where she worked as an advertising copy editor for W&J Sloane (an upscale furniture retailer). She moved back to California in 1937, and spent the next four years writing for local publications and working in advertising.
In 1941, after the United States entered World War II, she joined the Office of Strategic Services (predecesor of the Central Intelligence Agency) seeking excitement and adventure, but spent most of the war working as a file clerk and registrar; she was, however, part of the team that invented shark repellant and did spend time in both Ceylon and China. Despite never gaining the excitement she sought, she did receive a citation for meritorious service. On September 1, 1946, she married Paul Cushing Child, a fellow OSS employee she had worked with while in Ceylon. He joined the United States Foreign Service soon after, and in 1948 she followed him to a posting in Paris, France.
Julia quickly fell in love with French cuisine, and decided to study at the world-famous Le Cordon Bleu cooking school. After completing her training she and fellow classmates Simone Beck and Louisette Berthole decided to introduce French cooking to American women. In 1951, the women began L'école des trois gourmandes (The School of the Three Food Lovers), with Child's Paris kitchen serving as the classroom.
Julia and Paul moved back to the United States and bought a home in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1961. That same year, Julia succeeded in finding a publisher for a cookbook she, Beck and Berthole had been working on for almost ten years. Mastering the Art of French Cooking was an immediate success and was the bestselling cookbook for five years. Child would ultimately publish over twenty books, under both her name alone and with others.
The success of Mastering the Art of French Cooking soon made Julia Child one of the most well known chefs in the United States. In 1962, Bostons's public broadcasting television station, WGBH, asked Child to demonstrate some of the recipes and techniques featured in the book as a special feature program. The show was so successful that the station asked her to make it a regular syndicated show; The French Chef, which premiered on February 11, 1963, went on to become one of the most successful cooking shows on television for ten years. In 1966, The French Chef became the first ever educational program to win an Emmy (for Individual Achievement in Educational Programming). The French Chef was followed by seven more television programs, and by dozens of appearances on other syndicated programs. In the 1990's Paul Child had the kitchen of their Cambridge home turned into a television studio, and all of Julia's shows in the 90's were aired from her personal kitchen.
In 1981, Child, Robert Mondavi, and Richard Graff founded The American Institute of Wine & Food in 1981. She later helped establish Copia: The American Center for Wine, Food, and the Arts.
Paul Child died in 1994; the couple never had any children. Julia continued cooking until moving to a retirement community in Santa Barbara, California, in 2001. In 2003 she donated her Cambridge kitchen to the National Museum of National History, and it is still on display there today. Julia Child died of complications from kidney failure on August 14, 2004.
The French Chef Cookbook (1968)
The French Chef (1963-1973)
Julia Child was awarded the French Legion of Honor in 2000 for her services to French culinary arts, and the United States Presidental Medal of Freedom in 2003. She was the first woman inducted into the Culinary Institute of America's Hall of Fame.
Julie & Julia, a film adaptation of My Life in France (Julia's autobiography) starring Meryl Streep, was released in 2009.
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This page was last updated on May 31, 2018.