Julia Child completely revolutionized the way we think of cooking. She authored Mastering the Art of French Cooking, which made French cuisine accessible to Americans for the first time. She’s even a pioneer of cooking shows. In 1962, she made an omelet on television that basically spawned every show that’s ever been on Food Network.
Julia wasn’t always a great chef, though. She wasn’t even all that interested in food for most of her early adult life. Read on to find out what sparked Julia’s interest in cooking. All it took was a glimmer, and now Julia’s legacy is burning brighter than ever.
Where This Chef Got Her Start
Julia Child was born in 1912, in Pasadena, California. Her father, John McWIlliams Jr., was a graduate of Princeton University who became a prominent land manager. Julia’s mother, Julia Carolyn “Caro” Weston, was a paper company heiress. Basically, Julia Child’s family had money. She didn’t come from humble beginnings.
Julia’s maternal grandfather, Byron Curtis Weston, was the lieutenant governor of Massachusetts. Julia’s parents had two other children after Julia, a son, John McWilliams III, and a daughter, Dorothy Cousins.
Julia’s Early Education
We already know that Julia Child’s family was wealthy, but they were actually so rich that Julia grew up with a cook who worked in her home. Julia wasn’t all that interested in cooking when she was younger. Her family cook didn’t inspire her to pick up a whisk and scramble a few eggs.
It wasn’t until Julia met her husband Paul that she became interested in cooking. Julia attended Smith College where she played several sports including tennis, golf, and basketball.
Julia’s First Cooking Experience Involved Detering Nosy Sharks
Julia Child wanted to join the war efforts during WWII, but she quickly learned that she was too tall to enlist in the Women’s Army Corps. Instead, she joined the Office of Strategic Services (OSS).
While she was in the military she helped researchers develop a shark repellent so that sharks wouldn’t interfere with U.S. weapons targetting German U-boats. Child cooked up various prototypes of shark repellents, and that was really her first foray into cooking.
How She Met Her Husband
Julia’s husband, Paul Cushing Child, was also an OSS employee. The two met while they were working in Kunming, China. Paul and Julia got married on September 1st, 1946 in Pennsylvania. Paul was something of a foodie. He was an artist and a poet and he had quite a sophisticated palate.
It was Paul who introduced Julia to fine cooking and more refined cuisines. Paul and Julia never had any children.
Julia And Paul Moved To Paris
Paul and Julia had always wanted to move to Paris, so when Paul was stationed there for his job as a United States Foreign Service officer, they jumped at the opportunity. Julia was completely overwhelmed by the quality of French food. She once described the first meal she ate in Rouen (oysters, sole meunière, and fine wine) as “an opening up of the soul and spirit for me.”
While in Paris, Julia attended Cordon Bleu cooking school. She completely immersed herself in the world of French cooking.
Julia Met The Inventor Of Caesar Salad
Back when Julia was a preteen, she went to Tijuana with her family. While she was there, she ate dinner at Caesar Cardini’s restaurant. Caesar was making this very trendy salad that he named after himself.
Julia told The New York Times, “My parents were so excited, eating this famous salad that was suddenly very chic. Caesar himself was a great big old fellow who stood right in front of us to make it. I remember the turning of the salad in the bowl was very dramatic. And egg in a salad was unheard of at that point.” Later, when Julia became a famous chef, she got Cardini’s daughter, Rosa to share the recipe with her.
Julia Was A Terrible Cook For Half Of Her Life
As we already know, Julia wasn’t really interested in cooking until she met Paul, but she also wasn’t a very good cook either. Before she got married, she lived on frozen meals. The one time she did try to cook something substantial, she ended up with an exploded duck carcass and a small kitchen fire.
It wasn’t until Julia was well into her 30s that she became America’s favorite chef. If she can go from being a disaster in the kitchen to training at Cordon Bleu, we can all put a little bit more effort into what we eat for dinner.
It Took Her Nine Years To Create Her First Cookbook
Julia Child’s first cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking completely changed the way American’s thought about French cuisine. Suddenly, people had the tools and the knowledge necessary to make dishes that previously only existed in fancy restaurants.
That cookbook took a long time to spring into existence, though. Julia first started working on it in 1952 with her friends Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle. It took nine years of testing, research, and rewrites before the book was finally ready for publication.
How She Got Her Cooking Show
While she was promoting her cookbook in 1962, Julia appeared on National Education Television. She made an omelet on television and viewers responded very positively to the demonstration.
They liked the idea of a professional showing them exactly how to cook through their TV sets, and thus, the format of the cooking show was born. Julia got her own show called The French Chef which premiered on February 11th, 1963.
The Tone And Impact Of The Show
Julia Child’s television show majorly impacted American culture. Technology in the ’60s didn’t really allow for editing, so all of Julia’s mistakes and blunders were left in the show. She made American women feel like they didn’t have to be perfect. She gave housewives a voice, an outlet, and some much-needed visibility on television.
One mother, in particular, said that sometimes, “all that stood between me and insanity was hearty Julia Child.”
Julia Went On To Star In Other Cooking Shows
The French Chef wasn’t Julia Child’s only foray into cooking on television. In the 1970s and 1980s, she was the star of a whole bunch of other cooking shows including Julia Child & Company, Julia Child & More Company, and Dinner at Julia’s.
In 1979, Child published a book titled, Julia Child and More Company which won a national book award. In 1989, she published The Way To Cook, which is a combined book and instructional video series that Julia was very proud of.
Julia Kept All Of Her Utensils In A “Sacred Bag”
Julia used to carry around what she called a “sacred bag” of cooking utensils she couldn’t live without. Those utensils were a pastry-cutting wheel, her favorite flour scoop, and her chefs’ knives (among other things).
She started using the bag back when The French Chef was first airing. She didn’t let just anyone touch the bag. Only the people in Julia’s inner circle were allowed to touch the sacred utensils.
Julia Child’s Iconic Kitchen Is Now On Display
Julia Child’s kitchen was designed by her husband, Paul. This kitchen served as the set for three of Julia’s famous cooking shows. The kitchen is now recreated and on display at the National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.
If you’re in the Washingon area, you can actually visit Julia’s kitchen. Back in the ’60s, Julia’s home kitchen was transformed into a TV set with high-quality lighting and three television cameras.
Meryl Streep Played Her In A Movie
In 2002, Julie Powell started a cooking project on her blog that involved her attempting to cook through every recipe in Mastering the Art of French Cooking in one year. Nora Ephron turned Julie’s concept into a movie called Julie & Julia starring Meryl Streep as Julia Child and Amy Adams as Julie Powell.
Apparently, Julia Child wasn’t so impressed with Julie’s blog project in real life. Her editor, Judith Jones, said, “Flinging around four-letter words when cooking isn’t attractive, to me or Julia. She didn’t want to endorse it. What came through on the blog was somebody who was doing it almost for the sake of a stunt.“
Julia Child Survived Breast Cancer
Julia Child had a mastectomy in the late 1960s. A routine biopsy came back with cancerous results, so doctors decided that a mastectomy was what was best for Julia’s health. Julia had to stay in the hospital for 10 days, which caused her to become depressed. Paul was also extremely worried about Julia’s mood and her physical condition.
Later Julia was open about her procedure so she could help combat the stigma surrounding it. She told TIME, “I would certainly not pussyfoot around having a radical [mastectomy] because it’s not worth it.”
Julia And Paul Had An Unconventional Marriage
Julia and Paul didn’t exactly have a conventional marriage. Back in the 1950s, men were almost always the breadwinners and women were mostly housewives. Some of them had jobs, but those jobs didn’t bring in nearly as much money as their husbands’ jobs.
After Julia’s career took off, Paul was just happy to be along for the ride. He helped out in any way he could— by washing dishes or tasting new recipes. Paul was able to retire from his day job in 1960 and the couple lived on Julia’s salary.
She Was The First Woman To Make It Into The Culinary Hall Of Fame
Julia Child was the first woman to be inducted into the Culinary Institute of America’s Hall of Fame. Julia may have spent her early years working for the CIA, or the Central Intelligence Agency, but in 1993, she became a member of a different kind of CIA: the Culinary Institute of America.
While the kitchen is stereotypically thought of as the woman’s domain, most of America’s uber-successful professional chefs are male. Julia’s career inspired women to use their own cooking abilities to make some serious money.
Paul Died Five Years After Experiencing A Series Of Strokes
After Julia retired, she and Paul moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts. Paul spent his later years writing poems about his wife. Paul adored Julia and his letters and poems to her have been memorialized in a biography of Julia Child called Appetite for Life.
Paul suffered a series of strokes in 1989 and he had to be placed in a nursing home. Five years later, on May 12th, 1994, Paul Child died in that nursing home in Lexington, Massachusetts.
Julia Passed Ten Years After Paul
Julia Child moved to a retirement home in 2001. She donated her house and office to her alma mater, Smith College. Smith College later sold the house.
Ten years after Paul died, on August 13th, 2004, Julia Child died of kidney failure in Montecito, California, two days before her 92nd birthday. Her last meal was a bowl of French onion soup. The last line she ever wrote in a book was, “… thinking back on it now reminds that the pleasures of the table, and of life, are infinite – toujours bon appétit!”
The Julia Child Foundation
In 1995, Julia Child established The Julia Child Foundation for Gastronomy and Culinary Arts. Julia wanted to give back to the community that gave her so much joy and fulfillment during her lifetime. The foundation gives grants to people and organizations who have plans to further the field of culinary arts.
The foundation also protects Julia Child’s legacy. Julia never had any children, so this foundation exists to protect her good name and promote her work for future generations.