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Child, Julia

Julia Child

Born: August 15, 1912
Pasadena, California

American chef, author, and television host

Chef, author, and television personality Julia Child has probably done more for French-style food preparation than anyone else in history.

Early life

Julia Child was born Julia McWillams in Pasadena, California, on August 15, 1912, one of John and Julia McWilliams's three children. The children were raised in comfort: they were all sent to private schools, and the family had servants, including a cook. The children, all of whom were unusually tall, loved outdoor sports. In 1930 Julia went to Smith College in Massachusetts, where she majored in history. After graduation she took a job as a copywriter for a furniture company in New York City and enjoyed an active social life.

Work and marriage

At the outbreak of World War II (193945) Julia joined the Office of Strategic Services, hoping to work as a spy. She was eventually sent abroad, but she worked as a file clerk, slept on cots, and wore an army uniform. While in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) in 1943 she met Paul Cushing Child, a member of a distinguished Boston family, who was working as a maker of maps. Their romance bloomed when both were assigned to China. It was there that Paul, a noted lover of fine food, introduced her to cooking.

After the war Julia began to study cooking in Beverly Hills, California. She and Paul were married in September 1946 and moved to Washington, D.C., where he had taken a position with the Foreign Service. After he was sent to Paris, France, in 1948, Julia came to appreciate French food. She decided she wanted to learn about French cooking and, after studying the language, she enrolled at the famous Cordon Bleu cooking school. With two fellow students, Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle, she formed a cooking school called L'Ecole des Trois Gourmandes (School of the Three Gourmets). Julia began working on a cookbook with Simone Beck, writing while following her husband as he was sent to different parts of Europe.

New popularity

In 1961 Paul retired, and the Childs settled in a large house with a well-equipped kitchen in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Julia's book, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, was published the same year. With its clear instructions and explanations and its many useful photographs, it was an immediate success. Child was hailed as an expert, and she began writing articles on cooking for magazines and newspapers. In 1963, after appearing on a television panel show, Child began a weekly half-hour cooking program, The French Chef. This proved even more successful than her book: her off-beat style, good humor, knowledge, and flair for teaching made her very popular. Her work was recognized with a Peabody Award in 1965 and an Emmy Award in 1966.

The French Chef Cookbook, based on the television series, was published in 1968. More well-received cookbooks and television shows followed, and in the 1970s and 1980s Child wrote regular columns for magazines and made many appearances on television in addition to hosting her own show. She was also a founder of the American Institute of Wine and Food, an association of restaurants dedicated to increasing knowledge of food and wine.

Later years

In 1989 Child's husband suffered a stroke and was moved to a nursing home. She coped with her loneliness by exercising, writing, doing public speaking, and working on television programs. She even provided a cartoon voice for a children's video. In August 1992 170 guests paid $100 or more to attend her eightieth birthday party (proceeds went to the American Institute of Wine and Food). She became the first woman elected to the Culinary Institute Hall of Fame in October 1993.

In 1994 Paul Child died. Although saddened by his death, she brought out a new book and television series combination in each of the next two years. She also continued to host an annual trip to Italy for food lovers. In 2000 Child won the Legion d'Honneur, France's highest honor. In 2001 she moved to Montecito, California, and oversaw the opening of a restaurant named after her, Julia's Kitchen in Napa, California. In 2002 she donated the kitchen from her Cambridge home to the Smithsonian Institution, where it will be restored as an exhibit at the National Museum of American History.

Although a strong supporter of classic French cooking, Julia Child changed her approach during her career to reflect modern needs and trends, such as cooking with less fat and red meat and focusing on meals that can be prepared quickly. Above all, she tries to increase the public's awareness and appreciation of wholesome, well-prepared food.

For More Information

Coffey, Roberta Wallace. "Julia and Paul Child." McCalls (October 1988).

Fitch, Noel Riley. Appetite for Life: The Biography of Julia Child. New York: Doubleday, 1997.

Jaynes, Gregory. "A Holiday Bird and a Free-Range Chat with Julia." Life (December 1989).

Snodgrass, Mary Ellen. Late Achievers: Famous People Who Succeeded Late in Life. Englewood, CO: Libraries Unlimited, 1992.

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Child, Julia


CHILD, JULIA. Possibly more than any other person, from the 1960s onward, Julia Child (1912) revolutionized American attitudes toward cooking and eating by embodying two principles: cooks are made, not born, and the pleasure of food comes first. With the supreme confidence of a born clown who grew to six-foot-two, she turned America on to food by entertaining her audience as well as instructing them, making her an icon of the American spirit of energy and good humor. Combining the skills of a highly organized engineer with those of a slapstick comedian, she brought all of America into her home kitchen, through the doubled media of books and television, to wish them "bon appétit."

Born Julia McWilliams in Pasadena, California, to a family who had their own cook, Child did not set foot in a kitchen until she married at thirty-four. A graduate of Smith College and a veteran of World War II, she wed a fellow member of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) whom she had met in Ceylon, Paul Child, who loved art, good living, and good food. When her husband was assigned to the Paris office of the United States Information Service in 1948, Child quickly enrolled in the Cordon Bleu school of cooking. There she joined with Louisette Bertholle and Simone Beck to found l'École des Trois Gourmandes (the school of the three gourmets). The first volume of Mastering the Art of French Cooking appeared in 1961. The second volume, coauthored by Child and Beck, followed in 1970. Together, the encyclopedic volumes introduced "the servantless American cook" to the classic techniques and terminology of French bourgeois cooking translated into American terms and American kitchens.

While the success of the first volume was phenomenal, it was but a prelude to Child's success as a television performer in 1962, in which her infectious enthusiasm and natural clowning were simultaneously embraced and parodied. She followed The French Chef series for Boston's public station WGBH, from 1963 to 1973, by eight more series over the next decades, where she often served as interlocutor to guest chefs. Usually a series such as In Julia's Kitchen with Master Chefs was followed by a book of similar title, so that her publishing output was as prolific as her broadcasting. To date she has published eleven volumes.

Like James Beard, Child linked America's East to West, with houses in both Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Santa Barbara, California. She was among the first to establish an American food community with a national educative mission and proselytized universities to recognize gastronomic studies as part of a liberal arts curriculum. With California winemakers Robert Mondavi and Richard Graff, she founded the American Institute of Wine and Food in 1981 and helped transform the International Association of Cooking Professionals (IACP) into a comprehensive trade organization.

Her personal generosity and breadth of spirit brought amateurs together with professionals and made her a goodwill ambassador, not just between America and France, where the Childs built a house in Provence, but also internationally. She has fulfilled in her own life her admonition in her first book to "above all, have a good time." By taking what she called the "lah-de-dah" out of French cooking, she has made the pleasures of food available to ordinary Americans everywhere.

See also Beard, James ; Chef ; Cookbooks ; Fisher, M. F. K. ; Gastronomy ; Wine .


Child, Julia. The Way to Cook. New York: Knopf, 1989.

Fitch, Noel Riley. Appetite for Life: The Biography of Julia Child. New York: Doubleday, 1997.

Reardon, Joan. M. F. K. Fisher, Julia Child, and Alice Waters: Celebrating the Pleasures of the Table. New York: Harmony, 1994.

Betty Fussell

"If I can make a soufflé rise, so can you."

Julia Child, in The New Yorker, 13 October 1997, p. 91

"No matter what happens in the kitchen, never apologize."

Julia Child, in Fitch, Appetite for Life, p. 142

" It's a shame to be caught up in something that doesn't absolutely make you tremble with joy!"

Julia Child, in Fitch, Appetite for Life, p. 480

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"Child, Julia." Encyclopedia of Food and Culture. . 17 Jan. 2018 <>.

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Child, Julia

Julia Child, 1912–2004, American cooking teacher, author, and television personality, b. Pasadena, Calif., as Julia Carolyn McWilliams. In the early 1940s both she and her husband-to-be, Paul Child, served in the Office of Strategic Services in Washington, D.C., Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), and China. She learned French cooking while her husband (married 1946) was in the diplomatic service in Paris during the late 1940s. In 1961, Child, Simone Beck, and Louisette Bertholle wrote Mastering the Art of French Cooking, the first practical and comparatively accessible such cookbook for an American audience. Shortly thereafter, she began hosting a series of educational television programs; the best known, The French Chef (1963–76), transformed her into an Emmy-winning public-broadcasting star. Child's relaxed, straightforward manner made preparing French cuisine seem less intimidating, and her books and programs helped to change American styles of cooking and eating as well as American attitudes toward food. Her many other cookbooks include From Julia Child's Kitchen (1975) and The Way to Cook (1989). Child's kitchen was dismantled and permanently installed in the Smithsonian Institution.

See her My Life in France (2006, with A. Prud'homme); biographies by N. R. Fitch (1997) and L. Shapiro (2007); N. V. Barr, Backstage with Julia (2007); J. Conant, A Covert Affair: Julia Child and Paul Child in the OSS (2011).

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