Child, Julia 1912-2004

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CHILD, Julia 1912-2004


See index for CA sketch: Born August 15, 1912, in Pasadena, CA; died August 12, 2004, in Santa Barbara, CA (one source says Montecito, CA). Chef, television personality, and author. Somewhat goofy, a bit klutzy, but always entertaining, Child was the renowned host of cooking shows such as "The French Chef" and author of books that helped demystify cooking—especially French cooking—for Americans since the 1960s. For someone who was a famous chef, Child came to cooking rather late in life. Raised in Pasadena, California, on a diet of meat and potatoes, she attended Smith College, where she made better grades as a popular socialite than as an actual student. Graduating in 1934, her first job was as an advertising copy writer for the department store W. J. Sloan in New York City. She also gained more writing experiences as an occasional contributor of articles to the New Yorker. With the onset of World War II, Child considered joining the military but instead was hired as a typist for the War Information Office. Interestingly, this led to a job with the Office of Strategic Services, the forerunner of the Central Intelligence Agency. Stationed in Washington, D.C., the flexible Child helped create a new type of shark repellent. Then when the opportunity arose for her to be stationed abroad, she took it and soon found herself at a post in what is now Sri Lanka. It was there that she met her future husband, Paul Child; the two became good friends and found themselves stationed together in India and later in China. Paul Child was an artist who had lived in France and was an avid gourmet. It was he who introduced Julia to the pleasures of good cooking, first in China and later in Europe. Hoping to win his heart, Child attended the School of Cookery in Beverly Hills, California, after the war. Unfortunately, Child's cooking did not improve tremendously, but Paul Child married her anyway, and the newlyweds were soon on their way to Europe. Child became even more impressed with the possibilities of good cooking, and she enrolled in the prestigious Cordon Bleu. It was here, in her late thirties, that she felt she truly learned how to cook. Child found a new joy in the kitchen, and when, in 1951, her friend Simone Beck proposed putting together a cookbook she leapt at the chance. Together, Beck, Child, and Louisette Bertholle worked for years designing a book on French cooking specifically for Americans who were intimidated by European gourmets. Child felt that previous cookbooks had failed by not providing enough detailed instruction, and she made sure every step was correct and easy to understand by testing recipes and rewriting them in easy-to-understand English. Child also had an innovative idea in including instructions on how American cooks could prepare parts of a recipe ahead of time so that when dinnertime approached the entire dish could be more quickly assembled. The final result, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, was released in 1961 to great critical acclaim. At seven hundred pages, it was praised for the detail it offered to cooks so that they could understand each step as if they were in a French cooking school. For Child, the book also led to a television career. It all started when she was invited to talk about her book for a program on a Boston public television station. Child not only talked about the book but also gave a cooking demonstration. This resulted in people calling the station asking for more such demonstrations, and this led to Child's first show, The French Chef, which aired from 1963 to 1966 and again from 1970 to 1973. The program earned a Peabody Award in 1965 and an Emmy Award in 1966. Child became famous for taking the fear and intimidation out of the kitchen. She believed that cooking should be fun, even playful, and often made jokes and pulled pranks on the set. When she occasionally made a mistake, she would shrug it off and start over. Audiences loved her, and Child would appear in several more shows, including Julia Child and Company (1978-79), Dinner at Julia's (1983-1984), Cooking with Master Chefs (1992), In Julia's Kitchen with Master Chefs (1995), and Baking with Julia (1996). Sometimes her antics and distinctive voice made her the object of satire, such as a skit performed by Dan Aykroyd on Saturday Night Live and a light opera starring Jean Stapleton called Bon Appetit, but Child accepted these with good humor and even felt flattered. She would go on to publish numerous books, often written with other chefs, including From Julia Child's Kitchen (1975), Julia Child and More Company (1979), which won the National Book Award, The Way to Cook (1989), and Julia's Kitchen Wisdom: Essential Techniques and Recipes from a Lifetime of Cooking (2000); Mastering the Art of French Cooking is still in print, with a fortieth anniversary edition being released in 2001. A cofounder of the American Institute of Wine and Food, Child believed that food should be enjoyed, and she felt that it was better to eat a small portion of fattening but delicious food than to consume large quantities of low-fat, low-carb, low-sugar, processed food that tasted terrible. After her husband died in 1994 and she herself began to slow down with age, Child moved from her home in Cambridge, Massachusetts, to a small apartment in Santa Barbara, where kidney ailments finally got the best of her after a last meal of French onion soup. She died peacefully in her sleep. The winner of the French Légion d'Honneur in 2000, Child was working on her final book when she passed away. It is an autobiography of her early life in the diplomatic service, and is scheduled to be published in 2006 with the writing assistance of her husband's grandnephew, Alex Prudhomme. An exhibit at the Smithsonian Institute's National Museum of American History includes Child's entire kitchen from her home in Massachusetts for future generations to enjoy and remember her by.



Chicago Tribune, August 14, 2004, section 1, pp. 1, 6.

Los Angeles Times, August 14, 2004, pp. A1, A18, A19.

New York Times, August 14, 2004, pp. A1, A12.

Times (London, England), August 16, 2004, p. 24.

Washington Post, August 14, 2004, pp. A1, A10.