Born 15 August 1912, Pasadena, California
Daughter of John and Carolyn Weston McWilliams; married Paul Child, 1945
Author and television's French Chef, Julia Child coauthored the influential and bestselling Mastering the Art of French Cooking (2 vols. 1961, 1970). She thereby translated French culinary techniques into an American idiom and established the standards for authoritative culinary writing in what has become known as America's gastronomical coming of age.
Enrolled in Smith College by her mother when she was born, Child majored in history and received her B.A. in 1934. Although she aspired to become either a basketball star or a novelist, she accepted a copywriting position at the W. & J. Sloane department store and lived in New York for three years before returning to the leisurely life of Pasadena and its Junior League in 1937. When World War II began, Child went to Washington to work as a typist in a government information agency. After six months, she joined the Office of Strategic Services (OSS, the precursor to the CIA), opted for duty in the Far East, and was in charge of document centers in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) and later in China.
While in Ceylon, she met Paul Child, a former painter and language teacher, who designed war rooms for the OSS in the Far East. After the war they married and lived in Washington, D.C. until Paul was assigned to the American Embassy in Paris in 1948 as the exhibits officer for the U.S. Information Agency.
During the next four years in Paris, Child took French lessons at Berlitz, studied with Max Bugnard, Claude Thillmont, and Pierre Mangelette at the Cordon Bleu, and at the suggestion of Simone Beck became a member of an exclusive society of women known as Le Cercle des Gourmettes. "From the beginning, I fell in love with everything I saw," Child said. Her life was irrevocably changed by the experience of living in France.
Child's culinary career began when a group of American friends asked her to give cooking lessons in her Left Bank apartment. Assisted by Simone Beck, Louise Bertholle, and chefs from the Cordon Bleu, the classes developed into L'Ecole des Trois Gourmandes. When Child's husband was reassigned to the American embassies in Marseille, Bonn, and Oslo, classes were taught whenever and wherever they could be arranged. The school was so successful that the two Frenchwomen invited Child to collaborate in the writing of a cookbook adapting French culinary techniques to American ingredients and kitchens. Eight years in preparation, the first volume of Mastering the Art of French Cooking was published by Knopf in 1961, one year after Child's husband had retired and the Childs were established in their home in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
The book was hailed by the New York Times as "the finest volume on French cooking ever published in English," and widely praised by the culinary establishment. Invited to appear on a book reviewing program at WGBH, Boston's educational television station, Child demonstrated beating egg whites with a balloon whisk as she talked about her book. Letters requesting more of the same led to The French Chef series that premiered on 11 February 1963. More than 200 shows were added to the original series of 26 black-and-white programs during the next nine years. Child had invented the theater of cooking; "Julia" had become a household name.
After the publication of The French Chef Cookbook in 1968, three subsequent television series were the basis for From Julia Child's Kitchen (1975), Julia Child and Company (1978), and Julia Child and More Company (1979). Recipes and techniques from four years of monthly Parade magazine articles, six one-hour videocassettes called The Way to Cook, segments from the television program Good Morning America, and the Dinner at Julia's television series contributed to the comprehensive cookbook The Way to Cook (1989). Over more than 40 years Child has developed the techniques to master fine cooking and fulfilled the joint possibilities of television and culinary instruction.
Recognition as a television celebrity tends to deflect attention from Child's writing. Her many books, however, force their readers to reexamine the canon, to look at culinary writing as a genre with its own potential for excellence. She has insisted that each book be a "teaching" book rather than a collection of recipes. In the later books, however, her Olympian tone about utensils has given way to an informal and personalized discussion of options.
Child's favorite book is From Julia Child's Kitchen, because she says, "It is entirely my own, written the way I wanted to do it." Indeed, the book resonates with the truest authorial voice and tells the most compelling stories of all of her books. The reader comes to know the narrator intimately, her voice inspires confidence, and every recipe becomes the beginning of a plot in whose denouement the reader participates.
Yet the book that represents the culmination of Child's career, however, is The Way to Cook. She breaks with conventional organization by structuring the chapters around master recipes, provides over 600 color photographs to illustrate the methods employed, and blends classic techniques with freestyle American cooking. The award-winning book is her magnum opus, and the distinction it has achieved ranks with the Peabody (1965) and Emmy (1966) awards and the Careme Medal (1974) that have also celebrated her culinary career.
Even well into her 80s, Child continues to produce books that are highly prized for their helpfulness and down-to-earth handling of sometimes complicated cooking techniques. In Cooking with Master Chefs (1993), Child introduces the average cook to 16 of America's top chefs with an accompanying lesson on each one's prized recipes. A PBS television series covering the same topics followed shortly after the book's release. Following along the same line, In Julia Child's Kitchen with Master Chefs (1995) features 26 chefs from the U.S.'s top restaurants, but this time right in Child's Cambridge, Massachusetts, kitchen. In typical fashion, the creation of the specialty dishes was captured for the television audience. Sidebars and special explanations in the book again simplify the preparation and adapt the restaurant meals to the home dining room.
With recipes formerly featured in Julia Child and Company and Julia Child and More Company, Child pulls together a tutorial on menu planning in Julia's Delicious Little Dinners (1998). With depth she leads the reader through six dinners for six and suggests occasions to use each menu. A similar book published with Little Dinners is Julia's Menus for Special Occasions (1998). The recipes are from the same source and also include six dinner plans for six, but focus on special dinner party situations such as buffets, cocktail parties, and serving low fat or vegetarian fare.
Nearing 90, Child continues to guide American eating traditions through both her books and her television tutorials.
Julia Child's Menu Cookbook (reprinted, 1991).
Julia Child's papers (professional and personal correspondence, scripts and proofs, fan letters, research notes, and various newspaper and magazine articles) are at the Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe College, Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Chase, Chris, The Great American Waistline (1981). Fitch, N. R., Appetite for Life: The Biography of Julia Child (1997). Fussell, Betty, Masters of American Cookery (1983). Booklist (15 April 1995). New Yorker (23 Dec. 1974). There also hundreds of magazine and newspaper articles from 1963 to 1999.
CA 41-44 (1979). CB (1967). WWAW (1974-75). Who's Who in Television and Cable (1983). The Women's Book of World Records and Achievements (1983).
UPDATED BY CARRIE SNYDER
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.
Reardon, Joan. M. F. K. Fisher, Julia Child, and Alice Waters: Celebrating the Pleasures of the Table. New York: Harmony, 1994.
"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
Born: August 15, 1912
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.
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 (1939–45) 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.
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.
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.
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).