Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University
In the culinary world, few figures loom larger than Julia Child. Even though she never cooked in a professional kitchen, Child changed the way that Americans look at food forever and left an indelible mark on television, cookbooks, and gastronomy at large.
Born Julia McWilliams to a wealthy Pasadena, California, family in 1912, Julia first found work as a copywriter in the advertising world before serving in the Office of Strategic Services in World War II, managing communications for their top-secret Asian stations. While stationed in Ceylon (today’s Sri Lanka), she met diplomat and art-lover Paul Child, whom she married in 1946. Paul had a sophisticated palate, and introduced Julia to fine dining when they moved to Paris after Paul was stationed there in 1948.
Julia fell in love with French cuisine (during a meal of oysters and sole meunière in Rouen, specifically), and after taking cooking classes at the renowned Le Cordon Bleu and studying with other master chefs she joined a woman’s cooking club and met Simone Beck, who was working on a French cookbook for Americans. They crafted the book together (with another French culinary expert, Louisette Beterholle) for more than a decade, with Child focusing on translating French in to English and making the recipes as detailed and interesting as possible.
When it was published in 1961, the book, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, became a best-seller and shot Child to fame. She went on to publish more than 20 cookbooks, but became a cultural icon due to her cooking shows, most famously The French Chef. As the host of one of the first nationally televised cooking shows, her cheerfulness, enthusiasm, and straightforward delivery attracted legions of fans over its 10-year run, many of whom still worship her to this day. Child passed away in 2004, two days before her 92nd birthday.
Julia Child was nothing short of a culinary powerhouse. Read on for ten (occasionally unexpected) ways that she changed the world.