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. But even if you’ve seen every single episode of The French Chef, we bet that there are some things you didn’t know about Julia Child.
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 (more on that later). While stationed in Ceylon, she met diplomat and aesthete 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, 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 nine things you may not have known about her.
She Had Top-Secret Duties in World War II
At six feet, two inches, Child was too tall for the Women’s Army Corps, so she instead joined the Office of Strategic Services as a typist. She was quickly promoted to the role of top-secret researcher for the head of the OSS, and then assisted developers of a shark repellent that kept sharks away from underwater mines. She was later transferred to Asia, where she managed communications for the OSS’s secret stations there.
Her First Meal in Rouen, France, Changed Her Life
Child told The New York Times that the meal, which consisted of oysters, sole meunière, and fine wine, was “an opening up of the soul and spirit for me.”