9 Things You Didn’t Know About Julia Child

This legendary culinary personality brought French cooking to the masses — but that's not all she did

9 Things You Didn’t Know About Julia Child

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.

She Had Top-Secret Duties in World War II

Wikimedia Commons/ US Army

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

Wikimedia Commons/ Naotake Murayama

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.” 

Publisher Houghton Mifflin Rejected ‘Mastering the Art of French Cooking’

Believe it or not, the publisher passed on the manuscript because they thought it read too much like an encyclopedia. When the 726-page book was finally published by Alfred A. Knopf, it was nearly immediately regarded as a seminal work. 

She Made an Omelette in Her First Television Appearance

Wikimedia Commons/ Cyclone Bill

Child didn’t appear on television until 1962, when she was 50 years old. On her first television appearance, on a book review show on Boston’s WGBH, she demonstrated how to cook an omelette. Her demo was so successful that the following year WGBH gave her a show of her own, The French Chef

‘The French Chef’ Was the First Captioned Program

In 1972, her show became the first in the history of television to include captioning for the hearing impaired. As opposed to “closed captioning,” which needs to be activated by the viewer, her show was “open captioned,” meaning that all viewers could see the subtitles. 

She Despised the ‘Fanatical Fear of Food’

Wikimedia Commons/ John Sullivan

Child was criticized for her use of butter and cream in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when it was believed that margarine was healthier than butter, and she hated this criticism. Child was convinced that this “fanatical fear of food” would destroy the country’s dining habits, and that paying too much attention to nutrition ruins the experience of eating good food. “We should enjoy food and have fun,” she told The New York Times in 1990. “It is one of the simplest and nicest pleasures in life.”

‘Saturday Night Live’ Parodied Her, and She Loved It

Dan Aykroyd parodied Child in a 1978 sketch, portraying her as a bumbling chef who profusely bleeds after cutting her thumb, eventually dying from her wound while muttering “Save the liver.” Child loved the sketch, and even saved a copy of it to show to friends at parties. 

Her Kitchen Is on Display at the Smithsonian

Wikimedia Commons/ Kevin Burkett

After moving to a retirement community in 2001, Child donated her house and office to Smith College and her kitchen — which served as a set for several of her television series — to the Smithsonian Museum’s National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C. 

Her Last Meal Was French Onion Soup

Wikimedia Commons/ Jeffrey W

Child passed away from kidney failure at her retirement home, Casa Dorinda in Montecito, California, on August 13, 2004, shortly after eating French onion soup, made from one of her own recipes by her longtime assistant.