How Julia Child Changed the Way We Cook

Stephanie Hersh, Julia Child's assistant for nearly 16 years, weighs in

Child and Hersh

Julia Child may have taught America how to perfectly roast a chicken, make boeuf bourguignon, and tell a paring knife from a chef's knife, but her effect on the state of American home cooking is much broader than that.

We spoke with Stephanie Hersh, Child's personal assistant for nearly 16 years, who is currently hosting classes at Sur La Table's cooking schools in honor of Julia Child's birthday, to get her perspective on Child's impact on kitchens across America.

But first, you may be wondering: How exactly does someone land a job like that? Hersh, who moved to New Zealand eight years ago following Child's passing, says that it was just a matter of "being in the right place at the right time." It sounds totally cliché, but in this case, it's true.

Hersh, upon graduating from the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y., moved to Boston seeking a quiet, corporate job while she figured out what she wanted to do. She enrolled in a three-month-long secretarial program at Katherine Gibbs, a now defunct vocational school, in order to brush up on her typing skills. The day she was about to take her final typing exam, she was in the placement office when the assistant called for her, saying that Julia Child was on the phone and that Child was looking for a secretary with a culinary background. Did she want the job?

"Of course!" was Hersh's enthusiastic reply (who, in their right mind, would say anything else?) and the rest, as they say, is history. But when Hersh first got on board, she didn't do any cooking. That's because Child really was looking for a secretary to help run the office, which had gotten a bit out of hand.