Julia Child (1912 – 2004)

Julia Child was a chef, cookbook author, and television personality, much beloved for her warmth, encouraging attitude, and sense of humor.

Her first book, Mastering the Art Of French Cooking, was so successful that it launched her career as a food writer and TV chef. Alfred A. Knopf first published the 726-page book in 1961. Following the book’s success, Julia was offered the opportunity to write articles for various magazines and a regular column for The Boston Globe. Her first cooking program, The French Chef, premiered in 1963. She went on to publish nearly 20 books in her own name and with co-authors and starred in several other cooking programs.

The first volume of Mastering the Art of French Cooking was conceived by French chefs Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle as a way of introducing French cooking to mainstream America. Beck, Bertholle, and Child all attended the same cooking club in Paris. They asked Julia to collaborate on the project and she translated the recipes to English and added detailed instructions. Sidonie Coryn illustrated the work and Julia’s husband, Paul Cushing Child, also contributed to its creation. It has since become a standard guide for the culinary arts. Child would go on to publish nearly twenty titles under her name and with others. Many, though not all, were related to her television shows.

Child was born Julia Carolyn McWilliams in Pasadena, California. Her father was John McWilliams, Jr., a Princeton University graduate and prominent land manager. His wife, the former Julia Carolyn ("Caro") Weston, was a paper-company heiress whose father, Byron Curtis Weston, served as lieutenant governor of Massachusetts. Child had a brother, John McWilliams III, and a sister, Dorothy Cousins. The McWilliams family had a cook, but Julia did not observe or learn how to cook from her. She did not learn to cook until she met her would-be husband, Paul, who grew up in a family which was very interested in food.

After graduating college, she worked as a copywriter for the advertising department of W. & J. Sloane in New York City. Later she joined the US military, serving with distinction in the Office of Strategic Services during World War II. While stationed in Kunming, China, she met her future husband Paul Child, who also worked for the OSS. He had lived in France and was very interested in fine food, an interest he shared with Julia. Julia said that her passionate interest in cooking began with a meal she had while living in France with her husband after the war. Paul joined the United States Foreign Service in 1948 and the couple moved to Paris when the US State Department assigned Paul there as an exhibits officer with the United States Information Agency. Child recalled her first meal in Rouen many times as a culinary revelation and once described the meal of oysters, sole meunière, and fine wine to The New York Times as "an opening up of the soul and spirit for me." In Paris, she attended the famous Le Cordon Bleu cooking school and later studied privately with Max Bugnard and other master chefs.

A 1962 appearance on a book review show on what was then the National Educational Television (NET) station of Boston, WGBH-TV (now a major Public Broadcasting Service station), led to the creation of her first television cooking show. Viewers enjoyed her demonstration of how to cook an omelet. The French Chef had its debut on February 11, 1963, on WGBH and was very successful. The show ran nationally for ten years and won Peabody and Emmy Awards, including the first Emmy award for an educational program. Though she was not the first television cook, Child was the most widely seen. She attracted the broadest audience with her cheery enthusiasm, distinctively warbly voice, and unpatronizing and unaffected manner. The French Chef Cookbook was a collection of the recipes she had demonstrated on the show. It was soon followed in 1971 by Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume Two, again in collaboration with Simone Beck. Child's fourth book, From Julia Child's Kitchen, was illustrated with her husband's photographs.

Julia’s 1979 book Julia Child and More Company, based on recipes from the television program of the same name, won a National Book Award in the category Current Interest. In 1981, she founded the American Institute of Wine & Food, with vintners Robert Mondavi and Richard Graff, and others, to "advance the understanding, appreciation, and quality of wine and food,". In 1989, she published what she considered her magnum opus, a book and instructional video series collectively entitled The Way To Cook.

Child starred in four more series in the 1990s that featured guest chefs: “Cooking with Master Chefs”, “In Julia's Kitchen with Master Chefs”, “Baking with Julia”, and “Julia Child & Jacques Pépin Cooking at Home”. She collaborated with Jacques Pépin many times on television programs and cookbooks. Child's use of ingredients like butter and cream has been criticized by modern-day nutritionists. She addressed these criticisms throughout her career and was concerned that a "fanatical fear of food" would take over the country's dining habits. In a 1990 interview, Child said, "Everybody is overreacting. If fear of food continues, it will be the death of gastronomy in the United States. Fortunately, the French don't suffer from the same hysteria we do. We should enjoy food and have fun. It is one of the simplest and nicest pleasures in life."

Julia Child's kitchen, designed by her husband with higher counters and cabinets because Julia was so tall (6’ 2”), was the setting for three of her television shows. It is now on display at the National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.

Books by Julia Child