Julia Child was America’s first, albeit wholly reluctant, food celebrity. Although she adamantly insisted that she wasn’t a “chef,” Child nonetheless single-handedly changed the way we think about food in this country. With a dozen cookbooks to her credit and untold hours of televised cooking shows, Julia Child demonstrated her mastery of French cuisine with unparalleled grace and ease.
But cooking wasn’t always on Child’s professional radar. Julia Child was born in Pasadena, CA and graduated from Smith College in 1934. After college, she worked in publicity and advertising in New York. Although her legacy permanently associates her with France, Child was a very patriotic citizen, and during World War II Child served with the Office of Strategic Services in Washington, DC, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), and China (where she met her husband, Paul Child). And when the war ended and Paul was assigned to the US Information Service at The American Embassy in Paris, Child was finally introduced to the French culture she had, until then, appreciated only from a distance.
Steady Berlitz courses had Child sufficiently francophone to enroll at Le Cordon Bleu, where she studied under Chef Max Bugnard, who became her favorite teacher at the school. Meanwhile, through a friend in the Embassy, Child was introduced to Simone Beck, a woman who was as impassioned about a hands-on approach to French cuisine as she was. Beck, a pivotal connection in Child’s life, invited her to join the Cercle de Gourmettes, a gastronomic club of French women that met twice a month to prepare and eat fine food. In this tidy ladies’ society, Child met the second culinary touchstone of her time in France: Louisette Bertholle.
At a time when most well-to-do French and American housewives were content to let their maids and cooks assume responsibility for the kitchen, these self-described “Trois Gourmandes” were exploring the traditions of classic French cuisine at its very roots. And as curious housewives caught on to the craft and visceral intoxication of French cuisine, the trio eventually opened their own cooking school with the help of Chef Bugnard called "L'École des Trois Gourmande." But their greatest endeavor was yet to come. In 1961, after years of research, recipe testing, publicity campaigns, and numerous attempts at finding a publisher, this little group of women put out what would become a seminal work in the annals of French and American culinary history: Mastering the Art of French Cooking.
With an incredible amount of work already behind her, Child eventually returned to the States for good with her husband. Not long after her return, a television interview at WGBH-Boston turned into an audition for Child for a series of TV cooking shows. The French Chef was born shortly after, first airing on February 11, 1963. After completing some 200 programs on classical French cooking with The French Chef series, Child branched out into contemporary cuisine with the television series Julia Child & Company, Julia Child & More Company, and Dinner at Julia's. In 1984, she completed six "The Way to Cook" teaching videocassettes.
Prolific teacher and tireless television personality, Child went on to host “Cooking with Master Chefs,” a program with a different well-known chef for each episode, as well as the series “Baking with Julia.” Most recently, she and friend Jacques Pépin joined forces for their technique-based series called “Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home.” The companion cookbook has been on bestseller lists throughout the US.
In 1993, Child was the first woman to be inducted into the Culinary Institute Hall of Fame. Less than a decade later, in November of 2000, she received the highest honor bestowed by the French government: the Légion d’Honneur. Just two days before her 96th birthday, Julia Child passed away. She was memorialized by chefs, home cooks, friends, and admirers everywhere. But while she is gone, her legacy lives on in kitchens—personal and professional—around the world.
Cookbooks and Publications:
Julia Child's books include: Mastering the Art of French Cooking; The Way to Cook; The French Chef Cookbook; Baking With Julia; From Julia's Kitchen; Julia's Delicious Little Dinners; In Julia's Kitchen with Master Chefs; Julia's Casual Dinners; Julia's Menus for Special Occasions; Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home; Julia's Breakfasts, Lunches, and Suppers; and Julia's Kitchen Wisdom: Essential Techniques and Recipes from a Lifetime of Cooking.
Julia Child received honorary degrees from Boston University, Bates College, Rutgers University, Smith College, and Harvard University. She was awarded the Ordre de Mérite Agricole in 1967 by the French government, and in 1967 by the French government, and in 1976 the Ordre de Mérite Nationale. Child was elected a member of the Confrérie de Cérès for her work on French bread, and was a member of the American chapter of the Commanderie des Cordons Bleus de France. In 1993 she was inducted into the Culinary Institute Hall of Fame. Child was also awarded two national Emmy's: in 1995 for her "Master Chefs" series and in 1997 for "Baking with Julia." In 1999, she received the Peabody Award for Public Television. In 2000 Julia Child was awarded the Légion d’Honneur.
Mrs. Child was an active member of the International Association of Culinary Professionals, and a co-founder of the American Institute of Wine & Food.