Julia Child’s forty years as America’s leading chef began in Boston in 1963 on public television station WGBH. Invited to the studio to discuss her first book, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, she brought along eggs and utensils to make an on-the-air omelet for the television host. Her breezy manner, unique voice, and relaxed chatter made her an instant hit and launched her acclaimed television series, The French Chef.
Julia McWilliams grew up in a well-to-do family with a younger brother and sister, all three over six feet tall, which caused their mother to boast, “I gave birth to 18 feet of children.” After graduating from Smith College in 1934 she worked in a series of positions in advertising and journalism. Following the outbreak of World War II, she took a position with the Office of Strategic Services, hoping to become a spy, but became instead a file clerk in Ceylon, now Sri Lanka.
After the war she married Paul Cushing Child, a diplomat with the foreign service. Her husband was soon posted to France and en route to Paris, he took her to the oldest restaurant in the country, La Couronne. This was her first experience with classical French cuisine and she fell in love. “The whole experience was an opening up of the soul and spirit for me . . . I was hooked, and for life, as it turned out.” After this experience, Child became devoted to French cuisine. She enrolled in the famous Le Cordon Bleu cooking school and explored the markets and bistros of Paris to refine her techniques. In 1951, she opened a cooking school, L”Ecole des Trois Gourmandes, (The School of the Three Gourmandes) with two partners. This venture led to the comprehensive French cooking manual for the American public, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, considered at the time to be the best English language cookbook.
Soon after the publication, the couple moved from Paris to Cambridge, Massachusetts. The French Chef television series began in 1963 and went on to become an outstanding public television success. Child won a Peabody Award in 1965, followed by an Emmy the next year. She only accepted $50.00 a show, donating the rest of her salary to the television station. She starred in eight television cooking series and published 11 cookbooks. She was the first woman to be inducted into the Culinary Institute of America’s Hall of Fame. In 1978, she founded the educational American Institute of Wine and Food in Napa, California.
An honorary doctorate from Harvard University, received in 1993, read in part, “A Harvard friend and neighbor who has filled the air with common sense and uncommon scents. Long may her souffl√©s rise.” In 2001, Child received the coveted Legion of Honor from the French government, and in 2003 the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President George W. Bush. Her famous television kitchen was placed in the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, DC.