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Definition: Child, Julia from The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide

US chef and author. She trained in Cordon Bleu cooking schools in Paris, France. Her two-volume Mastering the Art of French Cooking (co-authored, 1961–70) became a classic, and several popular television series demystified French cooking for the USA and established Child as a celebrity. Her other cookbooks include The Way to Cook (1989).

She was born in Pasadena, California.

Summary Article: Child, Julia (1912–2004)
from Encyclopedia of the Sixties: A Decade of Culture and Counterculture

It is a truth universally acknowledged that Julia Child taught America how to cook. Her landmark 1961 book Mastering the Art of French Cooking (coauthored with Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle) unveiled the mysteries of classical French technique for Americans who were more used to the can opener than the chinoise sieve, but it was her unexpected hit show on PBS, The French Chef, that made her a star. Even more so than the other celebrity chefs of the 1960s, such as James Beard, Child pioneered the American culinary revolution that set the tone for the decade and beyond.

Julia McWilliams was born August 15, 1912, in Pasadena, California, the daughter of John and Caro McWilliams. A child of privilege, she had no early interest in cooking, and instead loved golf, theatricals, and boys. She attended Smith College and worked in advertising copywriting in New York City until her mother's ill health and untimely death caused her to move home to California. At six feet two inches tall, Julia towered over most men—at six feet four inches, her younger sister Dorothy was even taller. When America entered World War II, Julia moved to Washington, where she was turned down for military service because of her height. Instead, she joined the newly formed Office of Strategic Services, the forerunner of today's CIA. The OSS sent her to Ceylon (Sri Lanka), where she kept track of all the secret documents from the agents in the field. There she met Paul Child, an OSS staffer who set up and ran Mountbatten's war rooms. The two were transferred to China to monitor the situation between communists and nationalists, and they continued their long courtship there. At war's end, they moved back to the United States and married.

The Childs moved to France, where Paul, a gifted painter and photographer, had a job setting up art exhibits with the United States Information Service (later USIA, now defunct). Bored, Julia decided to attend the prestigious Cordon Bleu cooking school. Her husband valued gourmet cooking, and living in France had awakened Julia's tastebuds to the joys of good food. She entered a class of former GIs, who were retraining for careers outside the service. She completed her diploma and with her friends Simone (Simca) Beck and Louisette Bertholle, started her own cooking school, L'Ecole des Trois Gourmandes. The two women were in the process of writing a book of French recipes for American audiences and asked Julia to come on board as their American expert.

Mastering the Art of French Cooking took over 10 years to complete and went through two publishers before landing on editor Judith Jones's desk at Alfred A. Knopf. During this time, the Childs had diplomatic postings in Marseilles, Germany, and Oslo, before Paul retired and they moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1961, just in time for the book's release. As part of her publicity junket, WGBH, a new Boston public television affiliate, wanted Julia to demonstrate some of the recipes from the book. Even though she “careened around the stove” and “panted heavily” audiences loved her 1962 pilot episodes (Fitch 279). In 1963, The French Chef series was born. It was shown on PBS stations around the country and Julia Child became a phenomenon, as viewers were charmed by her warmth, humor, and love of food.

Over the next three decades, Child wrote over a half dozen cookbooks, including her magnum opus The Way to Cook (1989), and starred in several other PBS series including Julia Child and Master Chefs and Baking with Julia. Child's influence on American cooking is unsurpassed. By 1971, her face, voice, and recipes had become part of the cultural lexicon, inspiring parodies, imitators, and devotees. She profoundly transformed the taste of an entire generation. Child died August 13, 2004, just shy of her 92nd birthday.

  • Child, Julia, with Alex Prud'homme. My Life in France. Alfred A. Knopf New York, 2006.
  • Child, Julia, Simone Beck, and Louisette Bertholle. Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Alfred A. Knopf New York, 1961.
  • Child, Julia, and Simone Beck. Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Vol. 2. Knopf New York, 1974.
  • Child, Julia. The Way to Cook. Alfred A. Knopf New York, 1989.
  • Fitch, Noël Riley. Appetite for Life: The Biography of Julia Child. Anchor Books/Random House New York, 1999.
  • “Julia Child: Appetite for Life.” A&E Biography. DVD. 2005.
  • Shapiro, Laura. Julia Child. Penguin Lives. Penguin New York, 2007.
  • Demers, Elizabeth
    Copyright 2012 by James S. Baugess and Abbe Allen DeBolt

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