Julia Child is one of the most iconic chefs in the world, and for good reason. Her charisma and wit captured the attention of many as she brought French cuisine to the American homes through her television programs and famous cookbook. Her most memorable television program, The French Chef premiered in 1963, and her famous cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking Volume 1 was published in 1960 and volume 2 was published in 1970.
But Child was more than a cookbook author, television personality, and a chef. She was an extraordinary woman and that is what we’re going to discuss today. Here are 15 facts about the cherished chef you never knew.
Though Julia Child is most well known for bringing French cuisine to America, she’s a true Cali girl. She was born in Pasadena, California on August 15, 1912. She even lived in California throughout highschool.
Child’s was sent to a boarding school called Kathrine Branson School, in Ross California. However, after high school, she moved across the country to attend Smith College, a private women’s liberal arts college in Northhampton, Massachusetts. Child’s graduated from Smith College in 1934 with a major in history.
Along with being an extraordinary woman, Julia Child was also incredibly tall. Believe it or not, Child’s was 6 feet and 2 inches.
She was so tall that later in 1961 when Julia Child and her husband, Paul Child moved into their home in Cambridge, Massachusetts, they installed custom counters. The counters were 32 inches high which is 2 inches taller than a standard kitchen counter. Her height worked to her advantage in some areas of her life while it negatively affected others which we will discuss later.
The legendary Caesar salad was invented in 1924 in Tijuana, Mexico by the Italian immigrant restaurateur, Caesar Cardini. According to the New York Times, Child’s traveled to Tijuana with her family around the age of 10 or 12. It was then she got to meet the inventor himself, as well as got to enjoy this glorious new and exciting salad.
At the time the salad was prepared tableside. She recalled specific events of that day and said, “I remember the turning of the salad in the bowl was very dramatic. And egg in a salad was unheard of at that point”. Later, Julia Child was even able to persuade Cardini’s daughter, Rosa, to give her the authentic recipe.
Though her height would halt her aspirations to help her country later in life, while in college it worked to her advantage. With her incredible height, Child was determined to stand out on the court at Smith College.
She was much taller than most of her teammates, so much so that the college decided to change the rules and no longer allowed jump ball. Though she had aspirations to be a star on the team she admitted that she wasn’t very good at the game.
In 1935, one year after her graduation, Child moved to Manhattan, New York to pursue her dream of becoming a writer. “My life after college was to become a famous woman novelist” Child shared in her memoir, My Life in France.
While in New York, Child landed a job as a copywriter in the advertising department of a home furnishings firm called W. & J. Sloane. Little did she know that her life would have other plans for her.
For the first time in her life, Julia Child was going to discover that her height would interfere with her goals and aspirations. In 1942 Julia Child was eager to help her country during World War II. Initially, she was hoping to be a part of WAVES, Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service, a unit of the U.S. Naval Reserve or WACs, Women’s Army Corps.
Unfortunately, she exceeded the height requirement for both WAVES and WACs. Though that didn’t stop her eagerness to help her country and her goal to seek adventure.
Even though Julia Child was rejected by WAVES and WACs she eventually joined the OSS, Office of Strategic Services, and worked directly with its leader, General William K. Donovan. The OSS was a wartime intelligence agency of the United States during World War II, which was sort of like the ancestor to the CIA.
Later, she transitioned to the OSS Emergency Sea Rescue Equipment Section. Finally, during the last two years of war, she took an overseas post. She was first in Ceylon, now known as Sri Lanka, and then later Kunming, China serving as the chief of the OSS Registry. As you can see she clearly worked up the ladder finally landing her top-level security clearance.
A short month after the OSS was formed in 1942, the ERE, Emergency Rescue Equipment coordinating committee was created. This committee was created to help the Armed Services rescue members of the military in dangerous situations. In 1943, Child’s served as the Executive Assistant to Captain Harold J. Coolidge, a scientist, who was the head of the ERE Special Projects division.
Their mission was to create a shark repellent for the Navy. You see, at least 20 US Naval officers had been attacked by sharks and curious sharks were setting off far too many OSS underwater explosives. Child’s was on the team that developed the same shark repellent that is rumored to still be used today. After a year of field testing and trying over 100 different substances, the team finally found a solution. They named it “Shark Chaser”.
Little did Julia Child know, but the last few years of her involvement with the OSS would be a critical turning point for her future. While overseas she got to work with Paul Child, an OSS officer that she would eventually fall in love with and later, marry.
Julia and Paul Child quickly formed a bond and new they would be life partners. They became inseparable and dedicated their life to always do everything together which is one of the biggest reasons why Julia Child thought her marriage was so successful.
After the war, Julia and Paul Child thought it was best to get to know each other while returning to normal life. They met each other’s family members and even traveled before they made the decision to make their marriage official.
The happy couple tied the knot on September 1, 1946, but before the big day, she was in a car accident. “…extremely happy, but a bit banged up from a car accident the day before,” She said in her memoir, My Life In France. She ended up having to wear a bandage on her face and you can see the photo to prove it HERE.
Julia Child grew up with a cook who served her entire family. While you may think this is where her love for cooking began, she didn’t actually learn any cooking skills from their house cook. In fact, Child didn’t learn to cook until she met her husband, Paul Child. Paul Child’s family revolved around food and his love of food quickly rubbed off on Julia.
In 1948, Paul was reassigned to the U.S. Information Service at the American Embassy in Paris, thus resulting in the happy couple to move. The move to Paris is what sparked Julia’s passion for French Cuisine. The first meal they enjoyed in Paris was oysters and Sole Meunière which Julia described as “the most exciting meal of my life”.
Believe it or not, the chef’s life didn’t come naturally to Julia Child. A year before their wedding, while home, Julia enrolled in a cooking school in Los Angeles.
She enrolled in the school with hopes to prepare herself for married life. However, she humbly admits that her early days in the kitchen were dreadful. Thankfully, Paul Child was very supportive and even said: “I was willing to put up with that awful cooking to get Julia”.
Julia Child’s public television show, The French Chef, started in February of 1963. Season 1, Episode 1 featured the famous boeuf bourguignon which is essentially a fancy beef stew. Her show was created and hosted by herself and would air for 10 years. It was also one of the first cooking shows featured on American television.
The recipes featured on the show were from her cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, however, for the show, Child’s decided to share the more domestic recipes. Along with the boeuf bourguignon, Julia Child shared how to make exquisite pastries, delicate soufflès and more. Her wonderful show is what introduced French Cooking to the United States.
At the age of 55 in 1968, Child found a lump in her breast. She had just begun self-examinations when she found the lump but wasn’t worried at the time. Unfortunately, back then breast cancer awareness was much of a thing.
According to an interview with People Magazine, she underwent exploratory surgy within two weeks of finding the lump. The tumor was found to be malignant which resulted in a mastectomy. Thankfully Child had a supportive husband who didn’t let this event affect their marriage. Julia Child quickly went on with her life as if it was no big deal.
Julia Child’s hard work and dedication truly paid off. To begin, her television career earned her the prestigious George Foster Peabody Award in 1965. And just one year later, she received an Emmy Award.
Later in 1993, Child’s was the first woman to enter the Culinary Institute Hall of Fame. Finally, after 40 years of establishing her career, she was given France’s highest honor, the Legion D’Honneur in the year 2000. It was around this time that Child’s was finally recognized as one of the most famous chefs in the world.