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Julia Child (August 15, 1912 – August 13, 2004) was an American chef, author and television personality. She introduced French cuisine and cooking techniques to the American mainstream through her many cookbooks and television programs, notably The French Chef which premiered in 1963. Her most well-known cookbook is Mastering the Art of French Cooking, published in 1961.

Childhood and education

Child was born Julia Carolyn McWilliams to John and Julia Carolyn ("Caro") McWilliams in Pasadena, Californiamarker. The eldest of three children, she had a brother, John III, (1914–2002), and a sister Dorothy D. (1917–2006). Child was raised in a well-to-do family where she ate traditional New England food prepared by the family cook. She attended Westridge School, Polytechnic School from fourth grade to ninth grade and then The Branson School in Ross, Californiamarker, which was at the time a boarding school. At six feet, two inches (1.88 m) tall, Child played tennis, golf, and basketball as a child and continued to play sports while attending Smith Collegemarker, where she graduated in 1934 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in History. Following her graduation from college, Child moved to New York Citymarker, where she worked as a copywriter for the advertising department of upscale home-furnishing firm W. & J. Sloane. Returning to California in 1937, she spent the next four years writing for local publications and working in advertising.

World War II

Child joined the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) after finding that she was too tall to enlist in the Women's Army Corps or in the U.S. Navy through the WAVES.

Beginning her OSS career at its headquarters in Washington, Child worked directly for the head of OSS, General William J. Donovan. Working as a research assistant in the Secret Intelligence division, she typed ten thousand names on white note cards to keep track of officers. For a year, she worked at the OSS Emergency Rescue Equipment Section (ERES) in Washington, D.C.marker as a file clerk and then as assistant to developers of a shark repellent needed to ensure that sharks would not explode ordnance targeting German U-boats. In 1944 she was posted to Kandymarker, Ceylon (now Sri Lankamarker), where her responsibilities included "registering, cataloging and channeling a great volume of highly classified communications" for the OSS's clandestine stations in Asia. She was later posted to Chinamarker, where she received the Emblem of Meritorious Civilian Service as head of the Registry of the OSS Secretariat.

Following the war, she married Paul Cushing Child on September 1, 1946 in Lumberville, Pennsylvaniamarker, and the couple moved to Washington, D.C. Paul Child, a New Jerseymarker native who had lived in Parismarker as an artist and poet, was known for his sophisticated palate. He joined the United States Foreign Service and introduced his wife to fine cuisine. In 1948, they moved to Paris after the US State Departmentmarker assigned Paul there as an exhibits officer with the United States Information Agency. The couple had no children.

Post-war France

Child repeatedly recalled her first meal in Rouenmarker as a culinary revelation; once, she 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. She joined the women's cooking club Cercle des Gourmettes where she met Simone Beck who, with her friend Louisette Bertholle, was writing a French cookbook for Americans. Beck proposed that Child work with them to make it appeal to Americans.

In 1951 Child, Beck and Bertholle began to teach cooking to American women in Child's Paris kitchen, calling their informal school L'Ecole des Trois Gourmandes (The School of the Three Food Lovers). For the next decade, as the Childs moved around Europe and finally to Cambridge, Massachusettsmarker, the three researched and repeatedly tested recipes. Child translated the French into English, making the recipes detailed, interesting, and practical.

Books and television

The three would-be authors initially signed a contract with publisher Houghton Mifflin, which later rejected the manuscript for being too much like an encyclopedia. Finally, when it was first published in 1961 by Alfred A. Knopf, the 734-page Mastering the Art of French Cooking was a best-seller and received critical acclaim that derived in part from the American interest in French culture in the early 1960s. Lauded for its helpful illustrations, precise attention to detail and for making fine cuisine accessible, the book is still in print and is considered a seminal culinary work. Following this success, Child wrote magazine articles and a regular column for The Boston Globe newspaper.

A 1962 appearance on a book review show on the National Educational Television (NET) station of Boston, WGBH, led to the inception of her television cooking show after viewers enjoyed her demonstration of how to cook an omelette. The French Chef had its debut on February 11, 1963, on WGBH and was immediately 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 charming warbly voice, and unpatronising and unaffected manner.

In 1972 The French Chef became the first television program to be captioned for the deaf, albeit in the preliminary technology of open captioning.

Child's second book, 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, but not with Louisette Bertholle, the relationship with whom ended on unattractive terms. Child's fourth book, From Julia Child's Kitchen, was illustrated with her husband's photographs and documented the color series of The French Chef, as well as providing an extensive library of kitchen notes compiled by Child during the course of the show.

In 1981 she founded the educational American Institute of Wine and Food in Napa, Californiamarker, with vintners Robert Mondavi and Richard Graff to "advance the understanding, appreciation and quality of wine and food," a pursuit she had already begun with her books and television appearances.

In the 1970s and 1980s she was the star of numerous television programs, including Julia Child & Company and Dinner at Julia's; at the same time she also produced what she considered her magnum opus, a book and instructional video series collectively entitled The Way To Cook, which was published in 1989.

She 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 PĂ©pin Cooking at Home. She collaborated with Jacques PĂ©pin many times for television programs and cookbooks. All of Child's books during this time stemmed from the television series of the same names.

Beginning with In Julia's Kitchen with Master Chefs, the Childs' home kitchen in Cambridge was fully transformed into a functional set, with TV-quality lighting, three cameras positioned to catch all angles in the room, a massive center island with a gas stovetop on one side and an electric stovetop on the other, but leaving the rest of the Childs' appliances alone, including "my wall oven with its squeaking door." This kitchen backdrop hosted nearly all of Child's 1990s television series.

Child's last book was the autobiographical My Life in France, published posthumously in 2006 and written with her husband's great nephew, Alex Prud'homme. The book recounts Child's life with her husband, Paul Child, in post-World War II France.

In popular culture

Child was a favorite of audiences from the moment of her television debut on public television in 1963, and she was a familiar part of American culture and the subject of numerous references. In 1966 she was featured on the cover of Time with the heading, "Our Lady of the Ladle."

In a 1978 Saturday Night Live sketch, she was affectionately parodied by Dan Aykroyd continuing with a cooking show despite profuse bleeding from a cut to his thumb. It has been told that Julia loved this sketch so much that she would show it to friends at parties.

Jean Stapleton portrayed her in a 1989 musical, Bon Appétit!, based on one of her televised cooking lessons. The title derived from her famous TV sign-off: "This is Julia Child. Bon appétit!" She was the inspiration for the character "Julia Grownup" on the Children's Television Workshop program, The Electric Company (1971–1977), and was portrayed or parodied in many other television and radio programs and skits, including The Cosby Show (1984–1992) by character Heathcliff Huxtable (Bill Cosby) and Garrison Keillor's radio series A Prairie Home Companion by voice actor Tim Russell. Julia Child's TV show is briefly portrayed in the 1986 movie, The Money Pit starring Tom Hanks and Shelley Long; the 1985 Madonna film Desperately Seeking Susan and the 1991 comedy Don't Tell Mom The Babysitter's Dead. In 1993, she did the voice of Doctor Bleeb in the children's film We're Back! A Dinosaur's Story.

In 2009, Child was half the focus of the feature film Julie & Julia, with Meryl Streep portraying Child.


Her husband, Paul, who was ten years older, died in 1994 after living in a nursing home for five years following a series of strokes in 1989. In 2001 she moved to a retirement community in Santa Barbara, Californiamarker, donating her house and office to Smith Collegemarker. She donated her kitchen, which her husband designed with high counters to accommodate her formidable height, and which served as the set for three of her television series, to the National Museum of American Historymarker, where it is now on display. Her iconic copper pots and pans were on display at Copia in Napa, California, until August 2009 when they were reunited with her kitchen at the Smithsonian in Washington, DC.

She received the French Legion of Honor in 2000 and the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2003. Child also received honorary doctorates from Harvard Universitymarker, Johnson & Wales University in 1995, her alma mater Smith Collegemarker, Brown Universitymarker in 1999, and several other universities.

On August 13, 2004, Child died of kidney failure at her assisted-living home in Montecitomarker, two days before her 92nd birthday.


On August 18, 2004, a documentary filmed during her lifetime premiered. Produced by WGBH, the one-hour feature, Julia Child! America's Favorite Chef, was aired as the first episode of the 18th season of the PBS series American Masters. The film combined archive footage of Child with current footage from those who influenced and were influenced by her life and work.

In August 2002, Julie Powell started documenting online her daily experiences cooking each of the 524 recipes in Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Powell later rewrote the blog, "The Julie/Julia Project," into a memoir, Julie & Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen (Little, Brown, 2005), the paperback version of which was retitled Julie and Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously (Back Bay Books, 2006). Julia Child noted publicly that she was not impressed with Powell's endeavor, calling it a mere stunt.

Nora Ephron wrote the screenplay for the film Julie & Julia, which she adapted from Child's memoir My Life in France and from Julie Powell's memoir. The film, directed by Ephron, was released on August 7, 2009 with Meryl Streep playing Child.

A film titled Primordial Soup With Julia Child was on display at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum'smarker Life in The Universe gallery from 1976 until the gallery closed.

Public works

Television series

DVD releases

  • Julia Child's Kitchen Wisdom (2000)
  • Julia and Jacques: Cooking at Home (2003)
  • Julia Child: America's Favorite Chef (2004)
  • The French Chef: Volume One (2005)
  • The French Chef: Volume Two (2005)
  • Julia Child! The French Chef (2006)



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