The Food Network owes a debt of gratitude to Julia Child. If it wasn’t for her tenacity, and sense of adventure, we would have never heard Rachael Ray utter the term EVOO. Learned the art of intricate cake making from Duff Goldman. Or seen Giada De Laurentiis’s smile light up the screen.
Julia Child solidified her place in history as the original celebrity chef. How did she accomplish this feat? By never forgetting her “why.” To share her passion for food, and a well-cooked meal, with friends and family. She approached life with energy and excitement and the universe rewarded her with unprecedented abundance, as a result.
She was gregarious by nature and excelled at leadership by funneling her talents into extracurricular activities by becoming president of the student council and hiking club, as well as, captain of the basketball team. Julia also won the coveted school cup for exhibiting class spirit.
After graduating Smith College, Julia moved to New York City and worked at a furniture company. All the while she was fantasizing about writing for popular magazines like The New Yorker, Time and Newsweek. Little did she know that these same publications would write glowing articles about her one day.
Julia lived life with gusto and relied on her gut to guide her. Even at the young age of 28, she remained true to herself by turning down a marriage proposal from a man whom her father favored. Instead, she remained determined to hold out for love.
When WWII started, Julia landed a job at the Office of Strategic Services, the precursor to today’s CIA. During this time she traveled the world working top secret missions. That’s when she met her future husband, Paul Child.
Paul proposed and Julia accepted. Nothing deterred her from getting what she wanted. Not even a car accident the day before their wedding that landed the future trailblazer in the hospital with stitches on her face.
At 34, Julia became a homemaker. Only problem was, she didn’t know the first thing about cooking. She’d grown up in a wealthy family with servants and had never stepped foot in the kitchen. But Julia’s lack of experience didn’t deter her.
In 1948 Paul was assigned to work in Paris. When the couple arrived, Julia ate at La Couronne and the meal changed her life. Eleven months later she began taking cooking classes at the renowned Le Cordon Bleu. The first let a lot to be desired, however, as she was teamed up with a couple of housewives who thought making toast was an accomplishment.
The visiting American refused to let her circumstances damper her enthusiasm, and like many occasions in her life, she took control of the situation. Julia marched into the head mistress’s office and demanded to be placed in class with professional cooks, who happened to be all men. By sticking to her convictions, she won over the instructor who stepped in to mentor the fledgling cook.
Seven months after graduating, Julia partnered with Simone (Simca) Beck Fischbacher and Louisette Bertholle to open a cooking school in Julia’s kitchen. L’Ecole de Trois Gourmandes catered to American students who wanted to learn French cooking.
Simca and Louisette invited Julia to collaborate on a French cookbook they were working on. Not one to take shortcuts, Julia insisted on making each of the 600 recipes multiple times until she perfected them. It was a dream project for the chef, but that didn’t make things easy. Part of the challenge was converting the recipes from French to American measurements, as well as rewriting the instructions so the ingredients were exact.
Even though no cookbook like this existed, Julia had the vision and determination to make it a classic. Ten years later, Mastering the Art of French Cooking went to print. These 524 recipes revolutionized home cooking.
Julia was not only a stellar chef and steadfast writer, she understood the importance of marketing, as well. So during their promotional tour, she and Simca hosted cooking demonstrations to “show” not “tell” audiences how simple it was to cook French food.
Her demonstrations didn’t end there. The first time Julia went on television to promote her cookbook, she stunned the show’s producers by arriving with her own frying pan, spatula, and eggs. There were all kinds of risks involved with recording a live show, especially when your guest stands six-feet-two-inches-tall. Like what if the omelet she planned to make …ah, well…flopped? But Julia didn’t allow fear to stand in her way.
The cooking segment went off without a hitch and the next day dozens of viewers called the television station demanding to get their fix of the outgoing, if unconventional, chef. Then in February 1963, Julia hosted her first cooking show, The French Chef. She was 51.
She series remained on the air for ten years, thanks to Julia’s go-with-the-flow personality. For what endeared the celebrity chef to her fans was her willingness to laugh off her mistakes during the live recordings.
Success and abundance followed as Julia appeared on numerous cooking segments. She also became a regular guest on Good Morning America and wrote a food column for the Boston Globe. She and Simca published the follow-up edition to Mastering the Art of French Cooking.
Like every great success story, Julia understood the importance of giving back. Fans would call her home seeking cooking advice, and the humble chef was always happy to help. Even on Thanksgiving, to her husband’s dismay.
In 2003, Julia Child was honored as the first woman to be inducted into the Culinary Institute of America’s Hall of Fame. The recognition didn’t end there. She also received the US Presidential Medal of Freedom and French Legion of Honor.
Julia owned her role in transforming French cooking as we know it. To keep her legend alive, she donated the kitchen from her Massachusetts home—where The French Chef was filmed—to the Smithsonian Institution.
If anyone knew how to consume every morsel life has to offer, it’s Julia Child. So it makes sense that she ended every episode of her show saying the same iconic words, “Bon appétit!”
Child, Julia, and Avis DeVoto. As Always, Julia: The Letters of Julia Child and Avis DeVoto. Edited by Joan Reardon. New York: Houghton Mifflin Horcourt, 2010.
Child, Julia, and Alex Prud’homme. My Life in France. New York: Knopf, 2006.
Collins, Kathleen. Watching What We Eat: The Evolution of Television Cooking Shows. New York: Continuum, 2009.
Conant, Jennet. A Covert Affair: Julia Child and Paul Child in the OSS. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.
Edgas, Geoff, and Hemple, Carlene. Who Was Julia Child? New York: Penguin Random House, 2015.
Shapiro, Laura. Julia Child: A Life. New York: Viking, 2007.
Spitz, Bob. Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julia Child. New York: Knopf, 2012.