Julia Carolyn Child (1912-2004) was an American chef, author, television personality and breast cancer survivor.
While dinning in Paris, Julia ordered sole meuniere, white fish cooked in butter and lemon. In her book, My Life In France, she called it the most exciting meal of her life. That meal, with Julia in her 40s, was just launching point for her iconic role within the culinary world as it would encourage her to take lessons to learn how to serve such a dish.
I have eaten Caesar Salads a lot over the course of my life. I never thought about the origins of the dish until reading about Julia’s childhood. The creator of the salad was Caesar Cardini, a chef in Tijuana. Julia’s parents made the drive to Tijuana to try this dish that was all the rage. Caesar, himself, made the salad tableside. In a New York Times interview, she noted it was a formative culinary experience to have this famous dish with her parents. “Caesar himself was a great big old fellow who stood right in front of us to make it. I remember the turning of the salad in the bowl was very dramatic. And egg in a salad was unheard of at that point.” After finding her celebrity, Julia would convince Cardini’s daughter Rosa to share the recipe with her.
Julia is also noted for being rejected from military service because of her height. She stood at 6’2″. However, she was accepted into the CIA where she took a position in the Office of Strategic Services as a research assistant. She would transfer to the Emergency Sea Rescue Section and was then posted overseas for the final two years of the war. There, she met Paul Child, the OSS officer she would later marry. During her time with the Emergency Sea Rescue Section, she helped develop shark repellant after several officers had suffered from attacks. That same repellent is used today for downed space equipment. It is deployed around the unit so sharks won’t attack when they land in the ocean.
You would think that her level of culinary skills was something she had maintained throughout her life. You would be wrong. She did not have a talent for cooking well into her 30s, living off of freezer meals for several years. She began taking classes at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris where she and Paul lived. She would not begin her Mastering the Art of French Cooking until some time in 1952. It was her meeting with Simone Beck and Louisette Berthoole, two women writing a cookbook that centered on French dishes aimed at teaching American women how to prepare them skillfully. Julia would become an additional author in the endeavor. Nine years later, the book was published by Alfred A Knopf. While promoting the book to a television station in Boston, she brought a hot plate with her and began making a dish for the viewers at home to watch. While making an omelet, she answered viewer questions. The station received numerous calls and letters begging for more episodes. She filmed three episodes and thus launched her television fame as The French Chef.
She had an amazing marriage. Paul would retire from the military in 1960 and become somewhat of an assistant to Julia. Anything she needed: assistant, taste tester, gopher of sorts – he was there for her every need. So much so that in a newspaper article it was noted of him that he suffered “from no apparent insecurities of male ego.” Their partnership in life would continue until his passing in 1994.
In 2001, Julia donated the kitchen that Paul designed in their Cambridge, Massachusetts home to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. You cannot actually walk inside of it but there are viewing portals you can look through to see the interior.