SEE ALSO: Zora Neale Hurston, Diana Vreeland, Helen Keller, Toni Morrison, Rachel Carson, Margaret Mead, Ida Tarbell, Katherine Graham, Maya Angelou, Oprah Winfrey, Michelle Obama, Annie Glenn, Nancy Brinker, Betty Ford, Mathilde Krim, Cecile Richards, Ruth Handler, Clara Hale
1920 – 2004
Chief Cook, No Bottle Washer
How did a Smith College graduate, from Pasadena, California, come to be known as “The French Chef?” Julia Child was born Julia McWilliams, and after college she joined the Office of Strategic Services during World War II and traveled the globe. On a trip to China, she met her future husband, Paul Child. His job as a U.S. diplomat took them to Paris, where Julia studied cooking at Le Cordon Bleu. While there, she teamed up with two French women to open a cooking school they called L’ecole des Trois Gourmandes.
From that experience – teaching English-speaking women how to cook French food – she realized that there was no such cookbook in English. From that, came her first book, Mastering the Art of French Cooking (on which she collaborated with her cooking school friends), first published in 1961.
When she returned to the U.S. her cooking talents – and her unique singsong voice – were first introduced to large audiences. In 1963, her first TV show, The French Chef, aired on PBS in Boston. In 1965, she received the prestigious George Foster Peabody Award for “Distinguished Achievement in Television,” followed in 1966 by the first Emmy for a PBS personality. Her TV programs and specials continued until the late 1990s.
She became an American icon, and her show was famously parodied by Dan Aykroyd on Saturday Night Live in 1978.
In 2002, the aspiring author Julie Powell began a popular blog she called The Julie/Julia Project. In this blog, Powell chronicled a year in which she cooked every recipe included in Mastering the Art of French Cooking. The blog inspired an article in The New York Times about the project, and Powell’s resulting 2005 best seller, Julie and Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen (the paperback version was re-titled Julie and Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously). Award-winning Nora Ephron wrote and directed a film called Julie and Julia based on the book. The film starred Meryl Streep as Child; it won a Golden Globe and was nominated for an Academy Award in 2009.
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