Julia Child, Julia Carolyn McWilliams, was born in August 15, 1912, Pasadena, California, U.S. and died August 13, 2004, Santa Barbara, American cooking expert, author, and television personality noted for her promotion of traditional French cuisine, especially through her programs on public TV.
Julia Child revolutionized American cuisine through her French cooking school, award-winning cookbooks, and world-renowned television programs by presenting an approachable version of sophisticated French cooking to her eager audience for four decades.
She began with a sincere passion for good food and the pleasures of cooking, studying in France in the ’50s with chef-friend Simone Beck. With the help of Louisette Bertolle, another dedicated food lover, they created a cooking school called and later, in 1961, completed their ground breaking cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking.
Numerous television series followed, including Julia Child and Company, Dinner at Julia’s, Baking with Julia, and In Julia’s Kitchen with Master Chefs. She produced a book under the name of each of her shows and also wrote The Way to Cook (1989) and Cooking with Master Chefs (1993). Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home (1999) was cowritten with chef Jacques Pépin, a friend with whom she also collaborated on television shows. Her autobiography, My Life in France (cowritten with a grandnephew, Alex Prud’homme), was published in 2006. In 2009 Nora Ephron used that volume as half of the story she told in the film Julie & Julia, featuring Meryl Streep as the popular chef.
Her book and the popular television show that followed made the mysteries of fancy French cuisine approachable, introducing gourmet ingredients, demonstrating culinary techniques, and most importantly, encouraging everyday “home chefs” to practice cooking as art, not to dread it as a chore.
A 1962 appearance on a book review show on what was then the National Educational Television (NET) station of Boston, WGBH-TV (now a major Public Broadcasting Service station), led to the inception of her first 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 warbly voice, and unpatronizing, unaffected manner.
In 1972, The French Chef became the first television program to be captioned for the deaf, even though this was done using 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, with whom the professional relationship had ended. Child’s fourth book, From Julia Child’s Kitchen, was illustrated with her husband’s photographs and documented the colour series of The French Chef, as well as provided an extensive library of kitchen notes compiled by Child during the course of the show.
In the 1970s and 1980s, she was the star of numerous television programs, including Julia Child & Company, Julia Child & More Company and Dinner at Julia’s. For the 1979 book Julia Child and More Company, she won a National Book Award in category Current Interest. In 1981, she founded the American Institute of Wine & Food, with vintners Robert Mondavi and Richard Graff, and others, to “advance the understanding, appreciation and quality of wine and food,” a pursuit she had already begun with her books and television appearances. In 1989, she published what she considered her magnum opus, a book and instructional video series collectively entitled The Way To Cook.
In the mid 90s, as part of her work with the American Institute of Wine and Food, Julia Child became increasingly concerned about children’s food education. This resulted in the initiative known as Days of Taste.
Child 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 Pépin Cooking at Home. She collaborated with Jacques Pépin many times for television programs and cookbooks. All of Child’s books during this time stemmed from the television series of the same names.
Child’s use of ingredients like butter and cream has been questioned by food critics and modern-day nutritionists. She addressed these criticisms throughout her career, predicting that a “fanatical fear of food” would take over the country’s dining habits, and that focusing too much on nutrition takes the pleasure from enjoying food. In a 1990 interview, Child said, “Everybody is overreacting. If fear of food continues, it will be the death of gastronomy in the United States. Fortunately, the French don’t suffer from the same hysteria we do. We should enjoy food and have fun. It is one of the simplest and nicest pleasures in life.”
Julia Child’s kitchen, designed by her husband, was the setting for three of her television shows. It is now on display at the National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C. 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, and a massive center island with a gas stove top on one side and an electric stovetop on the other, but leaving the rest of the Child’s appliances alone, including “my wall oven with its squeaking door.” This kitchen backdrop hosted nearly all of Child’s 1990’s television series.
Created by The Julia Child Foundation for Gastronomy and the Culinary Arts in 2015, the Julia Child Award is given to an individual (or team) who has made a profound and significant difference in the way America cooks, eats and drinks.
The Foundation presents the annual award in association with the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History at a gala event held in Washington, D.C. in the fall. The gala is a celebration of the recipient’s accomplishments and helps raise money to support food history programming at the Museum. It features prominent speakers from throughout the national food world, and kicks off the Museum’s annual Smithsonian Food History Weekend.