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Julia Child Biography

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Julia Child (August 15, 1912–August 13, 2004) was a famous American cook, author, and television personality who introduced French cuisine and cooking techniques to the American mainstream through her many cookbooks and television programs. Her most famous works are the 1961 cookbook Mastering the Art of French Cooking and, showcasing her sui generis television persona, the series The French Chef, which premiered in 1963.

Born Julia Carolyn McWilliams to John and Julia Carolyn ("Caro") McWilliams in the wealthy community of Pasadena, California, she grew up eating traditional New England food prepared by the family maid. She attended Polytechnic School from fourth grade to ninth grade and then The Branson School in Ross, California. After graduating in 1934 from Smith College—where at six feet, two inches (1.88 m) tall she played basketball—with a Bachelor of Arts degree in history, she moved to New York City and worked as a copywriter for the advertising department of upscale home-furnishing firm W. & J. Sloane. After returning to California in 1937, shortly before her mother died, she spent four years at home, writing for local publications and briefly working in advertising again. Civic-minded, she volunteered with the American Red Cross and, after the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941, joined the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) after being turned down by the United States Navy for being too tall.

For a year, she worked at the OSS Emergency Sea Rescue Equipment Section in Washington, D.C., where she was a file clerk and also helped in the development of a shark repellent. In 1944 she was posted to Kandy, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), where she met her future husband, a high-ranking OSS cartographer, and later to China, where she received the Emblem of Meritorious Civilian Service as head of the Registry of the OSS Secretariat.

Following the war, she lived in Washington, D.C., where she was married on September 1, 1946 to Paul Cushing Child, a man known for his sophisticated palate who came from a prominent Boston family and who had lived in Paris as an artist and poet. He joined the United States Foreign Service and also introduced his wife to fine cuisine. In 1948, they moved to Paris after the U.S. State Department assigned Paul Child as an exhibits officer with the United States Information Agency in Paris, France. The couple never had children.

Child repeatedly recalled her first meal in Rouen of oysters, sole meunière, and fine wine as a culinary revelation. She described the experience once in The New York Times newspaper 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 master chefs like Max Bugnard. 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 and proposed that Mrs. Child work with them to make it appeal to Americans.

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

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 to the masses, 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.
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