Julia Child: The Iconic Chef

Her well-honed skills, easygoing demeanor in the kitchen, and insatiable appetite for knowledge have served as a source of motivation for millions of aspiring home cooks and a significant number of working chefs. Julia Child is credited with revolutionizing the cuisine of the United States through the establishment of her eponymous French cooking school, the publication of multiple award-winning cookbooks, and the hosting of internationally acclaimed television programs. She did this by introducing her eager audience to an approachable interpretation of the refined cuisine of France over the course of four decades.

An American in the City of Lights

In 1963, a vivacious woman named Julia Child stepped in front of the cameras at WGBH and introduced the art of French cooking to the people of the United States. She had a passion for French cuisine and a voice that was unlike anyone else’s. Even after more than a decade has passed since her passing, Julia Child continues to captivate the imagination of people everywhere.

On August 15, 1912, she was given the name Julia McWilliams and was born in Pasadena, California. Her mother was an heiress to a paper company, and her father was a banker and landowner in their family. The child had a wonderful upbringing and was given an excellent education. In 1946, she tied the knot with her future husband, Paul Child. In 1949, Paul became a member of the United States Information Agency and was later posted to the United States Embassy in Paris.

Paris food

While Julia and her husband were living in Paris, she decided to take advantage of the opportunity to study French cuisine by enrolling at le Cordon Bleu. She collaborated on the book “Mastering the Art of French Cooking,” which was published in 1961, with two of her French friends named Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle. The book’s primary objective was to make traditional French cuisine more approachable to American home cooks. In addition, the three ladies were the proprietors of a cooking school in Paris known as L’Ecole des Trois Gourmandes (the school of the three hearty eaters). In the same year, the Child family relocated to Cambridge, Massachusetts, after having moved back to the United States.

Julia Child’s Formal Culinary Education

Julia Child’s rise to fame as a French cuisine expert was an unexpected byproduct of her marriage to Paul Child, who was a prominent figure in the field at the time. In 1948, when Paul was given a job with the United States Information Agency (USIA), the couple uprooted their lives and moved to Paris. Child’s taste buds were irrevocably changed by the French cuisine she experienced in Paris, and as a result, she decided to enroll in Le Cordon Bleu. She gained a strong foundation in traditional French cooking as well as the fundamentals of preparing some of the most well-known French dishes during her time there.

As soon as Child’s interest in food was sparked, it wasn’t long before she was working as a consultant on a cookbook and giving lessons in French cooking from the comfort of her own home. Child’s modest beginnings were the result of the creation of simple and intimate home-based classes, which she developed in collaboration with other food enthusiasts whom she had met in a culinary appreciation club. Child opened up the world of French cuisine to Americans by translating French recipes into English. Her instructions were clear and concise, so people were able to easily follow them.

If you watch any of Chef Child’s programs, it is easy to see that her culinary education was always something that was a work in progress throughout her life. Child continued her own education as a chef in front of the audience by teaching other chefs how to cook the food that she was so passionate about and by remaining open to the organic cross-pollination that occurred as a result of the countless collaborations she participated in.

A Forerunner in the Kitchen

It was on The French Chef that WGBH made its maiden voyage into the realm of closed captioning for viewers who are deaf or hard of hearing. This is just one of the many innovations that can be attributed to the series. (WGBH has built on that 1972 landmark with many other advances in media access for the 36 million people in the United States who have hearing or vision loss.)

Since then, all of Julia Child’s subsequent cooking shows for public television, such as Julia Child & Company, Julia Child & More Company, Dinner at Julia’s, and Julia Child Cooking with Master Chefs, have been continuously broadcasted and rebroadcast ever since their initial broadcasts. In her final series, Julia Child & Jacques Pépin: Cooking at Home, which aired in 1998 when she was 85 years old, she returned to demonstrating fundamental cooking techniques in her own kitchen. In addition, Julia has been the subject of two documentaries that have been broadcast on PBS: an American Masters biography and Julia Child Memories: Bon Appétit, which is a look back at some of the most iconic episodes of The French Chef.

Julia is credited by those in the know in the television industry with originating the “how-to” genre and paving the way for a group of highly successful TV chefs as well as an entire cable channel devoted to cooking.

Julia Child’s Wine and Food Institute

Child was dedicated to increasing people’s knowledge about food, fostering the careers of aspiring chefs, and expanding educational opportunities in the culinary arts. In order to accomplish these goals, she collaborated with Robert Mondavi and Richard Graff to establish and launch the American Institute of Wine and Food in the state of California. This charitable organization currently supports community events and awards scholarships to students who are interested in pursuing a career in the culinary arts.

The Day of Taste is a signature event that is hosted by the institute. Its primary objective is to bring students in the fourth and fifth grades together with professional chefs for the purpose of instilling a passion for food as well as an understanding of how food is produced. The institute actively promotes a theme centered on taste and health through the distribution of printed materials as well as through interaction with children.

In 2004, Julia Child passed away. At the time of her death, an unplanned culinary empire had grown up around her. It included a dozen long-running TV shows, a lot of cooking specials, almost twenty cookbooks, and a status as a culinary icon that made a lot of people love and care about her.

To sum up the life of Julia Child

Her legacy lives on in a variety of forms, but the American Institute of Wine and Food is making a concerted effort to promote the most important aspects of her culinary philosophy. Julia Child’s lifelong passion, which she has passed on to future generations in the form of her legacy, was to promote the education of young children and to demystify the cooking process.