Celebrating Women's History Month - Part 2
I had the opportunity to partner with Erica Rode, the owner of Bitters Bar & Food here in Phoenix to celebrate women’s history month. We selected four local women in the food and beverage industry and asked to pick a woman from history that inspires them and create a drink in their honor. The drinks were featured one each week with the story of the women from history and the drink creator made to look like an old newspaper ad. As a culminating celebration we had an event with a tasting of all 4 drinks where I had the opportunity to spend an hour telling the story of all the women featured. It is probably one of the most fun events I have ever done. I will include all four stories here on my blog for your enjoyment. Here is week two of four.
Julia Child was born Julia Carolyn McWilliams in 1912, in Pasadena, California, the daughter of a Princeton University graduate and a paper-company heiress.
Child was sent to a boarding school for high school. At six feet, two inches tall, Child played tennis, golf, and basketball as a youth and continued to play sports while attending Smith College, from which she graduated in 1934 with a major in History.
Child grew up with a cook who served her family. She did not observe or learn how to cook from the family's cook. She in fact had no interest in cooking and only a nominal interest in food.
Following her graduation from college, Child moved to New York City, where she worked as a copywriter for the advertising department of W. & J. Sloane. It’s here she decided she would need to cook. So she promptly attempted to roast a duck. Unfortunately the duck exploded and she started her oven on fire. This led to her decision to give up cooking entirely and only eat frozen meals, a much safer choice.
Soon after the United States entered World War II, Julia felt the need to serve her country. Too tall to join the military (she was 6’2”), Julia volunteered her services to the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), which was the forerunner of today’s Central Intelligence Agency. She was one of 4,500 women who served in the OSS.
She started out at OSS Headquarters in Washington, working directly for General William J. Donovan, the leader of OSS. Working as a research assistant in the Secret Intelligence division, Julia typed up thousands of names on little white note cards, a system that was needed to keep track of officers during the days before computers.
She got a bit of break (and more interesting work) when she was moved to the OSS Emergency Sea Rescue Equipment Section. While Child was in the Emergency Sea Rescue Equipment Section, she helped the team in its search for a suitable shark repellent. Several U.S. naval officers had been attacked by the ocean predators since the war broke out, so the OSS brought in a scientist specializing in zoology and an anthropologist to come up with a fix. Child assisted in this mission, and recalled her experience in the book Sisterhood of Spies: “I must say we had lots of fun. We designed rescue kits and other agent paraphernalia. I understand the shark repellent we developed is being used today for downed space equipment—strapped around it so the sharks won’t attack when it lands in the ocean.” Julia often joked that the first thing she even cooked successfully was in fact shark repellent.
From 1944-1945, Julia was sent overseas and worked in Ceylon, present day Sri Lanka, and Kunming, China. During these last two years in the OSS, Julia served as Chief of the OSS Registry. Julia -- having top security clearances -- knew every incoming and outgoing message that passed throughout her office.
Not only did Julia contribute to the efforts of the OSS, but during her time of service, she met her husband. Paul Child was also an OSS officer. He was well traveled, and it was he who opened Julia’s eyes to appreciate fine French cuisine. Paul was definitely a foodie.
Once the war ended, Julia and Paul Child decided to take a “few months to get to know each other in civilian clothes.” They met with family members and traveled cross-country before they decided to tie the knot. The wedding took place on September 1, 1946. Julia remembered being “extremely happy, but a bit banged up from a car accident the day before.” She wasn’t kidding; she actually had to wear a bandage on the side of her face for her wedding photos.
Paul was assigned with the U.S. Information Agency in France in 1948. Married women were not often allowed to work since they had a husband to “provide for them”. Julia became quite bored and decided cooking would be a good hobby while her husband was away on work. So she enrolled in the world renown cooking school in Paris, Le Cordon Bleu.
She joined a women's cooking club through which she met Simone Beck, who was writing a French cookbook for Americans with her friend Louisette Bertholle. Beck proposed that Child work with them to make the book appeal to Americans. In 1951, Child, Beck, and Bertholle began to teach cooking to American women in Child's Paris kitchen. For the next decade, as the Childs moved around Europe and finally to Cambridge, Massachusetts Child translated the French into English, making the recipes detailed, interesting, and practical. Finally publishing her now famous book “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” in 1961.
In 1962 she was invited to the PBS station in Boston talking about book. Instead of talking she jumped up and whipped up an omelette. Viewers raved, and the first cooking show was born. Her show “French Chef” debuted in 1963. She had multiple television series between 1963-1990’s. Her kitchen for most of those shows was in her home and was designed by Paul just for her height. It is now on display in the Smithsonian.
Paul and Julia Child had far from a conventional marriage (at least by 1950s standards). Once Julia’s career took off, Paul happily assisted in whatever way he could—as a taste tester, dishwasher, agent, or manager. He had retired from the Foreign Service in 1960, and immediately thrust himself into an active role in Julia’s business. The New Yorker took note of Paul’s progressive attitudes in its 1974 profile of Julia, noting that he suffered “from no apparent insecurities of male ego.” He continued to serve as Julia’s partner in every sense of the word until his death in 1994.
Child’s doctors ordered a mastectomy in the late 1960s after a routine biopsy came back with cancerous results. She was depressed following her 10-day hospital stay, and Paul was a wreck. But they got through it, and later she became vocal about her operation in hopes that it would remove the stigma for other women. Not many women were talking openly about breast cancer in the 1960’s.
Julia died at the age of 91 in 2004, two days before her 92nd birthday. It’s Julia Child so of course someone recorded her last meal. It was French Onion soup if you are curious.
— This article is a compilation of dozens of sources and is meant for oral presentation. Email for specific credit.