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Julia Child

Julia Child (born August 15, 1912), née Julia McWilliams, is an American food writer who is widely credited with introducing French cuisine and cooking techniques to mainstream American audiences. Her most famous work is Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Vols 1-2 (with Simone Beck).

She had a long-running television series on PBS called Cooking with Julia Child (currently in syndication on the Food Network). Her straightforward, unpretentious, and reliable recipes arguably did more for French cooking in U.S. households than any celebrity chef has done before or since. Her stated goal was to introduce French cooking for the American cook with access to typical American ingredients. Her television kitchen, with its extra-high counters to accommodate her six foot plus frame, has been preserved by the Smithsonian.

Less well-known was her service for the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) during World War II. Julia McWilliams was born in Pasadena, California to well-to-do parents, graduated from Smith College in 1934 and then worked in the W&J Sloane advertising department before joining the OSS (as she says, "because I was too tall to get into the WACs or WAVEs"). She worked with the OSS Emergency Sea Rescue Equipment Section in Washington, DC for a year, developing shark repellent, and was then posted to Kandy, Ceylon (where she met her future husband Paul Cushing Child), and to China, where she was Head of the Registry of OSS Secretariat. During her time in the OSS she first became interested in the culinary arts, "Army food was terrible. We were hungry, so we were interested in eating," she admitted during a 1997 interview.

Following the war, she resided in Washington, D.C., where she married Paul Child in 1946. Paul Child was then stationed with the State Department in Paris, where Julia developed her interest in French cooking. She took a course from the famed French cooking school Le Cordon Bleu, and later started L'Ecole des Trois Gourmands with Beck and Louisette Bertholle. The three taught cooking classes to Americans visiting Paris. While promoting Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Vol 1 she appeared on WGBH and demonstrated how to make an omelet. She went on to essentially originate the televised cooking show, and her cheery attitude and distinctivly charming warbly voice were a fixture on PBS for decades. Her de-mystification of French cuisine fit in well with the French-fascinated America of the early 1960s; her insistence on using the finest ingredients available, learned at the Cordon Bleu (and in her California childhood), would become the mantra of the California Cuisine cooking style starting in the 1970s and slowly spread throughout the country in subsequent years.

In the late 1990s she left Boston and moved to an assisted living facility in Santa Barbara, California. In 2003 she received the Medal of Freedom for her contributions.

Source for additional material: Encyclopedia of the Central Intelligence Agency by W. Thomas Smith, Jr.