You’ll Never Believe What Made Julia Child Become a Chef

Julia Child is an American icon. Her energetic and fun personality captivated audiences on screen, encouraging them to cook. Child spent her life making a career out of cooking but she did many other fascinating things in her lifetime. Keep reading to learn more about the famed chef.

Julia met the inventor of the Caesar salad

Julia Child Tasting Soup

Julia Child Tasting Soup | Lynn Gilbert/Wikimedia Commons

As a child, Julia’s parents took her to Tijuana to have dinner at Caesar Cardini’s. This chef invented the Caesar salad. Years later, Child told The New York Times, “Caesar himself was a great big old fellow who stood right in front of us to make it. I remember the turning of the salad in the bowl was very dramatic.”

Hint: Julia was a spy.

She was a spy during WWII

Julia Child was a spy during World War II. Child worked for the Office of Strategic Services which later became the CIA, according to the CIA. She started as a research assistant typing up names on note cards, says the CIA. The note cards were used to keep track of officers before computers were invented.

Hint: She helped develop shark repellent.

Child developed shark repellent

After working as a research assistant, Julia got a much different job in the Office of Strategic Services. She helped develop shark repellant, according to the CIA. Explosives targeting German U-boats were covered in the repellent keeping sharks at bay. “Before the introduction of the shark repellent, curious sharks would sometimes set off the explosives when they bumped into them,” the CIA says.

Hint: Julia almost missed her wedding.

Julia got in a car accident the day before her wedding

Julia Child met her future husband, Paul, while they both worked for the Office of Strategic Services. The day before their wedding, Julia got in a car accident. In their wedding photos, Julia is wearing a bandage. She remembered being “extremely happy, but a bit banged up from a car accident the day before,” Mental Floss says.

Hint: She was a bad cook.

She ate frozen dinners

She wasn’t a natural in the kitchen. | Joe Belanger/ iStock/Getty Images Plus

Before Julia met her husband, Paul, she cooked frozen dinners for herself, Smithsonian Magazine says. After Julia met Paul, she started cooking. “She learned to cook to please Paul, attempting to seduce him with her kitchen prowess,” Ruth Reichl wrote in Smithsonian Magazine. She wasn’t a natural in the kitchen. Reichl said Julia exploded a duck and set fire to the oven when she first started cooking.

Hint: Lunch in France changed Julia’s life.

Lunch in Rouen changed Julia’s life

In Julia Child’s book, My Life in France, she described her first lunch in France. This meal sparked Julia’s interest in cooking. “Our first lunch together in France had been absolute perfection. It was the most exciting meal of my life,” Child wrote. Later in her book, Child says she measures every meal against her first lunch in France.

Hint: Julia’s first book is more than 700 pages long.

It took nine years to write and publish her first cookbook

Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child

Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child | Amazon

Mastering the Art of French Cooking is a classic cookbook that has become a culinary standard. The cookbook is more than 700 pages long and took Julia Child and her contributors, Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle, nine years to complete. The women worked for nine years and finally published the book in 1961, the L.A. Times says. Mastering the Art of French Cooking became a bestseller again after the release of a movie about Julia’s life, according to The New York Times.

Hint: Julia won America’s hearts with a hot plate. 

Julia became a star after appearing on Boston Public Television

She forgot to mention her own book. | Larry French/Getty Images

Julia was a guest on the show, I’ve Been Reading, where she made an omelette. The station, WGBH, says she brought with her “a hot plate, giant whisk, and eggs.” In Julia’s book, My Life in France, she explains why she brought the tools to the taping of her 30 minute segment. “I didn’t know what we’d talk about for that long, so I arrived with plenty of equipment.” She added, “I was so focused on demonstrating proper knife technique, I forgot to mention the book.”

Hint: Child was nominated for eight Emmys.

Julia won Emmys for her work on television

According to PBS, Julia was “the first educational television personality to receive an Emmy.” Throughout her lifetime, Child was nominated for eight Emmys and won three, PBS says. She even filmed a segment teaching viewers how to present an Emmy. It’s clear from the segment why Julia won Emmys for her show. Watch the first 30 seconds and you’ll understand why.

Hint: The French Chef was the first cooking show to air on PBS.

PBS’ first cooking show was The French Chef

When Julia and Paul moved to Marseille in March 1953, she dove into what she called “piscatory research” for Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Being a port city, Marseille was the ideal spot to study seafood, but it wasn’t an easy task. As she explains in My Life in France, Julia learned that fish were often called by different names in different countries and that some fish that were considered “positively delectable” in France and England, were “sometimes regarded as poisonous” in America. Despite the difficulty, this was precisely the kind of work Julia relished: “I loved this kind of research, and it led to all kinds of interesting discoveries.” Here’s Julia making use of all that research years later on an episode of The French Chef from 1971. (Photo: Schlesinger Library, used with permission)

A post shared by The Julia Child Foundation (@juliachildfoundation) on

The French Chef was the first cooking show on PBS. Each episode was recorded live in the studio, the Archive of American Television says. Julia’s mistakes, captured in front a live audience, became a trademark of hers, demonstrating that mistakes in the kitchen happen to all of us. Julia’s cooking show became so popular, the show remained on the air for a decade, PBS says.

Hint: The French Chef was the first tv show to include captions for the deaf or hard of hearing.

The French Chef was a breakthrough show

Various firsts happened on The French Chef. Aside from the show being the first cooking show on PBS, the show broke other ground too. The show was the first in television to include captions for the deaf or hard of hearing, according to WGHB. The show was the first how-to cooking show, setting the standard for the cooking shows we watch today.

Hint: Julia’s kitchen had to be organized.

Julia liked to see her cooking equipment

She liked her cooking items on display. | Larry French/Getty Images

In 1976, Julia wrote an essay in Architectural Digest explaining her kitchen’s design. “Cooking utensils become decorative objects, all carefully orchestrated by Paul from pots and pot lids to skillets, trivets and flan rings,” Julia wrote in the essay. The National Museum of American History says, “Paul outlined each pot in black marker on the pegboard, making it simple for anyone using the kitchen to put things away properly.”

Hint: Julia owned lots of knives.

She was a self-proclaimed “knife freak”

She was very concerned about the state of her knives. | TIM SLOAN/AFP/Getty Images

Author and Julia’s great-nephew, Alex Prud’homme, told Consumer Reports Julia liked to say she had “enough knives to outfit a pirate ship.” She had many knives but they all had one thing common, they had to be sharp. In the biography, Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julia Child, Julia was said to be known for voicing her concerns about knives. “She’d been known to “let off a blast of cuss-words in the kitchen,”” author Bob Spitz wrote.

Hint: You can cook in Julia’s kitchen and stay in her house.

You can cook in Julia’s kitchen

Julia Child's French cottage

Imagine cooking where she cooked. | Airbnb

Get a cooking lesson in Julia Child’s summer kitchen in Southeastern France. When the house isn’t being used for cooking lessons, guests can rent the entire property through Airbnb, according to The Today Show. Julia donated her Massachusetts’ kitchen to the Smithsonian Institution. “What you see is literally what was on the countertops the day she walked out of there,” Rayna Green, curator of the exhibition, told The Washington Post.

Hint: Paul Child was a major supporter of his wife’s career.

Paul was Julia’s partner in life and in business

Fifty-four years ago today, Julia and Paul Child packed their station wagon with kitchen equipment and drove into downtown Boston to shoot the very first episode of Julia’s groundbreaking television show, The French Chef. The show was produced by WGBH and was supposed to be shot in their studio, but shortly before they were scheduled to tape, the studio burned down. Thankfully, the Boston Gas Company came to the rescue and loaned their demonstration kitchen. That day they shot the first episode, The French Omelette. Here’s Julia (shown with her producer Russ Morash) writing about the experience in My Life in France: “I careened around the stove for the allotted twenty-eight minutes, flashing whisks and bowls and pans, and panting a bit under the hot lights. The omelette came out just fine. And with that, WGBH-TV had lurched into educational television’s first cooking program.” (Photo: Schlesinger Library, used with permission)

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Paul Child helped Julia with every aspect of her cooking career. Reichl wrote Paul did anything Julia needed, “becoming her manager, photographer, recipe-tester and taster, proofreader, illustrator,” in Smithsonian Magazine. A book of Paul’s photography was published showing just how many photos he took of his wife. One photo shows Julia Child along with Louisette, and Simca testing recipes.

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