“If you’re afraid of butter, use cream.”
Julia McWilliams (1912-2004) was born on August 15, 1912, in Pasadena, California. The eldest of three children, her father, John McWilliams, Jr., was a Princeton graduate and early investor in California real estate, and her mother, Julia Carolyn Weston, was a paper-company heiress whose father served as lieutenant governor of Massachusetts. The McWilliams family accumulated significant wealth and Julia lived a privileged childhood. Julia went to school at San Francisco’s élite Katherine Branson School for Girls. In 1930, Julia enrolled at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts. Julia’s intention in school was to become a writer. Although she enjoyed writing short plays and regularly submitted manuscripts to the New Yorker, none of her writing was ever published. Upon graduation from Smith College, she moved to New York where she worked in the advertising department of the distinguished home furnishings company W&J Sloane.
At the onset of World War II in 1941, Julia moved to Washington, D.C., where she volunteered as a research assistant for the Office of Strategic Services. Julia played a key role in the communication of top-secret documents between U.S. government officials and their intelligence officers. In 1945, while in Sri Lanka, Child began a relationship with fellow OSS employee Paul Child. In September of 1946, after the end of World War II, Julia and Paul returned to America and were married.
In 1948, Paul was reassigned to the U.S. Information Service at the American Embassy in Paris and the Childs moved to France. While there, Julia developed a fondness for French cuisine and attended the world-famous Cordon Bleu cooking school. After her six-month training, Julia grouped with fellow Cordon Bleu students Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle to form the cooking school L’Ecole de Trois Gourmandes, The School of the Three Gourmands.
With a goal of adapting sophisticated French cuisine for mainstream Americans, the trio collaborated on a two-volume cookbook. The women earned a $750 advance for the work, which they received in three payments. The original publisher rejected the manuscript, however, due to its 734-page length but, another publisher eventually accepted the 3-lb. cookbook, releasing it in September 1961 under the title Mastering the Art of French Cooking. The book was considered groundbreaking, and remained the bestselling cookbook for five straight years after its publication. It has since become a standard guide for the culinary community. I have a copy and believe no kitchen is complete without one!
Julia promoted her book on the Boston public television station near her Cambridge, Massachusetts, home. With her trademark forthright manner and hearty humor, she prepared an omelet on air. The public’s response was enthusiastic, generating 27 letters and countless phone calls. She was then invited back to tape her own series on cooking for the network, initially earning $50 a show.
Premiering in 1962, The French Chef TV series, like Mastering the Art of French Cooking, changed the way Americans related to food. Julia was established as a local celebrity for her appearances on television. Shortly afterwards, The French Chef was syndicated to 96 stations throughout America. Julia received the prestigious George Foster Peabody Award in 1964 followed by an Emmy Award in 1966.
Ms. Child’s other endeavors included the television programs Julia Child and Company in 1978, Julia Child and More Company in 1980, and Dinner at Julia’s in 1983, as well as many bestselling cookbooks that covered every aspect of culinary knowledge. Her most recent cookbooks included In Julia’s Kitchen with Master Chefs in 1995, Baking with Julia in 1996, Julia’s Delicious Little Dinners in 1998, and Julia’s Casual Dinners in 1999.
Although very popular, Julia was also often criticized by letter-writing viewers for her failure to wash her hands, and for what they believed was poor kitchen demeanor. Others were concerned about the high levels of fat in French cooking. Julia’s advice was to eat in moderation and said, “I would rather eat one tablespoon of chocolate russe cake than three bowls of Jell-O”… so true!
Despite her critics, Julia remained a go-to reference for cooking advice. In 1993, she was rewarded for her work when she became the first woman inducted into the Culinary Institute Hall of Fame. In November 2000, following a 40-year career that has made her name synonymous with fine food, Julia received France’s highest honor: the Legion d’Honneur. In August 2002, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History unveiled an exhibit featuring the kitchen where she filmed three of her popular cooking shows.
Julia Child died in August 2004 of kidney failure at her assisted-living home in Montecito, California, two days before her 92nd birthday. After her death Ms. Child’s last book, her autobiography, My Life in France, was published with the help of her great-nephew, Alex Prud’homme. The book, which centered on how Child discovered her true calling, became a best seller.
Julia’s memory continues to live on, through her various cookbooks and her syndicated cooking show. In 2009, the film Julie & Julia starring Meryl Streep as Julia hit theaters. The movie chronicled several aspects of Child’s life, as well as her influence on aspiring cook Julie Powell, played by Amy Adams. For her performance, Streep won the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress, and received an Academy Award nomination. Julia Child was a true culinary genius and without her, America may never had been introduced to French culinary delights such… including my boeuf bourguignon!
“Find something you’re passionate about
and keep tremendously interested in it.”
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