Julia Child - an American Icon in Paris...
P'Niche has a suspicion that if you are a Francophile, a cook (professionally trained or not), or even a late bloomer, you are quite familiar with the American icon - Julia Child. So many of us grew up watching - joyfully learning from Julia's humor, skill, and booming echoes of her uniquely voiced "Bon Appétit!" Let's take a P'Niche peek to learn a bit more of this legend on what would have been her 112th birthday...
In fact, the woman who brought French cuisine to America was born in Pasadena, California, on August 15, 1912.
Julia was the oldest of three children born to American heiress Julia Carolyn "Caro" McWilliams (née Weston) and John McWilliams Jr., a leading land manager at the time.
An athletic and precocious little girl, Julia excelled at tennis, golf, and basketball, but was hopeful that her future would lead her into literature / writing. (Wait for it...)
She had aspirations on becoming a novelist or magazine reporter, which led to her short term stint at W. & J. Sloane Advertising in New York City.
Our lovely Julia grew to be 6'2" (that is 1.88 meters) tall. While she'd be a runway model contender today, she was eager to contribute to the Women's Army Corps (WACs), but found that her statuesque height held her back from that initiative. As such, she decided to enlist in the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) in 1942.
Her writing skills and education had her climbing through the ranks to Research Assistant within the Secret Intelligence Division, recording over 10,000 names on cards in an effort to keep keen track of officers.
While Julia's work and projects had her also living in several international posts like Kunming China (where she as awarded the Emblem of the Meritorious Civilian Service), it was in Kandy, Ceylon (current day Sri Lanka) where she encountered one Paul Cushing Child, also an employee of the OSS.
Paul and Julia were married September 01, 1946 in Lumberville, Pennsylvania. Paul's work in the United States Foreign Service had them relocated to Paris in 1948.
After crossing from the east coast of the USA and landing in Le Havre, France, the Childs drove down to Paris, making one critical stop in Rouen.
Julia's first meal in France was at La Couronne in Rouen (in operation since 1345).
The meal, she said, changed her life as she noted it was "an opening up of the soul and spirit for me".
"Julia's Menu" of fresh oysters, buttery sole meunière, a Grand Marnier soufflé, and fine wines is still available to this day.
P'Niche PSA - this menu will change your life and outlook on cuisine, too!
Having tried a few other ventures, Julia eventually settled into classes at Paris' Le Cordon Bleu, earning her diploma in 1951.
You'll notice this is when Julia was aged about 39, meaning that she did not begin to learn and master the French language until she was 36 years old.
The Lesson? Never, never give up on your dreams and learning new things, P'Nicher!
From here, Julia linked up with friends Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle, founding "L'École des Trois Gourmandes" (that's the School of the Three Food Lovers to you and me).
While their school focused on teaching American women living in Paris the skills to master French cuisine, the Three Gourmandes were simultaneously working on a new cookbook, which would detail carefully researched, tested, and tasted French recipes...recipes for those cooks to bring to their table.
That book, in which Julia translated recipes and directions from French into English, would become "Mastering the Art of French Cooking."
The cook book had so much content, that it actually turned into a two volume set - which is still published to this day.
With over 520 recipes and instructions included, in 2015, the news publication The Daily Telegraph ranked "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" as the second greatest cookbook of all time.
P'Niche challenge... ask your friends who cook if they have at least one of these volumes in their cookery collection. I bet at least 25% have it and reference it. P'Niche sure does!
The following years of work and exploration brought Julia and Paul Child down to Provence (Southern France) and even onto Germany.
Their home in Provence "La Pitchounne" (and affectionately called "La Peetch") was also recently purchased, renovated and now runs as a cooking school program, called "Courageous Cooking." Definitely on my bucket list!
Departing Europe, the Childs settled in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1961, when Paul retired from US Military service.
It was Paul himself who painstakingly crafted and recreated Julia's kitchen (which included specially measured and tailored countertops to accommodate Julia's height and measurements.)
This kitchen brings Julia to her next steps...
A televised "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" book review in 1961, on Boston's Public Television Channel WGBH piqued the public's interest. You see, on that book review, she showed the host how to properly cook an omelet.
The phone lines got real hot, real quick.
This public interested led to Julia's show "The French Chef," and its debut in 1963. A low cash production, you can see here that production hands used to sit behind Julia to help her cooking segments appear seamless.
As the seasons of her very popular show went on, Julia settled in and her natural exuberance and joie de vivre were able to shine. Any mistakes she made became part of her dance and "courageous cooking." This spirit encouraged many viewers to lose their fear of complex French cuisine and give it a try.
Each segment saw Julia explain her recipes, the ingredients, the techniques and were always signed off with a hearty smile and jubilant cry of "Bon Appétit!"
With her beloved Paul by her side, Julia was able to fight and beat a bout of breast cancer, all the while working and writing. She was featured in many television programs, including regular appearances on Good Morning America on ABC.
In 1981, Julia went on to found The American Institute of Food and Wine, part of her work leading to AIDS activism in addition to children's food education.
She often collaborated with longtime friend, Jacques Pépin as well - both fans of butter.
It seems both Julia and Jacques came under some ridicule for their heavy hands with butter by nutritionists.
Julia refused to give into the "fanatical fear of food" and stuck to her guns (and her Le Cordon Bleu training).
Butter makes everything better!
With decades of love and memories to their credit, Paul Child sadly passed in 1994.
In 1995, Julia established the Julia Child Foundation for Gastronomy and Culinary Arts, granting funds for others to study her life's passion - coking and food.
In 2001, Julia herself took to a retirement community, generously donating her home to Smith College (who later sold the property). Julia also donated her kitchen to the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History, where it remains on display for cooks from all over the world to make loving pilgrimages.
Our Julia passed away on August 13, 2004, 2 days shy of her 92nd birthday, with the final phrase of her last book reading "thinking back on it now reminds me that the pleasures of the table, and of life, are infinite - toujours bon appétit!"
Her awards, honors, and accolades are simply too long to list, but perhaps the loveliest and most touching is the Julia Child Rose.
It is a stunning floribunda rose, bearing her name, and is the color is, of course, butter gold. Certainly Julia would laugh in approval.
Feeling like you might wish to see some of Julia's Parisian haunts? Wonderful! You can visit the exterior of her Parisian home at:
81, rue de l’Université, 75007
Note: Julia and Paul used to affectionately refer to it “Roo de Loo”
Métro: Assemblée Nationale
Perhaps you want to buy some kitchen supplies where Julia shopped?
18-20, rue Coquillière, 75001
Métro: Les Halles
All sorts of kitchenware, from wooden spoons to copper pots (and everything in between) can be found in this shop, open since 1820.
P'Nichers were lucky enough to share a meal at another one of Julia and Paul's favorites, which you can read about here:
Au Pied de Cochon
6 Rue Coquillière, 75001
Métro: Louvre / Rivoli (Line 1)
Étienne Marcel (Line 4)
Les Halles (Line 4)
Châtelet-Les-Halles (RER A, RER B)
Want to make a day trip to where Julia Child had her first meal in France?
31, place du Vieux Marché, 76000 Rouen
Train from Paris:
SNCF Gare Saint-Lazare to Rouen and then a short walk from the main train station - it's the most charming city - well worth the visit!
Lastly and ever cognizant that this blog was born out of our book club, we just finished "Mastering the Art of French Murder" by Colleen Cambridge and will likely read the second book upon it's 2024 publication, featuring Julia Child and crew as they try to solve (an avert) certain death.
P'Niche will publish our most anticipated books of 2024 soon, so we hope you will subscribe to join us back here in the Parisian Niche.
You can also feel free to join our book club, the Parisian Page Turners, where were read and discuss a Paris (or France) based book every six weeks or so.
You can find info here and all are welcome - come read with us!
What do you say, P'Nicher? Are you a Julia fan - are you going to break out your cook books to give her famous Coq au Vin or Boeuf Bourguignon a try? Let us know in the comments below et à bientôt!