A new series on HBO MAX

This season I am enjoying the series Julia that explores the second half of her life, defined by the moment when Julia Child enrolled in the Le Cordon Bleu Cooking School in Paris to learn to savor and prepare French cuisine. The year was 1948. She met two women who became dear friends, Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle, in her studies. The friendships changed American cuisine and history when the three women opened their own cooking school, L’Ecole des Trois Gourmandes. Their teaching style and collaboration led to their famous cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking which was published in 1961.

Julia’s First Memorable Culinary Event

The first half of Julia’s life was quite interesting but gave no hint of the impact she would have on American culture and cuisine. She was a Southern California gal, born in Pasadena in 1912. Her first memorable culinary event was eating a “caesar salad” in Tijuana at the restaurant of Caesar Cardini with her parents in 1925. 

Julia in the Workforce – Before, During, and After World War II

She went to the east coast to Smith College in Massachusetts in 1930 where she enjoyed acting in theater, creative writing and basketball. After graduation she moved to New York hoping to become a famous novelist but instead worked in the field of publicity and advertising from 1934 until the start of World War II. During the war she had the opportunity to work for the United States government in Washington D.C.. She served with the OSS (the Office of Strategic Services, which was the forerunner of the CIA). She notes that she was too tall at 6 feet 2 inches to join the WAVES (Women Accepted as Volunteer Emergency Serviceworkers) or the WACS (Womens Army Corps) but the OSS accepted her. She was posted in Ceylon and China. 

In 1946 Julia married diplomat Paul Child. She enrolled in a cooking school in Los Angeles to prepare for marriage. However, her husband described her as an awful cook. In 1948, after the war, Julia and Paul Child moved to France when he was assigned to the American Embassy in Paris. Julia’s husband enjoyed French wine and Julia gradually began to impress him with her mastery of classic French cooking after enrolling in the Le Cordon Bleu in 1949.

A move to Cambridge, Massachusetts – a new career at age 48.

In the early 1960s, there were very few women chefs and food writers. Julia’s first cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, was purchased by thousands of men and women who wanted to learn about the sophisticated French cuisine. It was the decade of entertaining at home, joining a gourmet club, occasionally dining at the expensive French restaurant and enjoying French Champagne, foie gras, chocolate souffles, Chardonnay and Sancerre. Her first cookbook caused a sensation. When Julia and Paul retired to Cambridge, Massachusetts, Julia convinced the local Public Television Station, WGBH – Boston, to try a new idea in educational programming – a cooking show with Julia Child as the chef and instructor. Yes she started it all! She also helped finance the series by giving cooking classes in her home to friends.  But it was her style and charm, her casual approach which instilled confidence in her audience and the success of her recipes that made her name a household word. 

Julia became passionate about her cooking. She wrote 12 cookbooks and filmed over 200 TV cooking shows featuring classic French cuisine. She shifted her focus to contemporary American cuisine and developed other cooking series including Julia Child and Company, Dinner at Julia’s, Baking with Julia, Julia and Jacques Pépin at Home. My favorite was the Emmy winning series with Julia and a series of Master Chefs. It was my first experience watching a variety of American professionals talk about their cooking styles, native foods and regional cuisines. 

Julia’s Impact on American Culture and Cuisine

Her impact on American culture opened her audience’s eyes to the world of fine cuisine, fresh ingredients and the joy of celebrating life with friends and guests. Hours in the kitchen became shared adventures producing memorable meals well worth the effort.The public began to follow the careers of famous chefs throughout America; families became more adventurous with their cooking and ate out more than at any time in the past. 

Women began to write cookbooks of all kinds; they subscribed to gourmet magazines focusing on new techniques, equipment, recipes and fine wines such as Bon Appetit and Gourmet. Julia promoted food and wine as an integral component of a healthy lifestyle. She also tirelessly promoted the International Association of Culinary Professionals. Career opportunities for chefs and workers in the hospitality industry grew rapidly.

Julia Child-Archie-Mclearen-09

Julia in California and the Central Coast

Julia was the first woman inducted into The Culinary Institute of America’s Hall of Fame. She also worked with Robert Mondavi, founder of Robert Mondavi Winery, and Richard Graff, founder of Chalone Vineyards, to establish the COPIA: The American Center for Wine, Food and the Arts in Napa Valley in November of 1981. 

When Julia returned to California in her later years after Paul’s death in 1994, she formed the Julia Child Foundation for Gastronomy and the Culinary Arts in Santa Barbara in 1995. She retired to Montecito and was often seen dining at local restaurants with Archie McLaren, co-founder of the Central Coast Wine Classic. Julia was a supporter of this annual food and wine event. Julia and Archie dined often together in Santa Barbara but she was also well known in San Luis Obispo County as well.

Her final book, Julia’s Kitchen Wisdom, was arranged in an unusual style –  by ingredient with an emphasis on technique. It was published in the year 2000.

Julia was honored at the home of Jack and Catherine Niven in the Edna Valley. They were the founders of Paragon Vineyards and Edna Valley Vineyard. Archie McLaren escorted Julia to the luncheon and a book signing followed. 

The Julia Child Collection at The Wine History Project of San Luis Obispo County.

Julia donated the kitchen from her Cambridge home to the Smithsonian National Museum of American History in Washington D.C. It is one of the museum’s most popular exhibits. A few items from her Cambridge kitchen are in the collection of the Wine History Project of San Luis Obispo County thanks to the generosity of Archie McLaren. Santa Barbara artist James- Paul Brown donated a dynamic portrait of Julia and also a bottle of wine with Julia’s portrait on the label. Her cookbooks are still found in many homes in the county and in the Research Library of the Wine History Project of San Luis Obispo County offices.