When Julia Child first visited the Child family cabin in Lopaus Point, Maine, her cooking skills were non-existent. She began gradually with KP duties like peeling potatoes and chopping onions. A self-professed “social butterfly,” Julia took flight in that rustic kitchen until she and her sister-in-law Freddie began churning out delicious banquets.
At 6’3”, Julia Child was the shortest of her siblings. Her sister Dort was 6’6” and her brother John was 6’5”. What did Julia think about her height? In the new biography, Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julia Child, available on August 8th, she bemoans the hardships of her gargantuan size and debilitating physical obstacles that eventually led to her death.
When Julia Child began her cooking class with eleven GIs at Le Cordon Bleu in 1950, she could barely boil water. Two months later, she was committed to mastering the entire Escoffier repertoire, in a series of trials and tribulations illustrated in Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julia Child, published on August 8th. Her first stovetop challenge was boeuf bourguignon. Do you remember yours?
Julia Child’s life was changed by one meal she had at La Couronne, in Rouen, in 1948, which is recounted in exquisite detail in Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julia Child, available on August 8th. The moment she put a forkful of sole meunière in her mouth the die was cast. Ever had an epiphany like that?
What bride hasn’t had a snafu on her wedding day? Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julia Child, due out August 8th, tells the story of Julia’s life-threatening car accident the day before her wedding to Paul. Ever the trooper, Julia said a few wounds weren’t about to stop her from marrying Paul. Do you have any wedding disasters to share?
The stories are true. Julia worked for the OSS, the predecessor to the CIA, during World War II. Here she is in the barracks in Kandy, Ceylon, in 1944. She worked directly for “Wild Bill” Donovan, keeping records of all the spies in Southeast Asia. Julia also met her future husband Paul, who was entranced by those long legs, on exhibit here, but that’s another story in my new biography, Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julia Child, available on August 8th. Since Julia gave all the spies their code names and knew their secret positions, does that make her a spy?
Check out Julia Child’s flash get-up outside her family’s beach house in San Malo, CA, in the late-1920s. An amateur actress, she loved costumes and dress-up, which runs counter to her beloved TV image. Ever notice that she seemed to wear the same frumpy blouse and skirt throughout her two decades on TV? In Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julia Child, published on August 8th, you get a rare and unexpected picture of Julia, who was more image-conscious than most people realize.
Who said Julia Child had no experience in front of a camera? Here she is mugging like mad, while trying to figure out what to do with her life. In 1939, she still considered herself nothing but a social butterfly, facing a future that was all-but-hopeless. In Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julia Child, published on August 8th, she contemplates secretarial school – really! And hat-making – double really!! Can you imagine our lives had she never made it to Le Cordon Bleu?
Turns out the most famous chef in history was a notorious party girl in college. Here she is with her boyfriend, Tom Johnston, the guy who broke Julia’s heart, the full, sad saga, of which, appears in Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julia Child, published on August 8th to coincide with the 100th anniversary of her birth. Sure, she landed a lifelong mate in Paul, but the ghost of Tom always hovered. I’ve had some romantic setbacks, but can’t imagine a superficial college fling having that much of an impact, can you?
This is probably the last time that Julia Child ever found common ground with her father, John McWilliams. Father and daughter perpetuated a love-hate relationship that lasted throughout their lives, which unfolds dramatically in Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julia Child, published on August 8 to coincide with the 100th anniversary of Julia’s birth. Father-daughter relationships are dicey to begin with, but – this divisive?
Fortunately, for Julia Child, her husband Paul encouraged her to cook, molded her TV image, and tended to her every need. But – at what price? I can’t help thinking that this talented, sophisticated, and passionate man never realized any of his own dreams. In Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julia Child, a portrait develops of a man who sacrificed his personal goals to insure his wife’s success. I wonder how many husbands would go to that extreme?
Q: What drew Julia to you as a subject?
A: As an avid cook, I always suspected that Julia was somehow responsible for my stovetop enthusiasms. I watched her TV show at my mother’s elbow when I was a teenager, and always consulted “Mastering,” and especially “The Way to Cook,” while preparing family dinners. But in 1992, while I was on assignment for various magazines in Italy, I got the chance to meet and travel through Sicily with Julia, which is when I developed a huge crush. She was, well, Julia Child! — larger than life and full of all the personal traits one associates with her: straight talk, passion, encouragement, wit, and insight. I knew immediately that I would write a biography of her and received her blessing. And after her lovely memoir, My Life in France, I recognized that the rest of her life needed to be fully captured. Once I was finished with The Beatles, I was able to achieve that goal.
Q: Is there anything you discovered about Julia that you think we will be surprised to learn?
A: Everything about Julia was a revelation. I never realized that she felt so lost in her early life — that she considered herself nothing more than a dilettante or “social butterfly” and was headed for nothing more remarkable than a secretary of, if possible, a housewife. In college, she was a rebel and cared more about finding a speakeasy during Prohibition than her classes at Smith College. I also never understood exactly how involved she was in the spy business. She wasn’t an actual spy, but she knew the placement and classified movements of every US spy in Southeast Asia during World War II and had given each their code names. It floored me that, at the age of 40, she finally found her calling, at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, and muscled her way through the school to become the authority on French cooking in America. But most of all, I was surprised to learn that Julia was not only the first educational TV star, but that the entire network of what we now know as PBS was built from The French Chef.
Q: How did Julia revolutionize the way American women saw cooking?
A: Before The French Chef, most American housewives sought convenience in the kitchen and were in thrall to packaged and frozen food, TV dinners, fish sticks, converted rice, Jell-O molds, and iceberg lettuce. Casseroles were the height of home dining elegance. But through her TV shows and cookbooks, Julia inspired Americans to cook from scratch, using fresh ingredients and timeworn techniques, which sparked a love affair with fine dining. Watching Julia cook with competence and ease, viewers were convinced that they could, too, and American cooking was never the same.
Q: You have said that “Julia always considered herself a feminist. Always. But not in a fundamentalist sort of way.” What do you mean by that?
A: Simply that Julia believed that women could do anything they set their minds to and should always consider themselves equal to men. It had more to do with self-image than tract. Julia was raised by a father who believed that women weren’t meant to be professionally accomplished and expected her to be nothing more than compliant and supportive. When she discovered her hidden talent — as well as her independent mind — she urged all women to seek their dreams. Also, when Julia grew enraptured by French cooking, there were no women in restaurant kitchens, and she used all of her influence to change that.
Q: You allude to the fact that Julia is responsible for the current slew of ingredients that we see in today’s produce section and at our supermarkets, generally. Can you elaborate on that?
A: When Julia introduced French cooking to American viewers on TV, the supermarket had a dearth of essential ingredients. There were no shallots, no leeks, no capers, no varieties of cheeses, only iceberg lettuce — the list goes on and on. She urged viewers to demand ingredients from their grocers and continued to introduce essential ingredients on her shows that we non-existent in supermarkets up until that time. But Julia was also a fan of American supermarkets. She thought the varied selection of items was fantastic, compared to what she was used to in France, and was convinced that if you asked a grocer to carry a particular item, he would make every effort to get it.
Q: It took Julia ten years to write MASTERING THE ART OF FRENCH COOKING. WHY DID IT TAKE THAT LONG?
A: The easy answer would be to blame the publishing process — three different houses, a slew of editors. But, in truth, it took so long because of Julia’s devotion to what she called the “scientific proof.” That meant each recipe had to be tested umpteen times and with various ingredients before it was deemed foolproof and worthy of inclusion in the book. And Julia was exhaustive — not only in her research but her testing process. She often cooked recipes ten and fifteen times, as well as gave them to her “guinea pigs,” a battery of friends and family, who cooked them under different conditions to insure that home cooks everywhere would get the same results.
Q: As the first education TV star, what do you think Julia would think of today’s ‘food celebrities’ who appear on the Food Network and the Cooking Channel?
A: This is a tricky question for me to answer. Julia always admired any cook who taught technique and advanced cooking, and she was a very early supporter and patron of early TV cooking stars like Emeril Legasse and Sara Moulton. There are food celebrities I’m sure she would admire for their expertise and flair, like Bobby Fley and Mario Batali. But Julia hated flash, and I think she would be appalled at the number of so-called “food celebrities” who have little talent for anything but the camera and regard food as merely props. The notion that you can be an instant star or open your own restaurant with little or no experience, let alone a significant apprenticeship, goes against everything she stood for.
Q: What sorts of documents and interviews were you able to get access to, to draw this fully formed picture of Julia?
A: I spent a year researching the Julia Child archives at the Schlesinger Library at Harvard, which included all of her private papers, journals, letters, keepsakes, and scripts for her shows. In addition, the same archive had all of Paul Child’s extraordinary letters — some that were six to ten pages in length that he wrote every day from 1940 until 1974 and contained brilliant descriptions of his and Julia’s lives. Moreover, the McWilliams and Child families were extremely supportive of my work and opened up private scrapbooks and photo archives as well as their own personal recollections. To support all of that, I conducted hundreds of interviews with her friends and colleagues that helped to round out a very personal, vivid and complete picture of Julia.