Julia Child: Bon Appetit!

Julia Child on the set of "The French Chef."
Julia Child wielding a knife on the set of “The French Chef.”

On this date in 1963, “The French Chef,” a cooking show starring Julia Child premiered on public television in the United States.

Here are some things you may not have known about Julia Child and her television show.

While her show was an early pioneer of the cooking-show format, it wasn’t the first one to be nationally broadcast. That honor likely goes to “I Love to Eat” hosted by James Beard in 1946 on NBC.

“The French Chef” was based on recipes from “Mastering the Art of French Cooking,” a cookbook Child co-authored. She focused on using recipes that would be within the abilities of a reasonably skilled home cook.

The first episode featured a recipe for Boeuf Bourguignon. The second episode was about French Onion Soup.

In 1964, Child received a Peabody Award for the program. In 1966, she won a Primetime Emmy Award for the show. The show was produced by WGBH in Boston for exactly 10 years. It was the first program in the U.S. to be captioned for deaf viewers.

Julia Carolyn McWilliams was born in Pasadena, California, in 1912. She graduated from Smith College in 1934 with a degree in English. Following college, she worked as an advertising copywriter and journalist.

During World War II, she joined the Office of Strategic Services, the predecessor of the modern CIA. At 6-foot, 2-inches tall, she was too tall to join the Women’s Army Corps or the Navy  WAVES. With the OSS, she was the assistant to a team of developers who were working to create a shark repellent. She was later stationed in what is now Sri Lanka, where she was in charge of directing classified communications. She also served in China. While in Sri Lanka, she met Paul Cushing Child, who was also with OSS. The couple was married in 1946. In 1948 they moved to Paris, where Paul worked for the U.S. State Department.

While in Paris, Julia Child was introduced to French cuisine. She described her first meal as “an opening up of the soul and spirit.” She went on to attend Le Cordon Bleu cooking school and studied with master chefs. She joined a women’s cooking club, where she met the women who would become her co-authors of “Mastering the Art of French Cooking.”

Her television appearances promoting that book led to the creation of her first television show. She went on to star in several other cooking programs, many set in her home kitchen, with its tall counters designed by her husband.

In 2000, she received the French Legion of Honor. In 2003, she was awarded the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Many of Child’s recipes used rich ingredients like butter and cream. She deflected criticism of her use of those ingredients by saying, “We should enjoy food and have fun. It is one of the simplest and nicest pleasures in life.”

Julia Child died in 2004, two days before her 92nd birthday. Her final meal was French Onion Soup.

Our question: Julia Child reportedly loved the 1978 “Saturday Night Live” sketch in which she and her show were parodied. Who played her in the sketch?

Today is Inventors’ Day in the United States, Youth Day in Cameroon and National Foundation Day in Japan. It’s unofficially White Shirt Day, Get Out Your Guitar Day and Pro Sports Wives Day. It’s the birthday of inventor Thomas Edison, actor Leslie Nielsen, actor Burt Reynolds and my sister, Elisa Olson.

On this date in 1963, when “The French Chef” premiered, the top song in the U.S. was “Hey Paula” by Paul and Paula; the No. 1 movie was “Lawrence of Arabia.” There was no New York Times Best Sellers List that week because of a newspaper strike.


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