Julia Child dead at 91
Famed chef helped popularize fine cusine in America
Friday, August 13, 2004 Posted: 12:18 PM EDT
(CNN) -- Julia Child, who revolutionized cooking in the United States with her cooking school, cookbooks and television shows, has died, according to a statement from her publisher, Alfred A. Knopf. She was 91.
Child died at her home in Santa Barbara, California, according to the release.
Years before any television chef said "bam," Child was on public television instructing Americans in a warbling voice and a mischievous manner how to prepare everything from omelets to sweetbreads to coq au vin.
She loved food and loved the camaraderie that came with it. "Dining with one's friends and beloved family is certainly one of life's primal and most innocent delights, one that is both soul-satisfying and eternal," she said in the introduction to her seventh book, "The Way to Cook." "In spite of food fads, fitness programs, and health concerns, we must never lose sight of a beautifully conceived meal."
Indeed, she worried that food crazes and diets got in the way of enjoying a good repast.
"What's dangerous and discouraging about this era is that people really are afraid of their food," she told The Associated Press in 1989. "Sitting down to dinner is a trap, not something to enjoy. People should take their food more seriously. Learn what you can eat and enjoy it thoroughly."
Child was born in Pasadena, California, on August 15, 1912, to an upper-middle-class family that employed a cook. According to her biographer, she barely knew how to do more than boil water when she graduated from Smith College in 1934 with a degree in history.
Child, who was 6-foot-2, intended to be either a novelist or a basketball player.
Creating a 'masterpiece'
During World War II she served with the Office of Strategic Services (an agency that later became the CIA), first in Washington, then in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) and China.
It was during that time that she met her husband, Paul Child. After World War II, he was assigned to the U.S. Information Service at the American Embassy in Paris.
It was in Paris that Julia Child started her culinary career, at the Cordon Bleu, one of France's premier cooking schools.
In collaboration with her two French colleagues, Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle, she wrote "Mastering the Art of French Cooking," which appeared in 1961. Child was 49 at the time the book was published.
The volume remains in print and is considered a seminal work because of its simplicity, clarity and effect, which was to illustrate that anyone who wished could cook classic French cuisine. Craig Claiborne, the long-time food editor of the New York Times, called the book a "masterpiece."
The book led to an interview on WGBH in Boston, and the response to that interview led in 1963 to the debut of "The French Chef," Child's long-running PBS show.
Her persona was widely parodied, perhaps most notably on a famous "Saturday Night Live" sketch starring Dan Aykroyd, who cut himself in several places while preparing a dish and then, as blood spurted everywhere, blithely continued.
'You taste everything'
The amiable and eccentric Child was opinionated -- and very human. She sometimes dropped ingredients on the floor when doing her show (and sometimes simply picked them up, brushed or washed them off and continued with the recipe). She liked butter and said that faddists who wanted to cut it completely out of people's diets were "stupid."
Asked by an interviewer what food she didn't like to eat, Child snapped back, "Food that is badly cooked."
At a public event, she was once asked what was her favorite meal. Instantly, she reeled off the menu of a seven-course feast.
Asked how anyone could eat all that, Child said, "You don't. But, you taste everything."
In another interview she said, "You have to eat to cook. You can't be a good cook and be a noneater. I think eating is the secret to good cooking."
After she was in her 80s, Child went back on PBS. Chefs came from around the country to appear with her on "In Julia's Kitchen with Master Chefs."
"Baking with Julia," a book that came from another series that paired Child with bakers and pastry chefs, is considered the benchmark for great baking techniques.
Her last public television series paired Child with her old friend and collaborator Jacques Pepin for "Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home." The resulting book was both a conversation between old friends as well as a compendium of recipes and techniques for preparing some of the greatest dishes in French cuisine.
Child's kitchen has been preserved as an exhibit in the Smithsonian Institution in Washington.