Culinary legend Julia Child has died at her home in Santa Barbara, California, two days before her 92nd birthday.
Child, who once said, ‘Life itself is the proper binge’, was one of America’s best-loved cultural icons.
‘France had Escoffier, England had Elizabeth David, and the United States had Julia Child,’ the Houston Chronicle wrote in one of the thousands of tributes that have been published since Child died peacefully in her sleep early on Friday morning.
In a career spanning seven decades Child wrote some 20 hugely popular books and made more than 200 TV and radio programmes.
Her books, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, The Way to Cook, The French Cookbook, Baking with Julia, Julia’s Kitchen Wisdom and many more, were indispensible guides to generations of Americans.
She was host of the PBS series Cooking with Master Chefs, as well such famous TV cooking shows as The French Chef, which was first broadcast in 1963. Amongst a clutch of honorary degrees and awards she won two Emmys for her Master Chefs TV series in 1995 and for Baking with Julia in 1997.
She co-founded the American Institute of Wine and Food in San Francisco in 1981 and co-founded the James Beard Foundation in New York City in 1986.
Child’s great skill was the ability to make French cooking accessible. While Elizabeth David inspired with brilliant writing, Child told budding cooks exactly how to do it.
‘She is one of my heroines, alongside Delia Smith,’ Decanter contributing editor Fiona Beckett – who has a ‘much loved and battered copy of the classic Mastering the Art of French Cooking’ – said. ‘Her recipes were foolproof, and she had a really in depth understanding of the French classics and she knew how to make them accessible.’
Child was raised in a well-to-do household in Pasadena, California, studied history in Massachusetts and during the war worked for the Office of Strategic Services, a forerunner of the CIA. There she met her husband Paul Child, who is credited with introducing his young wife to the pleasures of French food and wine. Throughout her career he acted as her agent, arranging appearances and washing dishes.
In an obituary, USA Today said, ‘With grace, humor, discipline and an endearing klutziness, Child showed that cooking could be relaxing, sensual, good for your health and even a respectable career choice. The public was equally enthralled by her exuberant personality magnified by her 6-foot-2 frame and an odd, warbly voice that immortalized the phrase “bon appétit.”’
Child herself had a common sense approach to cooking and eating. ‘Small helpings, no seconds, no snacking, eat a little bit of everything and have a good time. We’d all be much better off if people would eat like that.’
Paul Child died in 1994. The couple had no children.
Written by Adam Lechmere