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Paul and Julia Child: A True Story of Food and Love

Updated on July 26, 2012

With Julia Child’s 100th birthday next month, many are reflecting on her legacy of teaching about the joys of cooking. Indeed, Julia Child demystified French cooking, bringing it to the homes of millions of Americans through both her cookbooks and her long running TV show.

But, Julia was not a born chef. Until she met Paul Child, her main relationship with food was that she enjoyed eating it. It was Paul who introduced her to fine food and France, and inspired her to build upon her remarkable intelligence, perseverance, and fortitude to become a culinary legend.

Julia Child: The Early Years

Born in Pasadena, CA on August 15, 1912, the first 30 years of Julia Child’s life was unremarkable. Born into a conservative, privileged family, she did fine in school, though she much preferred extracurricular activities to academics. An aspiring writer after college, she spent a year in New York writing press releases for a department store, and then tried her hand as a fashion writer (though she loathed fashion) back in Pasadena.

When war came, Julia, at 30, broke away from convention and the expectation that she would marry and stay in Pasadena. Instead, she took full advantage of the call to action, leaving Pasadena and the “society” life she was born into to join the war effort. At first she served as a typist, but soon ended up in the Office of Strategic Services (precursor to the CIA) in Ceylon (present day Sri Lanka) There she was finally surrounded by people who stimulated her intellect, opening her eyes to new worldviews and new passions.

Julia and Paul: A True Romance

Among the people Julia met in Ceylon was Paul Child. Though he liked her immediately, Paul initially determined that she was not a romantic candidate for him. Indeed, when Julia left Pasadena to enlist in the war, she had assumed that she would become a spinster. Lumbering at 6 foot, 2 inches, Julia’s strong and blunt personality and her unusual mannerisms were originally seen as impediments to romance by her then friend, Paul Child, who found her to be inexperienced and a “sloppy thinker.” But, just as she maximized her unusual charms to win over her TV viewership, these qualities soon became those that endeared him to her most.

Julia fell in love easily with the older and sophisticated Paul. While in Ceylon, they spent considerable time together, becoming good friends, sharing many meals and conversations about food. At some point over the next year or so, their relationship changed, and Paul described her as “a great solace” to him. They engaged in a romance, but the end of the war and return to America brought them to different coasts and an uncertain future.

It is perhaps this uncertainty about their future together that propelled Julia into her culinary exploration. In an effort to win him over, she decided to learn, and learning about cooking was top of her list. What’s amazing is that Julia had little innate skill in this area. Some are born to cook. Not Julia. As she fumbled through her cooking exploration, she wrote Paul about every detail, and their connection and longing for each other deepened. He showed up in Pasadena, they drove cross country together, and a month later they were married.

When Love and Food Meet

When Julia embarked on her culinary training shortly after arriving in France in her mid-30s, she had little experience. Paul, however, encouraged her to explore cooking. Bored at home and inspired by making great meals, she enrolled in Le Cordon Bleu Culinary Institute. This propelled her on culinary journey that would later make her a household name.

Would Julia have become a great chef and achieved fame without Paul’s influence? Quite possibly this could have been her destiny. But, food was certainly a force that brought these two together, and their passion for it united them for life.


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    • JayeWisdom profile image

      Jaye Denman 5 years ago from Deep South, USA

      I watched the Julie & Julia movie on DVD, but only because I was interested in seeing Meryl Streep's portrayal of Julia. I, too, thought Julie's book and her attempt to make all the recipes in one year was a stunt to get traffic to her blog, then later snare a book--and movie--contract. She was successful in all those things, but that did not make her a sympathetic or interesting character to me. I can understand how the forthright Julia might have felt about being "used" for this purpose. In her place, I'm sure I'd have felt the same.

      I've read many books about the Childs, and one of my favorites is COVERT AFFAIR, by Jennet Tennant. It's about Julia and Paul in the OSS--great read! Their marriage became a true partnership when the more sophisticated Paul's influence led Julia to French cooking lessons and when her long-labor-of-love cookbook took off. When Paul left the U.S.I.S after successively dreary assignments abroad, he fully supported her career as she had supported his, and their relationship grew even closer. Though she was an outstanding cook and proved to be a "natural" cooking on camera (still fun to watch and hear those old shows), he was the organizer and behind-the-scenes manager, skills that came natural to him. I would think it must be very helpful for a creative person to have an organized/managerial one as her bulwark as well as mate.

      Enjoyed this supremely good hub. Voted Up++ and shared.

    • LauraGT profile image

      LauraGT 5 years ago from MA

      Hi Dream On: Thanks for commenting. I don't think Julia was offended that the girl loved her so much, but she thought that she saw her quest to make all her recipes in one year as a "stunt" and didn't like her attitude towards food (cursing a lot while cooking, etc.). My impression is that she had a nice attitude towards her fans overall, but definitely something worth exploring some more.

    • DREAM ON profile image

      DREAM ON 5 years ago

      I also watched the movie but I thought Julia Child was affended by the girl who loved her so much.I think she should of been so proud someone loved her work so much.It left me with mixed feelings about her.Nice hub.

    • LauraGT profile image

      LauraGT 5 years ago from MA

      MickiS: Thanks for commenting. Julia really was a wonderfully interesting woman, with so many interesting qualities! Her relationship with Paul really does seem to have been extremely warm, loving, fun, and supportive. I am newly inspired to crack open my copy of Mastering the Art...

    • MickiS profile image

      MickiS 5 years ago from San Francisco

      What a beautiful Hub, Laura. I agree that Paul's influence on Julia was profound. Not only did he inspire her explorations into cooking, he was very, very supportive of her pursuit in this arena as she blossomed it into a career.

      I'm a huge Julia fan. I read her biography as well as own her original cookbook. It's a great reference for classic French recipes and techniques.