Friday, August 7, 2009

Everyone Blogs About Julia Child

Returning from Sri Lanka after World War II, you never would have pegged Julia Child as a spy. Clandestine isn’t a word I’d use to describe someone so loud…and tall. But she was indeed employed by the Office of Strategic Services, the precursor to the CIA, as a secretary. In Southeast Asia, Julia was responsible for cataloging and registering highly classified information. It was there that she met her husband Paul Child, a mapmaker and war room designer.

The couple moved to Washington, where Paul worked as an exhibits officer for the State Department and Julia as a file clerk. The two bought a three story, white clapboard house in Georgetown. In My Life in France, Julia gives her Georgetown address as 2706 Olive Street, and as you can see from the yellow building at right it is still there. Success! I found it! The two lived in the house for two years, before heading to France—a move that would lead Julia to her destiny.

Paul and Julia returned to their Olive Street house 8 years later with several coq au vins and bourguignons under their belts. The 150 year old house was in need of some serious repair, which the Child’s took up with gusto. The kitchen, of course, was expanded to include a dishwasher. From her clapboard house, Julia conducted research on the habits of American cooks—what products they ate, where they shopped, and how measurements differed. This information would be useful for what would become Mastering the Art of French Cooking. In the spring of 1957, Julia began to teach cooking to a group of housewives in her Olive Street kitchen. She used her house as a base, from which she could travel to New York and Boston to push for the publication of her masterpiece. In 1962 Paul retired from the State Department. The two decided that while they liked Washington, they didn’t love it enough to want to live out the rest of their lives here. I imagine Paul Child’s questioning by the McCarthy Commission a few years earlier, might have tainted their opinion of this bureaucratic town. They moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts. Sadly for us Washingtonians, Julia’s Georgetown days were over. Ah well, at least we have her kitchen in the Smithsonian.

Sources: Julia Child, My Life in France, Anchor Books, June 2009.

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