Julia Child

December 1990

Food Arts presents its December 1990 Silver Spoon Award for sterling performance to Julia Child, America's favorite cooking teacher.

As the "French Chef," Child taught a nation of aspiring American cooks how to sauté, simmer and stew. Ever since her Emmy award-winning television show debuted in 1963, Child has been our most vocal culinary cheerleader. "Julia has done more to educate the American public in French cooking than anybody who ever lived," testifies Craig Claiborne.

Growing up in Pasadena, California, Child never dreamed cooking would be her profession. As her mother didn't cook, she grew up a stranger to the kitchen. She graduated from Smith College in 1934, went to work writing advertising copy and after the outbreak of war joined the Office of Strategic Services, hoping to become a spy. But marriage, not espionage, awaited when she was sent to Ceylon as a file clerk and met the foreign service officer, Paul Child, who has been her husband for 43 years. Not until the couple was stationed in Paris after World War II did Child finally learn to cook.

Once she tasted fine French food, it was love at first bite. She enrolled at Le Cordon Bleu and then began teaching cooking to Americans in Paris with Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle, her Mastering the Art of French Cooking co-authors.

When Child returned to the United States, "The Kennedys were in the White House, and French cooking was the in thing," she recalls. "I was lucky to be the first one with a show of this type." But it wasn't just timing that turned her into an intant household celebrity. Child made French cooking accessible to the average American. Because she made mistakes—but no apologies—on the air, she gave her viewers permission to make them as well. "People looked at me and thought, 'Well, if she can cook, I certainly can,' " she remembers. Audiences fell in love with her distinctive warble and can-do attitude.

In her cookbooks, Child gives novices the lengthy, "detailed instructions" she knew they needed because she "learned to cook at a mature age." Her seventh book, The Way to Cook, published late last year by Knopf, stayed on the New York Times best-seller list for ten weeks.

At 78, Child could rest on her laurels. Instead, she has been undeniably the most visible food professional of 1990. Passionate about promoting the culinary arts as a profession on a par with architecture or theater, Child now labors tirelessly on behalf of two organizations she co-founded—the American Institute of Wine & Food and the James Beard Foundation.

"The good thing about our profession is that you never have to retire," she says. "I intend to go right on until I drop."