Julia Child gives the KUHT audience a cooking demonstration. Photo: KUHT. Houston Public Broadcasting. Released to public domain.


I was never a spy. I was with the OSS…” Julia Child.

Julia Child is best known as a famous American chef, author, and TV personality who introduced French cuisine to the American public. But before she became famous for her French cooking, Julia Child had a secret career with the Office of Strategic Services (OSS). the precursor of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

She was born on 15 August 1912 in Pasadena, California, as Julia Carolyn McWilliams. She graduated from Smith College in Massachusetts in 1934. She joined the OSS in 1942, looking for adventure and a way to serve her country during World War II. Both the Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service and the Women’s Army Corps turned her down. They said her height of 6’2″ was too tall. In 1942, after being rejected by the military., she joined the OSS.

The OSS was the intelligence agency of the United States during World War II. It was formed in 1942 to coordinate espionage and sabotage activities behind enemy lines for all branches of the US military. The OSS also used propaganda, subversion, and post-war planning to support the Allied war effort. The OSS was dissolved in 1945 and some of its functions were transferred to the newly created Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The OSS was led by General William “Wild Bill” Donovan, who was influenced by the British Secret Intelligence Service (SIS/MI6) and Special Operations Executive (SOE). The OSS employed nearly 13,000 men and women at its peak and operated in Europe, North Africa, and Asia. The OSS left a legacy of daring and innovation that has influenced American military and intelligence thinking since World War II.

General William J. Donovan reviews OSS Operational Group members in Bethesda, Maryland, prior to their departure for China in 1945. Photo: Office of Strategic Services.

Julia started as a research assistant in the Secret Intelligence division of the OSS, where she typed up thousands of names and handled classified documents. She then moved to the Emergency Sea Rescue Equipment Section, where she worked on developing a shark repellent to protect naval explosives and downed pilots from shark attacks. She traveled to Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) and China, where she served as the chief of the OSS Registry and had top security clearance. Julia Child received an award for her meritorious service and later said that her time in the OSS was a wonderful experience that shaped her life.

During her time in the OSS, she met her future husband, Paul Child, who was also an intelligence officer. Paul Child was born in 1902 in New Jersey and graduated from Boston Latin School. He was a teacher, a diplomat, an artist, and a lover of world cuisine. He introduced his wife to fine food and encouraged her to pursue cooking as a passion. They married in 1946 and moved to France in 1948, where Paul was assigned, with the US Information Agency and Julia enrolled in the prestigious Le Cordon Bleu school. The rest is culinary history.

Her husband Paul was also a talented photographer and painter, who captured the beauty and culture of France in his images. He took hundreds of photos of Paris, Marseille, and the countryside, as well as portraits of Julia and their friends. He also exhibited his paintings and photographs at various venues, including the US Embassy in Paris and the Santa Barbara Winery. His artistic work was later celebrated in books and exhibitions.

1978 publicity portrait of Julia Child in her kitchen, as photographed by ©Lynn Gilbert, Cambridge Massachusetts. CC BY-SA 4.0.

Julia Child co-authored Mastering the Art of French Cooking, a comprehensive guide to French cooking that was published in 1961 after years of research and testing. She also hosted The French Chef, a popular show that aired on public TV from 1963 to 1973, where she demonstrated various recipes and techniques with humor and enthusiasm. She later starred in several other TV shows, such as Julia Child & Company, Dinner at Julia’s, and Julia & Jacques Cooking at Home. She also wrote more cookbooks, such as The Way to Cook and Baking with Julia. She won several awards for her work, including a Peabody Award, an Emmy® Award, a National Book Award, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor in the US.

She died on 13 August 2004 at the age of 91 in Montecito, California. She is widely regarded as a pioneer and a legend in the culinary world. She inspired generations of cooks and food lovers with her passion and expertise. Her legacy lives on through her books, recipes, foundation, and documentaries.

Julia Child’s Kitchen on display at the National Museum of American History. Photo: RadioFan at English Wikipedia. CC BY-SA 3.0.

*The views and opinions expressed on this website are solely those of the original authors and contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of Spotter Up Magazine, the administrative staff, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

By Eugene Nielsen

Eugene Nielsen provides intelligence and security consulting services. He has a bachelor's degree in political science from the University of California. His byline has appeared in numerous national and international journals and magazines.

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