Julia Child's Washington Roots

Julia Child in her kitchen in Cambridge, MA,1978. (Credit: By Lynn Gilbert (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons)
Julia Child in her kitchen in Cambridge, MA,1978. (Credit: Lynn Gilbert (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons)

Julia Child was a giant of French cooking, but becoming a legend in the kitchen was actually a second career.

Born in 1912, Julia Child née McWilliams began her career not in any restaurant or café -- she joined up with the intelligence services to serve her country during WWII. One of only 4,500 women in the Office of Strategic Services, Child chose to serve with this precursor to the CIA because -- at 6'2" -- she was deemed too tall for the military. Working as a research assistant in the Washington, D.C. office, Child spent her time keeping track of officers and helping to develop shark repellent. She was sent abroad in 1944 for two years and served as chief of the OSS registry in present day Sri Lanka and China. She met fellow officer Paul Child and fell head over heels; the two were married in 1946 and returned to Washington together in 1948.

The two lovebirds bought a then-100-year-old bright yellow house on the fringe of Georgetown. The couple only stayed in the house for a mere couple of days before they relocated to Paris for Paul’s work. It was there, of course, that Julia Child famously fell in love with French cuisine, to our collective benefit!

Paul and Julia moved back to the yellow house on Olive street in 1956, and with the money they had accumulated from eight years of renters, the two set to work renovating the house to suit their needs. Paul put in a painter’s studio while Julia redid the kitchen to her standards. She added a new dishwasher and an “electric pig” (garbage disposal!) for the sink. One update which would stay with her even when she moved away was the famous “big Garland,” as she called her professional grade six-range Garland model 182. Child acquired this fine stove from a family friend, Sherman “Old Buffalo” Kent, for the sum of $412 (over $3,600 today). In her memoir, Child wrote that she "loved it so much I vowed to take it to my grave!"[1]

On the outskirts of Georgetown, Child was able to teach cooking to her neighbors, and research her book by seeing what ingredients would be available in the states for French cooking. We have a lot to thank this kitchen for!

When Child moved to Massachusetts in 1961, where she would produce her television shows and write more books to bring French cooking to America, she left the kitchen but took Big Garland with her. She used the stove to test recipes and cook for guests for over 40 years, before finally donating it to the Smithsonian with the rest of the room in 2001. Her entire kitchen can be seen just as it was, down to the pots and pans, at the National Museum of American History.

And the Georgetown kitchen? The yellow house, a “fixer-upper,” went on the market in 2015 with an asking price of 1.1 million and was quickly bought by a local couple. According to The Washington Post, the house will see a lot more cooking from here on out, hopefully the kind that would make Julia Child proud.

Sources:

A Look Back … Julia Child: Life Before French Cuisine.” Central Intelligence Agency, cia.gov.

Andrews-Dyer, Helena. “’The Julia Child House’ in Georgetown can be yours for $1.1 Million.” The Washington Post,  30 June 2015.

Child, Julia Child and Alex Prud’homme. My Life in France. (Anchor; Reprint edition, 2007).

What’s Cooking? Julia Child’s Kitchen at the Smithsonian.” The National Museum of American History, americanhistory.si.edu.

Joynt, Carol Ross. “On Julia Child’s 100th Birthday, We Stop By Her Georgetown House.” The Washington Post, 13 Aug 2012.

Julia Child’s Kitchen.” The National Museum of American History, americanhistory.si.edu.

Orton, Kathy. “Julia Child Slept here: ‘Big Garland’ was key addition at Olive Street home.” The Washington Post, 27 Dec 2012.

Leland, John. “At Home with Julia Child; Change of Scene, if Not Cuisine.” The New York Times, 26 July 2001. 

Footnotes

  1. ^ Julia Child and Alex Prud’homme, My Life in France.