Historian Helen Horowitz Describes What It Was Like To Meet Julia Child - Exclusive

Of everything she was, Julia Child was no bored 1950s housewife, scratching away at yellow wallpaper. In another life, in fact, she might have been a spy – at least, during World War II when she worked for the U.S. Office of Strategic Services developing shark repellent. Child probably would never have made it as a hat maker, although — as historian Helen Lefkowitz Horowitz explored in an exclusive interview with Mashed — the noted culinary icon did try her hand at the craft.

That was back when Child and her husband, Paul, had just moved to Paris for Paul's job. "She knew she had to do something," Horowitz reflected. "What was she going to do when Paul was at the embassy every day? She wasn't from a social class that was going to scrub the kitchen floor every morning." 

Of course, there's no surprise ending to this story. Child discovered the French city's vibrant food markets and began a nine-year odyssey that culminated in much more than a cookbook. As "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" became a household staple, Julia Child joined the ranks of Paul Revere and Amelia Earhart, becoming nothing short of an American tall tale.  

If you're watching HBO's new series, "Julia," you may well be getting to know Sarah Lancashire's interpretation of Child. However, Lefkowitz Horowitz, who recently published her own take on the legend, was lucky enough to meet Child in person and had more to share about her with Mashed.

The historian met Julia Child at Smith College

Fame, it seems, did not go to Julia Child's head, at least not according to Helen Lefkowitz Horowitz's recollection of her. The first time the author met Julia Child, she was attending Mary Dunn's inauguration as Smith College's president. "Smith had Julia Child plan all the meals and supervise the kitchen over the inaugural weekend," Horowitz recalled exclusively to Mashed. "Julia Child didn't cook for the event, but she volunteered her time to make it special by devising the menus and recipes." 

Horowitz said she treasured the moment she met Child, even to this day. "We were eating in the Smith faculty dining room, and Julia Child walked out and greeted everyone. She came to every table, and shook every person's hand with words such as, 'I hope you're enjoying your stay,'" the historian recalled. "[Child] was very gracious. It was a wonderful moment that I remember very keenly. Then, at the reception she planned for that followed the inauguration, she went around and talked with everyone."

Child — it seems — was similarly charming years later when Horowitz ran into her at yet another Smith College event. [Child] came to help the college as it opened up a capital campaign," Horowitz recalled to Mashed. "She was one of the people on the stage, saying, 'Go for it, folks. This is important.' She was an extremely friendly person."

Get to know Julia Child better with Helen Lefkowitz Horowitz's new book, "Warming Up Julia Child: The Remarkable Figures Who Shaped a Legend," which is available for purchase here.