- The Washington Times - Friday, August 13, 2004

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Julia Child, whose warbling, encouraging voice and able hands brought the intricacies of French cuisine to American home cooks through her television series and books, died yesterday. She was 91.

“America has lost a true national treasure,” said Nicholas Latimer, director of publicity for the famed chef’s publisher, Alfred A. Knopf. “She will be missed terribly.”

Mrs. Child, who died two days before her 92nd birthday, had been suffering from kidney failure.

A 6-foot-2 American folk hero, the “French Chef” was known to her public as Julia, and preached a delight not only in good food but in sharing it, ending her landmark public television lessons at a set table and with the wish, “Bon appetit.”

“Dining with one’s friends and beloved family is certainly one of life’s primal and most innocent delights, one that is both soul-satisfying and eternal,” she said in the introduction to her seventh book, “The Way to Cook.” “In spite of food fads, fitness programs and health concerns, we must never lose sight of a beautifully conceived meal.”

Chipper and unpretentious, she beckoned everyone to give good food a try.

Her gourmet philosophy also included drinking. In one TV program, chef and friend Jacques Pepin asked what kind of wine she preferred with picnics — red or white.

“I like beer,” Mrs. Child said enthusiastically, pulling out a cold bottle and two glasses.

Yesterday, Mr. Pepin recalled a friendship that began in 1960.

“We’d go to the market and she’d buy Wonder Bread,” he said in a telephone interview. “She had no snobbism about food whatsoever. She loved iceberg lettuce.”

In an A-line skirt and blouse, and an apron with a dish towel tucked into the waist, Mrs. Child grew familiar enough to be parodied by Dan Aykroyd on NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” and to be the subject of Jean Stapleton’s musical revue, “Bon Appetit.” She was on the cover of Time magazine in 1966.

Active and a frequent traveler in her 80s, Mrs. Child credited good genes and a habit begun in her 40s of eating everything in moderation.

Like her friend James Beard, Mrs. Child was influenced but not battered by the popularity of fast food, low-fat food and health food.

She aimed “The Way to Cook” at a new generation, and although it offered plenty of recipes using butter and cream, it left room for experimentation and variation in its blend of classic French and free-style American techniques. It was a hit, with nearly 400,000 copies in print just four months after publication.

She worried, however, that the health craze was overdone.

“What’s dangerous and discouraging about this era is that people really are afraid of their food,” she told the Associated Press in 1989. “Sitting down to dinner is a trap, not something to enjoy. People should take their food more seriously. Learn what you can eat and enjoy it thoroughly.”

Mrs. Child did not take a cooking lesson until she was in her 30s. She was in her 50s when her first television series began in 1963. Decades of popularity prompted President Bush last year to give her a Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor.

Born in Pasadena, Calif., Mrs. Child once said she was raised on so-so cooking by hired cooks.

She graduated from Smith College in 1934 with a history degree and aspirations to be a novelist or a writer for the New Yorker magazine. Instead, she ended up in the publicity department of a New York City furniture and rug chain.

When World War II began, she joined the Office of Strategic Services, the forerunner of the CIA. She was sent off to do clerical chores in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), where she met Paul Child, a career diplomat who later became a photographer and painter, on the porch of a tea planter’s bungalow in 1943.

They married in 1946 and two years later were sent to Paris.

Mrs. Child enrolled in the famed Cordon Bleu cooking school, motivated at least in part by a desire to cook for her epicurean husband. She was considered odd by her friends, who all had hired help in the kitchen.

Paul Child died in 1994. In late 2001, Mrs. Child, a longtime resident of Cambridge, Mass., moved to Santa Barbara. The couple had no children.

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