Art / Architecture / Museums

Julia Child: A Spy in the Kitchen


Most people don’t know that Julia Child’s kitchen was painstakingly deconstructed and rebuilt within the sacred halls of the Smithsonian National Museum of American History. Most people also don’t know that Julia worked for the OSS, the precursor of our present day CIA.


Julia is a role model for me — not because she was a spy — though I find that fascinating. It’s because she couldn’t even boil water well into her thirties. When she married and followed her OSS husband to Paris, she decided to take some lessons. She revolutionized an industry, became the first person ever to have a hugely successful cooking show on TV (considering her figure, face, grace and voice anyone would say that was a long shot), and reinvented herself, and kept doing so, until her death just before her 92nd birthday.

Note her iconic copper pans on the right wall. These were only recently rejoined with the kitchen a few years ago. Julia Child was so organized that each pan has its outline traced onto the peg board behind it. That way everything always went back precisely into its right place.

Julia Child's KitchenEver wonder what a spy and a culinary genius has on their refrigerator? Well for Julia Child its a lot of photos of cats, and one of her with a friend.


And look at that wall on either side of the sink. Julia Child has more knives than any chef I know. Could it be she had honed throwing skills and watched for enemy agents from those three windows? Honestly, there are more implements that could be used for torture or defense than there are those that are only for cooking!

Whatever the case, a trip to the Smithsonian is filled with surprising treasures. I’ll keep bringing you more — along with a few more tidbits about Julia in the near future.

17 replies »

  1. I’ve always loved that exhibit, Diana. Now I have to go back and see some of the pots they’ve added! Maybe one day I’ll go back to Paris and take a cooking class. What an amazing experience that would be!

  2. Great post, Diana, and very thought provoking. I wonder if she collected some of those knives as mementos of the places she visited.

    Truth be told, if I spied someone creeping toward my kitchen, I’d probably clock them with one of those ‘window treatment’ pans. Tossing one of my favorite knives would chance gifting one to an adversary with a whole lot more knife skills than I have, whereas few possess my mad skills with a frying pan .

  3. Fun post, Diana. My mother loved Julia Child and watched her shows all the time. I’m not sure we’d learned about the spy business until after My mother died. She’d have liked that, tool. I’ve shared.

  4. Diana, thanks for the reminder of Julia and the way she taught herself how to cook. In the biography of Julia (which also celebrates her relationship with her husband), there’s a section on how to cook a chicken in a way ‘American women’ will understand. Countless chickens were cooked in this experiment…she was handing out bake chickens by the day. I think she approached cooking, being a wife and her work with the OSS/CIA in the same way…diligent, persistent and perfectionist. What a woman!

  5. Great post! I’d love to visit the Smithsonain some time. As you know I write a Chocolate mystery series based around a chocolatier and caterer. Now, if anyone should suggest ‘that’s a little far-fetched isn’t it?’ I’ll just bring up Julia Child and say, ‘is it?’

  6. That’s a cool exhibit I’d never realized how tall she was, until they talked about the extra high counters she had installed. Can you imagine having that many pans? 😉 She was definitely inspiring.

  7. The three would-be authors initially signed a contract with publisher Houghton Mifflin , which later rejected the manuscript for seeming too much like an encyclopedia. Finally, when it was first published in 1961 by Alfred A. Knopf , the 726-page

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