On February 11, 1963, Julia Child’s “The French Chef” debuts on public television in the U.S., introducing French cuisine to Americans and creating the cooking world’s first television star. The first episode kicks off with Child stirring the contents of a large steaming pot of boeuf bourguignon, intoning, “French beef stew in red wine… It’s a perfectly delicious dish.”
The award-winning series, which ran for 10 seasons and aired 206 episodes, turned Child into a household name. Her sense of humor, zany personality and passion for food and wine made French cooking less intimidating, more relatable—and more fun—for her U.S. audience. Child enthusiastically showed viewers how to make everything from quiche Lorraine to coq au vin, closing each show with her signature sign-off: “Bon appétit!”
Born in Pasadena, California in 1912, Julia McWilliams graduated from Smith College in 1934 and later joined the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) as a research assistant during World War II. While serving in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) she met her future husband, Paul Child. The couple married in 1946 and later moved to Paris, where Paul was assigned to work at the U.S. Embassy.
In Paris, Child fell in love with French food, prompting her to enroll in the famous Le Cordon Bleu cooking school and inspiring her to co-write the cookbook Mastering the Art of French Cooking with two friends, Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle.
While promoting the cookbook in 1961, Child made her TV debut as a guest on a book review show called “I’ve Been Reading.” Her homespun omelet demonstration during the interview was an instant hit with viewers—so much so that the television station, PBS member station WGBH in Boston, invited her to pilot a cooking show.
“The French Chef” won a Peabody and a Primetime Emmy award and paved the way for a new genre of television programming. Decades later, the Food Network followed, offering round-the-clock TV access to celebrity chefs like Ina Garten, Guy Fieri and Bobby Flay.
Child passed away in 2004 at the age of 91, but her legacy lives on through numerous movies and TV series. The original cooking show can still be seen on several streaming services and on PBS.com.