Weird History
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Almost Nobody Knows That Julia Child Was A Secret Agent Before She Became A Celebrity Chef

Updated October 2, 2017 4.2k views9 items

As far as famous chefs go, Julia Child’s biography is about as well-known as anyone else’s, thanks to notable written works like The Art of French Cooking and being portrayed by Meryl Streep in Julie & Julia. Her abilities in the kitchen are legendary, but was Julia Child a spy before she was a master chef? The answer, surprisingly, is yes.

Similar to how not many people know Ernest Hemmingway was a spy, almost no one remembers Julia Child's background as an intelligence agent, either. Picturing Child in the OSS, a World War II-era precursor of the CIA, is difficult, but that’s exactly where she spent the ‘40s, serving her country in the fight against fascism… And sharks!

Born on August 15, 1912, in Pasadena, California, Julia Child spent much of her life in the Golden State, eventually passing away two days shy of her 92nd birthday. Before she became famous as a celebrity chef, she worked for the OSS when she was still known as Julia McWilliams. Before she mastered international cuisine, Julia Child had to master international intrigue, and she did so with aplomb. 

  • She Cooked Up The Recipe For Shark Repellant

    She Cooked Up The Recipe For Shark Repellant
    Photo: KUHT / Wikimedia Commons

    Eventually, Child transferred to a new department in the OSS, the Emergency Sea Rescue Equipment Section, a somewhat boring name for a department that focused on the war on sharks. Child and her colleagues were tasked with creating shark repellant, but it was aimed at protecting Allied explosives rather than Allied divers.

    Sharks had a habit of setting off the explosives that were targeting German U-Boats, a problem that was solved when Child and her team developed a practical repellant that kept the curious creatures away. The researchers had to try hundreds of “recipes” before finally cracking the shark repellant code.

  • She Met Her Husband At Her Spy Job

    Julia Child's time in the OSS was vital in the transformation of young Julia McWilliams into celebrity chef extradinaire, and not just in the abstract sense. While on assignment in Ceylon in 1946, Julia met her future husband, Paul Child, a fellow OSS officer. After a whirlwind workplace romance, the two would be married within the year and would remain together until his death in 1994. Unlike the James Bonds of the world, these two secret agents believed in monogamy.

  • She Was An International Woman Of Mystery

    Julia Child became extremely well-traveled during her time with the OSS. In the later stages of World War II, and the years immediately after its end, Child accepted overseas assignments in Ceylon (now known as Sri Lanka) and China. As a 6’2” foreigner and spy, she no doubt stood out like a sore thumb.

    Child’s work in these foreign countries was not without danger, and although she never faced a direct threat of death, her service was heroic nonetheless. Julia Child wasn’t just a military intelligence officer - she was a part of the American war effort. 

  • Julia Child: Master Of Secrets

    During her final two years with the OSS, Julia Child was stationed in Kunming, China, where she had risen to the role of Chief of the OSS Registry. This was an important job in an organization that traded in secrets, and it resulted in Child being bestowed with top security clearance. In this role, every single ingoing and outgoing message of all US intelligence branches flowed through Child’s office, making her a true master of military secrets.