By Nicole Wolverton
Other Bloomers and Shakers is a monthly feature highlighting people in creative fields other than writing who bloomed after the age of 40.
Cream puffs. That was the first interesting thing I cooked in a seventh grade home ec class after weeks of tuna noodle casserole and handmade aprons. It was also when I learned about Julia Child; we used her cream puff recipe. As fun as it was making those cream puffs, I refused to really learn to cook at all—home or in class—(thanks to an overabundance of 80s teen angst/feminist outrage over traditional gender roles) and happily moved on to machine shop class.
Julia Child may be the very symbol of culinary prowess and French cookery in America, but she was a true late bloomer: she graduated from the Cordon Bleu cooking school in Paris when she was 39. Her Mastering the Art of French Cooking was published when she was 49, and her TV cooking show, The French Chef, premiered when she was 50. Nine years after her death in 2004, she is still a subject of fascination, but the relatively late age at which she actually started on her culinary career is rarely mentioned.
Like Bloomer novelists, Child championed the idea that age is not a barrier to success. In Child’s case, in fact, gender was a far larger barrier. Cooking professionally has long been a male-dominated career (strange, considering typical household dynamics of the 1950s, when Child graduated from cooking school). Some say that she was bad for the feminist agenda because she reinforced the same gender roles I rejected as a teenager, but those arguments ignore her unlikely success. At a time when women were not encouraged to work outside the home, Child forged ahead, eventually building the Julia Child brand.
An article in The Boston Globe last year, celebrating what would have been her hundredth birthday, notes that Child was interested in helping other women succeed as well:
“She was always introducing herself to everyone on the line cooking,” said Gordon Hamersley of Hamersley’s Bistro. “She particularly loved speaking with women. She would ask: Why are you a line cook? Why do you want to be a chef? It was always interesting to me the connections she made, especially with young women.”
Bloomers abound in all fields, not just publishing, although certainly part of Julia Child’s legacy lay in that area. Her story began with a love of food and the desire to succeed (rumors of her pre-cooking career as a spy notwithstanding). Middle school home ec classes are few and far between these days, but it isn’t so uncommon to find female chefs, of all ages (Alice Waters, April Bloomfield, Gabrielle Hamilton, et alia) running restaurant kitchens. That’s a win for women and Bloomers everywhere.