Before Julia Child brought the secrets of French cooking into millions of homes, she was bringing home secrets for the U.S. Government. The beloved chef had often alluded to her war-era spy stint, and recently declassified documents confirm the colorful tale.
More than 750,000 pages of documents were released last week containing the names of some 24,000 soldiers and civilians who enlisted their services to covertly help defeat the Nazis during WWII. The program was called the Office of Strategic Services (or OSS) and was secretly formed by President Franklin Roosevelt. After the war, the OSS would be absorbed by the CIA.
The duties of OSS agents varied, but mostly consisted of gathering information, producing propaganda, studying military plans and occasionally infiltrating enemy ranks. Child was not the only high profile figure involved in the project. Actors, athletes, professors and writers all contributed to the vast clandestine network.
For her part, Child enlisted after the 1941 bombing of Pearl Harbor. She was still a single gal, and applied under her maiden name McWilliams. Her application stated she had lost her prior job when she was unable to get along with her boss, explaining “I made a tactical error and was out.” She was employed as a file clerk and then as an assistant for OSS director Gen William J. Donovan. She also took part in an experiment to engineer a shark repellent, designed to protect the allies underwater mines from accidental detonation.
During her tenure with the agency she was stationed in Sri Lanka were she met Paul Cushing Child, a fellow operative. The two would eventually marry and relocate to France where Julia would train in French Cuisine and open her famed cooking school. Child would go on to publish dozens of cookbooks, star on a several wildly successful television show, and establish herself as one of the most iconic chefs of all time. She passed away in 2004 at the age of 91.
Julia Child's kitchen as preserved at the National Museum of American History