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Julia Child, OSS Intelligence Officer

This article is more than 11 years old.

You might know her as one of the world's most famous chefs and the woman who introduced french cuisine to thousands of American dinner tables, but Julia Child was much more than that.

Child was frank about the fact that her big break came long before her cookbook, long before her PBS series. It came during World War II, when she met her husband, Paul Child, and worked for the wartime precursor of the CIA. In her new book "A Covert Affair: Julia Child and Paul Child in the OSS," author Jennet Conant details the secret life of a very public persona.

Julia McWilliams (Child) with OSS colleagues. (Courtesy Simon and Schuster/The OSS Society)
Julia McWilliams (Child) with OSS colleagues. (Courtesy Simon and Schuster/The OSS Society)

“They were both recruited by the OSS and sent overseas to Ceylon," Conant said. "Paul was designing war rooms for the allied generals and Julia was in charge of the registry — the nerve center of the OSS that stored all of the top-secret cables, war plans and code names of their agents."

While working in war-time intelligence, Julia then-McWilliams met the man she'd eventually marry.

"They met on the porch of a tea planter’s bungalow and Julia was pretty much smitten immediately," Conant said. "But Paul was quite the ladies man with a roving eye and it took her quite a long time to really get his attention."

Julia never gave up and she and Paul spent decades together.

Today, with cooking shows more popular than ever, Child's legacy is certainly tied to food. It seems strange to think of a television personality as a vital cog in the war effort. Still, Julia Child: Spy has just as much romance in it as a delicious french dinner.

For her part, Conant cautions against thinking of Child as a gourmand James Bond.

"They were not spies in the sense that people think of operational agents dropping behind enemy lines, they were intelligence officers," Conant said. "(Still,) Julia had a very responsible job — she handled top-secret material."

And we know she could fashion a dinner to go with Bond's martini.



This segment aired on April 7, 2011.


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