Join me for a moment in imagining the day and age when an extremely tall, striking female who once played basketball for her college team, and made her living by parading her femininity on the national stage, pledged to do whatever she could to serve her country in a time of war. Julia Child was, indeed, a formidable woman. Were you thinking of someone else?
After graduating from Smith College, Child took different writing jobs and moved home to California to take care of her ailing mother before deciding to offer her services to the U.S. government in its time of need during World War II. Originally assigned secretarial duties with the Office of Strategic Services (OSS, the predecessor to the CIA) headquarters in D.C., she was subsequently assigned to the agency's Emergency Sea Rescue Equipment Section. While working with this subsection, Child developed shark repellent to coat explosives that were targeting German U-boats, because the bombs were falling victim to curious sharks who would bump into them underwater and unintentionally set them off.
The most effective deterrent for sharks is the odor of a dead shark's body. When asked in her later years how her love of cooking was ignited, she referred to her days working on shark repellent, but claimed that it was used to coat servicemen who had to spend considerable amount of time submerged under water. When the CIA recently released classified files identifying the names of 24,000 spies, the use of Child's recipe for assistance with explosives was clearly outlined. The recipe itself has never been divulged, but Child did not necessarily have to fool around with dessicated shark corpse in her Navy kitchen; apparently, certain copper compounds, such as copper sulfate or copper acetate, can also emit a similar odor that repels the bumbling fish.
Child only later moved on to discover the French culinary experience after moving to Paris in 1948. Her recipes have since been immortalized in American kitchens, while her own kitchen has literally become (part of) an American institution--currently on display at the Smithsonian. It's hard to imagine that the author of this classic recipe for French Roast Chicken began cooking by basting explosives aimed at enemy vessels.
The French Chef's obsession with smell persisted throughout her career, even if she became more interested in infusing her recipes with the odors of reduced wine and garlic than the stink of dead shark. Still, she was an odd one:
Julia Child on the nuance of smells...