Sunday, 30 August 2015


I remember noting how back in 2008 through declassified CIA service records that gourmand, connoisseur and television cooking show pioneer Julia Child had served in the OSS—the Office of Security Services, the agency’s precedent incarnation, and being rather surprised but also cognizant that thousands of other women who weren’t celebrities had to maintain absolute silence on their early careers as well, which was surely an insult after being let go at the factories and laboratories once the crisis ended and being condemned to being merely house-proud.
Bea Arthur and Doctor Ruth Westheimer are in the same class as Child with many others surely to be disclosed posthumously. Until recently, however, I had not appreciated what Child’s war-time contributions were: the Smith College graduate and heiress volunteered for a duty assignment in Ceylon, and despite having not yet discovered her passion for kitchen chemistry, undertook to develop an effect shark-repellent. Aside from attacking overboard sailors and ejected airmen, curious sharks were thwarting Allied efforts to blockade Axis submarines in southeast Asia by getting themselves blown up by mines. Heretofore, the only known shark-repellent was the rotting carcass of another dead shark, which was not a very palatable part of one’s kit. Though not a perfect deterant (which even for its faults might be added to the quiver of current beach life-guard crews), Child’s team did manage to isolate certain copper-compounds that approximated the aversion of having a dead shark in the vicinity. Child married a fellow OSS staff member and were stationed subsequently in post-war France but with only her husband commissioned as an intelligence official. Going back to those tradition house-wifely duties, Child was introduced to French cuisine as sort of a transfiguring experience and became resolved to share this joy of cooking—plus the consumption, pairing of wine with meals—with a wider audience and worked passionately toward this goal rather than resigning into the background. Bon appetit!