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Remembering Julia Child
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Julia Child, shown here in 2002 at the National Museum of American History in Washington, DC, where her kitchen was rebuilt for an exhibition. (Photo by TIM SLOAN/AFP/Getty Images)

Los Angeles, Calif. — (AP) - Julia Child, whose warbling, encouraging voice and able hands brought the intricacies of French cuisine to American home cooks through her television series and books, has died. She was 91.

"America has lost a true national treasure," Nicholas Latimer, director of publicity for the famed chef's publisher, Alfred A. Knopf, said in a statement. "She will be missed terribly."

Child died at 2:50 a.m. Friday at her home in an assisted-living center in Montecito, a coastal town about 90 miles northwest of Los Angeles, said her niece, Philadelphia Cousins.

"She passed away in her sleep," Cousins said. "She was with family and friends and her kitten, Minou. She had cookbooks and many paintings by her husband Paul around the house."

Child, who died two days before her 92nd birthday, had been suffering from kidney failure, Cousins said.

A memorial service for family members was planned, but Child asked that no funeral be held, Cousins said.

A 6-foot-2 American folk hero, "The French Chef" was known to her public as Julia, and preached a delight not only in good food but in sharing it, ending her landmark public television lessons at a set table and with the wish, "Bon appetit."

In spite of food fads, fitness programs, and health concerns, we must never lose sight of a beautifully conceived meal.
- Julia Child

"Dining with one's friends and beloved family is certainly one of life's primal and most innocent delights, one that is both soul-satisfying and eternal," she said in the introduction to her seventh book, "The Way to Cook." "In spite of food fads, fitness programs, and health concerns, we must never lose sight of a beautifully conceived meal."

Chipper and unpretentious, she beckoned everyone to give good food a try.

Her gourmet philosophy also included drinking. In one TV program, chef and friend Jacques Pepin asked what kind of wine she preferred with picnics - red or white.

"I like beer," Child said enthusiastically, pulling out a cold bottle and two glasses.

On Friday, Pepin recalled a friendship that began in 1960. "We'd go to the market, and she'd buy Wonder Bread," he said in a telephone interview. "She had no snobbism about food whatsoever. She loved iceberg lettuce."

Child also expressed a fondness for hamburgers, which she ate while recovering from 2002 knee-replacement surgery.

She wasn't always tidy in the kitchen, and just like the rest of us, sometimes dropped things or had trouble getting a cake out of its mold.

"She just kind of opened the doors ... to the idea that cooking could be a pleasure and it wasn't drudgery in the kitchen," said Alice Waters, executive chef and owner of Chez Panisse, the celebrated Berkeley restaurant. "It wasn't just for fancy French chefs."

In an A-line skirt and blouse, and an apron with a dish towel tucked into the waist, Julia Child grew familiar enough to be parodied by Dan Aykroyd on NBC's "Saturday Night Live" and the subject of Jean Stapleton's musical revue, "Bon Appetit." She was on the cover of Time magazine in 1966.

Active and a frequent traveler in her 80s, Child credited good genes and a habit begun in her 40s of eating everything in moderation.

Susy Davidson, a consultant who worked with Child on ABC's "Good Morning America," called Child's friendship a great gift.

"She's helped me redefine age, No. 1," Davidson once said. "She is the standard by which I judge all professionals. She's always eager to learn something, to try something new. She just has this generosity of spirit."

Like her friend James Beard, Child was influenced but not battered by the popularity of fast food, low-fat food, health food.

She aimed "The Way to Cook" at a new generation and while it offered plenty of recipes using butter and cream, it left room for experimentation and variation in its blend of classic French and free-style American techniques. It was a hit, with nearly 400,000 copies in print just four months after publication.

She worried, however, that the health craze was overdone.

"What's dangerous and discouraging about this era is that people really are afraid of their food," she told The Associated Press in 1989. "Sitting down to dinner is a trap, not something to enjoy. People should take their food more seriously. Learn what you can eat and enjoy it thoroughly."

Child did not take a cooking lesson until she was in her 30s. And she was in her 50s when her first television series began in 1963.

Decades of popularity prompted President Bush last year to give her a Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor. Her custom-designed kitchen - including small utensils, personal cookbooks and six-burner Garland commercial range - is on display at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History.

Born in Pasadena, Calif., Child once said she was raised on so-so cooking by hired cooks.

Child enrolled in the famed Cordon Bleu cooking school in 1948, when she and her husband Paul moved to Paris. She was motivated at least in part by a desire to cook for her epicure husband. She was considered a bit odd by her friends, who all had hired help in the kitchen.

"I'd been looking for my life's work all along," she told the AP. "And when I got into cooking I found it. I was inspired by the tremendous seriousness with which they took it."

In France, she also met Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle, with whom she collaborated on "Mastering the Art of French Cooking," which was nine years in the making and became mandatory for anyone who took cooking seriously.

She was 51 when she made her television debut as "The French Chef." The series began in 1963 and continued for 206 episodes. Child won a Peabody award in 1965 and an Emmy in 1966, and went on to star in several more series for Boston's WGBH-TV.

Since the 1980s, she devoted attention to promoting the serious study of food and cooking. She co-founded the American Institute of Wine and Food in San Francisco in 1981 and co-founded the James Beard Foundation in New York City in 1986.

Her husband, Paul Child, died in 1994. In late 2001, Julia Child, a longtime resident of Cambridge, Mass., moved to Santa Barbara. The couple had no children.

(Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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