There are badasses of the roundhouse-kicking, bomb-dismantling, world-saving type — and then, there’s Julia Child. Most of us know her best as the sometimes clumsy, always charming host of the cooking show our mothers used to watch, but let’s be real: No one has ever nailed your #lifegoals like Child did. Ever dreamed of running away to Paris? Check. Working as a wartime intelligence officer? Yup. Traveling the world, eating everything from oysters in Rouen to Peking duck? Absolutely.
Not that any of it came easy: “I had a lack of confidence,” Child admits in My Life in France. “I was overly emotional at the expense of careful…I was 37 years old and still discovering who I was.” But discover herself she did, and by the time Betty Friedan published The Feminine Mystique in 1963, Child had already co-authored the seminal cookbook Mastering the Art of French Cooking, built a career as a newspaper columnist, and begun hosting her first television show — all in a world notoriously dominated by male chefs and critics. If that’s not some expert-level badassery, I don’t know what is.
So today, on what would have been her 103rd birthday, pour out a glass of burgundy for Julia Child, the kickass best friend you always wanted. Here are seven legendary moments to remember her by:
1. The time she taught us how to flip an omelet like a pro…
I mean, who needs a spatula?
2. ...And the time things didn't go so well
Julia Child was famous for her onscreen mishaps — but for all the malfunctioning burners and fumbled utensils, she had one just one rule: Never apologize. “If you’re alone in the kitchen,” she says in one episode of The French Chef, hastily scooping fallen bits of potato pancake back into the pan, “who is going to see?”
3. The three years she was pretty much an international spy
When the National Archives finally released World War II-era records from the Office of Strategic Services, the CIA’s predecessor, guess who’s name made the list of personnel? Turns out, Julia Child had worked her way up in the intelligence division from typist to researcher, and had been stationed around the world, from China to Sri Lanka and India. Oh, and did we mention she developed a top-secret shark repellant recipe, too?
4. The time she started her life over again in France
While some notable women (hi, Oprah) had their lives all figured out by the age of 25, Julia Child was still struggling at 36, when she and her husband packed their bags for France. Her advice for fellow wanderers? “Find something you’re passionate about, and keep tremendously interested in it.” She did just that: After a life-changing meal of oysters and sole meunière in Rouen, she enrolled at the Cordon Bleu and began cooking with abandon. “Up until then,” Child said, “I just ate.”
5. When she just couldn't with dumbed-down recipes
Julia Child was a fan of simplicity — as proof, I submit her ridiculously easy vichyssoise — but don’t even talk to her about lazy, half-assed recipes out of a can. “Nothing is too much trouble if it turns out the way it should,” she says in My Life in France. “If one rushes through the cooking, the result will be an inferior taste and texture.”
6. When she stood up for women in the kitchen
When The French Chef debuted on PBS, Alice Waters was a decade away from opening Chez Panisse, and women were still few and far between in professional kitchens. Child was having none of that. “Julia always considered herself a feminist,” biographer Bob Spitz told The Huffington Post. “When she got to the states and ate in restaurants, she would march into the kitchen and say, ‘How many women are in here?’ She would tell the great chefs, ‘You need more women here.’”
7. Every time she reminded us that cooking could be hilarious, fun, and magical
Simply put, Julia Child was a total boss. She danced with raw chicken, and blow-torched the hell out of hamburger meat — and if you didn't like it? Well, sucks for you. “The only real stumbling block is fear of failure,” she said. “In cooking, you’ve got to have a what-the-hell attitude.” Preach, girl.