The name Julia Child is synonymous with culinary excellence, which is why it may be surprising to learn that in her mid-30s, Julia Child had to ask what a shallot was [source: Grimes]. The year was 1948, and she had just moved to France with her new husband. Though she didn't speak French and could barely cook, Child fell in love with French cuisine and became determined to learn how to make it herself.
Up to that point, Child had been at a loss for what to do with herself. She had vague aspirations of writing, but once noted that she attended Smith College at a time when women became either nurses or teachers [source: Schrambling]. Though much has been made of her potential espionage career, in truth, Child didn't come alive until she studied at the celebrated Cordon Bleu cooking school. "To think it has taken me 40 years to find my true passion," she once wrote to her sister-in-law [source: Mellowes].
And though she may have identified that passion, it took several more years for her hard work to pay off. It took more than a decade and several rounds of rejections before the tome that Child co-authored, "Mastering the Art of French Cooking," was published, and she didn't begin her long-running PBS program "The French Chef" until she was 51.