Julia Child: WW2 Spy Who Created Shark Repellent Cakes | The Fantastic History Of Food with Nick Charlie Key

Check out The Fantastic History Of Food Podcast Episode Page


  • Julia Child was an American cooking teacher, author, television personality, and apparently, a WW2 spy that invented shark repellent cake—follow along as Nick Charlie Key tells the strange but true story
  • Host: Nick Charlie Key (@nickcharliekey)

Who is Julia Child?

  • “I’m sadly an ordinary person, with talents I do not use” – Nick Charlie Key quoting Julia Child
    • Had no need for money or influence because she was born into an affluent family
  • WW2 had broken out and she wanted to make herself useful to the cause—began volunteering at the Pasadena California chapter of the Red Cross
    • Started to take the minutes for meetings (stenography)
    • Tried to apply for military combat roles, but her unusual height made her ineligible
    • Became a typist for the “office of war information” in Washington DC, which then led her to join the Office of Strategic Services (now known as the CIA)
  • She then joined the Emergency Sea Rescue team of the Navy—where she learned that sharks were a big problem for navel operations
    • In the first three years of the war, there were about 20 shark attack cases against overboard sailors and downed pilots
    • The media created a fear narrative around sharks – “Families back home began to fear sharks almost as much as they feared the Nazis” – Nick Charlie Key

Shark Repellent Cakes

  • Julia concocted small cakes made of copper acetate mixed with black dye – the closest thing they could produce to imitate the smell of a dead shark
    • More effective than actually using dead shark flesh
  • Cakes were attached to sailors’ vests and were used if stranded in the open water
    • Even if it wasn’t as effective as advertised, at least it provided a calming placebo effect that inspired a greater hope for survival
  • Sharks also had a tendency to get too nosy around sea mines (which resulted in a quick fate)
    • So the navy coated the mines in the cake substance to prevent this
  • Julia was given the Meritorious Civilian Service Award for her efforts in the war
    • But more importantly – “She left behind all her feelings of inadequacy and normalcy and built creativity and confidence in abundance” – Nick Charlie Key

The Queen of French Cuisine

  • Because of her affluent upbringing, she realized she had never developed basic cooking skills
    • Fell in love with French cuisine
    • Enrolled at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris
    • “On her first day of school, all she knew was how to boil the water for a cup of tea” – Nick Charlie Key
  • A women’s cooking club asked Julia to be the American consultant for a French cookbook aimed at an American audience
    • However, she couldn’t just watch from the sidelines. She contributed her own French recipes too.
    • After 10 years, the book was finally published (America had picked up a large interest in French cuisine)
  • Julia became a cooking icon—recording 199 episodes of “The French Chef
  • Flavor > Health
    • Julia was notorious for her excessive use of butter

Parting Inspiration

“Thinking back on it now, it reminds me that the pleasures of the table, and of life, are infinite”– Nick Charlie Key quoting Julia Child

The Fantastic History of Food : , , , , , , ,
Notes By Drew Waterstreet

More Notes on these topics

Top Insights and Tactics From

31 Best Podcasts of All Time

FREE when you join over 35,000 subscribers to the
Podcast Notes newsletter

No Thanks