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National History Day: Bon Appétit

Julia Child, otherwise known by her stage name, the French Chef, was the inspiration for Juniors Emily Browning and Kate Beran at the National History Day (NHD) competition this year. After months of research and creatively constructing an exhibit, Browning and Beran received first place in the dual-exhibit category at the NHD Districts on March 1st. All sophomores in Mr. Reisberg’s Honors World History and all juniors in his AP US History classes arrived on Metro Community College’s campus to compete in the annual competition.

NHD is a nationwide history contest, challenging students across the country to research and create an extensive project on events that impacted history. The theme varies every year, and this year, students were inspired by turning points in history. Because of Browning and Beran’s experience at NHD Nationals last year, they were inspired to create an exhibit on Julia Child. In June of 2023, they visited Washington DC after their exhibit on the Enigma placed them first in Districts and second in State. At the final level of competition, Browning and Bering attended a number of Smithsonian Museums, including the National Museum of American History, which featured “pop culture relics and exhibits on developments in American history,” as Browning described. One of these exhibits was Julia Child’s preserved kitchen from her home in Cambridge, MA.

“I’ve always grown up with Julia Child,” Browning commented. “My dad was a big fan of her show, The French Chef.”

As soon as the NHD 2024 theme was announced, Browning immediately thought of Julia Child and her influence on modern day cookbooks. After she and Beran decided to research Julia Child for their exhibit, they found out that the Durham Museum was featuring the Julia Child: A Recipe for Life exhibit. It’s as if it were meant to be.

Research beyond the Durham Museum included reading Julia Child’s autobiography, watching her TV show, examining her cookbooks, and reading her letters. 

From these resources, they learned about Julia Child’s life prior to being known as the French Chef. Julia Child went to college during the Great Depression, but the outbreak of World War II inspired her to serve in the US military. Rejected from the Navy because of her enormous height of 6’ 2”, Julia Child joined the Office of Strategic Services, where she was stationed in China.

“I thought that reading Julia’s personal thoughts, from France, cooking, teaching, or the politics of the time, was the most interesting,” Beran commented. 

Constructing their board was an entirely different effort. Inspired by the types of projects presented at Nationals, Browning and Beran decided to build an ambitious exhibit, featuring a rotating, double sided board and an oven constructed out of wood with a functioning door. This made transporting their project a challenge on the day of NHD Districts.

The day of districts was nerve racking for Browning and Beran, who both wanted to win and return to state and nationals. Their high expectations for themselves led to self-imposed anxiety. Browning felt that “the pressure was on,” but as Beran reflected, “[they] knew they had the skills to [win].” After presenting their project to two judges and waiting for hours while all competing projects were judged, Browning and Beran were announced the first place winners of NHD Districts. This accomplishment qualified them for NHD State in April, where the competition will be tough. However, Browning and Beran are preparing for the day by adding more detail to their board and developing their research on Julia Child.

“Our goal for State this year is to do as well as possible. We would love the opportunity to return to Nationals!” Browning exclaimed.

The winning board of Julia Child, featuring a wood oven and copper kitchen utensils.

AK Verdoni
MHS ‘26, XC, John 1:48
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