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Celebrity Chefs

Julia Child helped the CIA develop shark repellant

It's time to channel the spirit of cooking icon Julia Child, not for her coq au vin, but for her shark cake.

Long before she became a master of French cuisine, the legendary chef's very first recipe was cooking up a special shark repellent during World War II.

“I could boil water for tea but my first big recipe was shark repellant that I mixed in a bathtub for the Navy, for the men who might get caught in the water,” Child once told her longtime producer Margaret Sullivan.

In light of the recent shark attacks, including this weekend's stunning video of a surfer beating off a shark, beach goers this season could probably use some of this miracle concoction now.

During World War II, the Joint Chiefs of Staff requested that the Office of Strategic Services (the predecessor of today’s CIA) find a way to prevent service members stranded in the water from getting attacked by sharks.

  

Child, then known by her maiden name Williams, joined the OSS in 1942 as Captain Harold J. Coolidge’s executive assistant.  She was part of a group charged with concocting a recipe, according to the CIA.

“I must say we had lots of fun,” Child told fellow OSS Officer, Betty McIntosh, during an interview for “Sisterhood of Spies,” McIntosh’s book on women in the war. “We designed rescue kits and other agent paraphernalia.

They tested dozens of substances, like extracts from decayed shark meat, organic acids, and several copper salts, including copper sulphate and copper acetate, before finally settling on copper acetate.   

Calling it Shark Chaser, the copper acetate was mixed with a black dye and  formed into a disk-shaped cake that reeked of dead shark when exposed to water. Service members could wear the cake by putting it in a small box --keeping a shark at bay for six to seven hours.  

But research found the cakes only had about a 60 percent deterrence rate for sharks and was “completely ineffective” in preventing attacks from the other dangerous fish like barracudas and piranhas.

Still, the Navy, Army and Coast Guard issued the Shark Chaser repellent based on the original OSS recipe all the way up until the 1970s. 

So for any of those scrambling to find a modern day equivalent, take some inspiration from Julia herself: 

"The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking you’ve got to have a what-the-hell attitude."