James Andrew Beard (May 5, 1903 – January 21, 1985) was an American chef and food writer. James Beard is recognized by many as the father of American gastronomy. Throughout his life, he pursued and advocated the highest standards, and served as a mentor to emerging talents in the field of the culinary arts.
James Beard is the central figure in the story of the establishment of an American food identity. James Beard was an eccentric personality who brought French cooking to the American middle and upper classes in the 1950s. Many consider him the father of American style cooking. His legacy lives on in his twenty books, numerous writings, his own foundation, and his foundation's annual Beard awards in various culinary genres.
Beard was born in Portland, Oregon
, to Elizabeth and John Beard. His mother operated a boarding house and his father worked at the city's customs house. The family vacationed on the Pacific coast in Gearhart, Oregon
. Here Beard was exposed to the unique local foods of the Pacific Northwest
, including seafood and wild berries.
James Beard’s earliest memory of food was the Lewis and Clark Exposition of 1905 when he was just two years old. Beard in his memoir recalls: “I was taken to the exposition two or three times. The thing that remained in my mind above all others — I think it marked my life — was watching Triscuits and shredded wheat biscuits being made. Isn’t that crazy? At two years old that memory was made. It intrigued the hell out of me.”
Beard started his life bedridden with malaria at the age of three. Beard's sickness gave him time to eat and enjoy the food prepared by his mother and their Chinese helper. Beard's early childhood and the influence that Chinese cooking had on him helped prepare him for a later life at the forefront of culinary American chic. According to Beard he was raised by Thema and Let who instilled a passion for Chinese culture. According to David Kamp, “in 1940 — he realized that part of his mission [as a food connoisseur] was to defend the pleasure of real cooking and fresh ingredients against the assault of the Jell-O-mold people and the domestic scientists. Beard lived in France in the 1920s. Consequently, Beard experienced French cuisine at bistros. As a result of Beard's exposure and subsequent influence of French culinary culture he became a Francophile.
According to the James Beard Foundation, "After a brief stint at Reed College in Portland, in 1923 Beard went on the road with a theatrical troupe. He lived abroad for several years studying voice and theater, but returned to the United States for good in 1927".
He trained initially as a singer and actor, and moved to New York City
in 1937. Not having much luck in the theater, he and his friend, Bill Rhodes, capitalized on the cocktail party
craze by opening a catering company, "Hors D'Oeuvre, Inc.", which led the publication of Beard's first cookbook, Hors D'Oeuvre and Canapés
, a compilation of his catering recipes. Rationing difficulties during World War II
brought his catering business to a halt. In 1946, he appeared on an early televised cooking show, I Love to Eat
, on NBC
, and thus began his rise as an eminent American food authority.
According to Julia Child, Beard was on the culinary road map in 1940 with the publication of his first book, Hors d’Oeuvre and Canapés.(Beard started out with a catering business in New York followed by lecturing, teaching, and writing both books and articles. Child states, “Through the years he gradually became not only the leading culinary figure in the country, but ‘The Dean of American Cuisine’.” According to the James Beard Foundation website: “In 1955, he established The James Beard Cooking School. He continued to teach cooking to men and women for the next 30 years, both at his own schools (in New York City and Seaside, Oregon), and around the country at women's clubs, other cooking schools, and civic groups. He was a tireless traveler, bringing his message of good food, honestly prepared with fresh, wholesome, American ingredients, to a country just becoming aware of its own culinary heritage.”
James Beard brought French cooking to the American middle and upper classes in the 1950s. Beard starred on T.V as a cooking personality. David Kamp notes that this show was the first cooking show on T.V. Kamp contrasts Dione Lucas’s cooking show and cooking school with that of James Beard’s. Kamp notes that Lucas and Beard’s prominence in the 1950’s marked the emergence of a New York based, nationally- and internationally-known sophisticated food culture. Kamp notes, "It was in this decade [the 1950s] that Beard made his name as 'James Beard,' the brand name, the face and belly of American gastronomy. Kamp points out that Beard was able to meet Alice B. Toklas on a trip to Paris. This is an illustration of Beard’s extensive network of fellow food celebrities that would follow him throughout his life and carry on his legacy after his death. According to Kamp, Beard entered into an endorsement project with the Green Giant canned food company. Kamp explains that Beard felt that he was a “gastronomic whore” for doing so. Apparently massed produced food that was neither fresh, local or seasonal was a betrayal of Beard’s gastronomic beliefs. However, Kamp does point out that the reason for Beards hypocrisy was rooted in his desire to pay for his cooking schools.
In 1981, along with friend Gael Greene, Beard founded Citymeals-on-Wheels, which continues to help feed the homebound elderly in New York City.
Beard continued throughout the rest of his career to sign endorsement deals promoting products that he might otherwise have not done so had it not been for financial constraints. In comparison Craig Claiborne, another one of America's great gastronomic figures, died in obscurity, unrecognized for his accomplishments and unknown to "anyone under the age of fifty. David Kamp contrasts Claiborne with James Beard who died in 1985 as beloved and surrounded by friends unlike Claiborne.
Julia Child accurately sums up Beard's personal life in an brief description: “Beard was the quintessential American cook. Well-educated and well-traveled during his eighty-two years, he was familiar with many cuisines but he remained fundamentally American. He was a big man, over six feet tall, with a big belly, and huge hands. An endearing and always lively teacher, he loved people, loved his work, loved gossip, loved to eat, loved a good time. Child's summary makes two significant omissions. The first is that he was gay. Beard’s memoir states: "By the time I was seven, I knew that I was gay. I think it’s time to talk about that now. The second was Beard’s own admission of possessing "until I was about forty-five, I guess a really violent temper. Mark Bittman (who did not know Beard personally) describes him in a similar way: "In a time when serious cooking meant French Cooking, Beard was quintessentially American, a westerner whose mother ran a boardinghouse, a man who grew up with hotcakes and salmon and meatloaf in his blood. A man who was born a hundred years ago on the other side of the county, in a city, Portland, that at the time was every bit as cosmopolitan as, say, Allegheny PA.
Beard died January 21, 1985 in New York City, New York, United States of heart failure at the age of 81. He was cremated, and his ashes were scattered over the beach in Gearhart, Oregon, United States, where he spent his summers as a child.
The James Beard Foundation
was set up in Beard's honor to provide scholarships to aspiring food professionals and to champion the American culinary tradition — which Beard helped create. The Beard Foundation had boasted of its giving of scholarships but in 2003 it only gave $29,000 of its $4 million dollar fund to scholarships.
For a time the foundation was plagued by scandal; in 2004 its head, Leonard Pickell, resigned and was imprisoned for grand larceny and in 2005 the board of trustees resigned. Since that time it has instituted a new ethics policy and selected a new president, both actions explicitly targeted at preventing further abuse.
The foundation continues to experience some financial difficulty; it has operated at a deficit for several consecutive years, though the size of that deficit has decreased since Pickell's departure.
Beard's legacy: the James Beard House & the James Beard Awards
After Beard's death in 1985, Julia Child had the idea to preserve his home in New York City as the gathering place it was throughout his life. Peter Kump, a former student of Beard's and the founder of the Institute of Culinary Education (formerly Peter Kump's New York Cooking School), spearheaded the effort to purchase the house and create the James Beard Foundation.
Beard's renovated brownstone is located at 167 West 12th Street, in the heart of Greenwich Village. It is North America's only historical culinary center, a place where Foundation members, the press, and the general public are encouraged to savor the creations of both established and emerging chefs from across the country and around the globe.
The annual James Beard Foundation Awards are given at the industry's biggest party, part of a fortnight of activities that celebrate fine cuisine and Beard's birthday. Held on the first Monday in May, the Awards ceremony honors the finest chefs, restaurants, journalists, cookbook authors, restaurant designers, and electronic media professionals in the country. It culminates in a reception featuring a tasting of the signature dishes of more than 30 of the James Beard Foundation's very best chefs.
A quarterly magazine, Beard House, is a comprehensive compendium of the best in culinary journalism. The foundation also publishes the James Beard Foundation Restaurant Directory, a directory of all chefs who have either presented a meal at the Beard House or have participated in one of the foundation's out-of-House fundraising events.
- "There is absolutely no substitute for the best. Good food cannot be made of inferior ingredients masked with high flavor. It is true thrift to use the best ingredients available and to waste nothing.
- "I’m going to break one of the rules of the trade here. I’m going to tell you some of the secrets of improvisation. Just remember — it’s always a good idea to follow the directions exactly the first time you try a recipe. But from then on, you’re on your own.
- James Beard (1903 – 1985): The Complete Works
- Hors d’Oeuvre and Canapés 1940, M. Barrows & Co. Revised in 1963 and 1985.
- Cook It Outdoors 1941 (M. Barrows & Co.)
- Fowl and Game Cookery 1944 (M. Barrows & Co.)
- The Fireside Cook Book: A Complete Guide to Fine Cooking for Beginner and Expert 1949 (Simon and Schuster) Re titled in 1982 as The Fireside Cookbook.
- Paris Cuisine 1952 (Little, Brown) Beard co-wrote Paris Cuisine with British journalist Alexander Watt.
- The Complete Book of Barbecue & Rotisserie Cooking 1954 (Maco Magazine Corp.)
[Re titled in 1958 as New Barbecue Cookbook, in 1966 as Jim Beard’s Barbecue Cookbook, and in 1967 as James Beard’s Barbecue Cookbook.]
- Complete Cookbook for Entertaining 1954 (Maco Magazine Corp.)
- How to Eat Better for Less Money 1954 (Simon and Schuster)
- James Beard’s Fish Cookery 1954 (Little, Brown)
[Re titled in 1976 and 1987 (paperback) as James Beard’s New Fish Cookery.]
- Casserole Cookbook 1955 (Maco Magazine Corp.)
- The Complete Book of Outdoor Cookery 1955 (Doubleday)
- The James Beard Cookbook 1959 (Dell Publishing Co.) Revised in 1961, 1970, 1987 (paperback), and 1996.
- Treasury of Outdoor Cooking 1960 (Golden Press)
- Delights & Prejudices: A Memoir with Recipes 1964 (Atheneum) Revised in 1981 and 1990.
- James Beard’s Menus for Entertaining 1965 (Delacorte Press)
- How to Eat (and Drink) Your Way through a French (or Italian) Menu 1971 (Atheneum)
- James Beard’s American Cookery 1972 (Little, Brown)
- Beard on Bread 1973 (Knopf) Revised in 1995 (paperback)
- James Beard Cooks with Corning 1973
- Beard on Food 1974 (Knopf)
- New Recipes for the Cuisinart Food Processor 1976
- James Beard’s Theory & Practice of Good Cooking 1977 (Knopf) Revised in 1978, 1986, and 1990.
- The New James Beard 1981 (Knopf) Revised in 1989.
- Beard on Pasta 1983 (Knopf)
- The Grand Grand Marnier Cookbook
- Benson & Hedges 100’s Presents: 100 of the World’s Greatest Recipes by James Beard 1976
- The James Beard Cookbook on CuisineVu 1987
- James Beard’s Simple Foods 1993 (Macmillan)
- Love and Kisses and a Halo of Truffles 1994 (Arcade) Edited by John Ferrone
- The James Beard Cookbooks 1997 (Thames and Hudson) Edited by John Ferrone
- The Armchair James Beard 1999 (The Lyons Press) Edited by John Ferrone
- Beard, James, and Illustrated Pat Stewart. The Best Of Beard: Great Recipes From a Great Cook. New York: Western Publishing Company, Inc., 1974.
- Beard , James, Assisted Jose Wilson, Illustrated Karl Stuecklen, Introduction Julia Child, and Forward Mike Bittman. James Beard Beard on Food: The Best Recipes and Kitchen Wisdom from the Dean of American Cooking. 3rd. New York: Bloomsbury, 2007.
- Beard, James, Illustrated Alice Provensen, and Illustrated Martin Provensen. The Fireside Cook Book: A Complete Guide to Fine Cooking for Beginner and Expert. 1st. New York: Simon And Schuster, 1949.
- Beard, James. "A James Beard Memoir." The James Beard Celebration Cookbook. Ed. Barbara KafKa. New York: Wings Books, 1990.
- Kamp, David. The United States of Arugula: The Sun Dried, Cold-pressed, Dark-Roasted, Extra Virgin Story of the American Food Revolution. 1st paperback. New York: Broadway Books, 2006.
- "Who Was James Beard?" The James Beard Foundation. 25 Nov 2007 http://www.jamesbeard.org/