Saturday, October 12, 2013

James Beard: American Foodie Hero

In prelude to an upcoming post about Red Stag Grill’s ChefAdam Hayes, who was a visiting Chef for a recent James Beard House dinner, I thought I would give some background on the James Beard House and the James Beard Foundation.  Many of us are aware that the James Beard Foundation is a culinary entity, but know little else about it.

The James Beard Foundation is a national not-for-profit 501(c)(3) based in New York City named in honor of James Beard that “serves to promote the culinary arts by honoring chefs, wine professionals, journalists and cookbook authors at annual award ceremonies and providing scholarships and educational opportunities to cooking hopefuls.” – Wikipedia 

The Foundation’s Mission is to celebrate, nurture and preserve America’s diverse culinary heritage and future through programs that educate and inspire.

James Beard, declared the “Dean of American cookery” by the New York Times in 1954, has a vast array of experiences including acting, cryptography, Seaman, caterer, restaurateur, author, teacher, host of the earliest television food program, early campaigner of local food and forefather of the modern foodie.  He is responsible for cultivating a multitude of American chefs leading the way for America to discover its own contribution to the culinary world.

The following is from the James Beard website about James Beard:
James Andrew Beard was born on May 5, 1903 in Portland, Oregon, to Elizabeth and John Beard.  His mother, an independent English woman passionate about food, ran a boarding house.  His father worked at Portland’s Customs House.  The family spent summers at the beach at Gearhart, Oregon, fishing, gathering shellfish and wild berries, and cooking meals with whatever was caught.
After a brief stint 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.  Although he kept trying to break into the theater and movies, by 1935 he needed to supplement what was a very non-lucrative career and began a catering business.  With the opening of a small food shop called Hors d ’Oeuvre, Inc., in 1937, Beard finally realized that his future lay in the world of food and cooking.
In 1940, Beard penned what was then the first major cookbook devoted exclusively to cocktail food, Hors d ‘Oeuvre & Canap├ęs.  In 1942 he followed it up with Cook It Outdoors, the first serious work on outdoor cooking.  Beard spent the war years with a brief stint in cryptology, but he primarily served with the United Seaman’s Service, setting up sailor’s canteens in Puerto Rico, Rio de Janeiro, Marseilles, and Panama.
When he returned to New York in 1945, Beard became totally immersed in the culinary community.  Between 1945 and 1955 he wrote several seminal cookbooks (click here for a complete list).  He appeared in his own segment on television’s first cooking show on NBC in 1946, and then on many other spots on television and radio.  He contributed articles and columns to Woman’s Day, Gourmet, and House & Garden, served as a consultant to many restaurateurs and food producers, and ran his own restaurant in Nantucket.  He became the focal point of the entire American food world.
In 1955, Beard 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.  Beard also continued to write cookbooks, most of which became classics and many of which are still in print.
When James Beard died at 81 on January 21, 1985, he left a legacy of culinary excellence and integrity to generations of home cooks and professional chefs.  His name remains synonymous with American food.
The James Beard Foundation was started in 1986 by Peter Kump, a former student of James Beard and founder of the Institute of Culinary Education.  At Julia Child’s suggestions, Kump purchased Beard’s New York brownstone at 167 West 12th Street in Greenwich Village and preserved it as a gathering place where the general public and press can appreciate the talents of established and emerging chefs.

Currently, there are over 250 events each year at the Beard House.  A foodie hallowed ground where chefs; whether notorious and famous, up and coming or a culinary student, are able to perform their best.  This allows the general public and foodie alike to encounter the world of food.  The Foundation offers a variety of programs that educate as well as involve people with food.

As of 1990, the Foundation created another way to showcase excellence within the food and beverage industry with the first awards bestowed in 1991.  These have become the “Oscar’s” of the food and beverage professionals in North America launching careers and providing a standard for others to seek.  

Much of what Asheville and Western North Carolina take for granted in our “Foodtopian Society”, farm to table restaurants and easy access to fresh local foods; can be directly and indirectly directed back to the work James Beard did in professing the wonders of local cuisine. 

We now have our own heroes of food, people like Bob Worth and Mark Rosenstein took the torch and provided us a lot to be thankful for here in the Blue Ridge Mountains.  And now a new generation is taking center stage, former James Beard Award nominees and semi-finalists like John Fleer and Katie Button.  The work doesn’t stop there, so many are involved and work tirelessly to promote and provide the local food that has become common place for us in Asheville.

Look for the upcoming James Beard Dinner experience at the Red Stag Grill with Chef Adam Hayes.

And for more about James Beard, the James Beard House or the James Beard Foundation, go to:

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