Happy Birthday, James Beard

Photo via Gourmet

“The father of American cooking” would have turned 107 today. I got the word via an email from The Writer’s Almanac, which said, “He was probably the first American food celebrity, at the forefront of writing and talking about food, of thinking about a unified American cuisine.” 

A food writer and advocate born in Portland, Oregon, James Beard ate a lot of Chinese food as a boy since his family employed a Chinese cook. He spent time shopping with his mother at farmers’ markets and spent summers with his family on the Oregon coast, where they ate the local fish they caught and berries they picked. 

Although Beard wanted to have a career in music or theater, nothing panned out so he taught cooking classes to pay the rent. One of the original modern-day locavores, he cooked with the local food of Oregon, which he incorporated with other cuisines. 

On a trip to New York in 1938 he met a brother and sister from Germany who loved food as much as he did, William and Irma Rhode. According to The Writer’s Almanac, “they talked about how much mediocre food New Yorkers ate to go with their cocktails, so they formed a catering service called Hors d’Oeuvre Inc. that would serve quality cocktail food. It was a success, and it catered an event for the International Food and Wine Society, whose secretary liked Beard so much that she got him a book deal with her publisher.” 

That started him on a publishing stint, first with Hors d’Oeuvre & Canapés, followed by Cook It Outdoors, and later, James Beard’s American Cookery. (By the time he died, he had produced 22 cookbooks.) A frequent contributor to magazines, and an associate editor of Gourmet magazine, he said, “I don’t like gourmet cooking or ‘this’ cooking or ‘that’ cooking. I like good cooking.” He believed in using local ingredients and in cooking from scratch. 

In 1946, he launched the world’s first cooking show, called “I Love To Eat.” And in 1955, he started the James Beard Cooking School and taught there until his death in 1985, at the age of 81. In 1986, The James Beard Foundation was established to celebrate, preserve, and nurture America’s culinary heritage and diversity in order to elevate the appreciation of our culinary excellence. 

I love this quote by James Beard from The Writer’s Almanac: “I’ve long said that if I were about to be executed and were given a choice of my last meal, it would be bacon and eggs. Nothing is quite as intoxicating as the smell of bacon frying in the morning, save perhaps the smell of coffee brewing.” 

Sounds like heaven to me. 

Cheers to James Beard!


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