James Beard

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James Beard
BornMay 5, 1903 (1903-05-05)
Portland, Oregon, United States
DiedJanuary 21, 1985 (1985-01-22) (aged 81)
New York City, New York, United States
Culinary career
Cooking styleAmerican, French, Chinese
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For other people named James Beard, see James Beard (disambiguation).
James Beard
BornMay 5, 1903 (1903-05-05)
Portland, Oregon, United States
DiedJanuary 21, 1985 (1985-01-22) (aged 81)
New York City, New York, United States
Culinary career
Cooking styleAmerican, French, Chinese

James Andrew Beard (May 5, 1903 – January 21, 1985) was an American cookbook author, teacher, syndicated columnist, and television personality. He was a champion of American cuisine who helped educate and mentor generations of professional chefs and food enthusiasts.[1] His legacy lives on in twenty books, numerous writings, and his foundation's Annual James Beard awards in various culinary genres.

Early life[edit]

James Andrew Beard was born in Portland, Oregon to Elizabeth and John Beard. His mother operated the Gladstone Hotel and his father worked at the city's customs house. The family vacationed on the Pacific coast in Gearhart, Oregon, where Beard was exposed to Pacific Northwest cuisine.

Common ingredients in the cuisine include salmon, shellfish, and other fresh seafood; game meats such as moose, elk, or caribou; as well as mushrooms, berries, small fruits, potatoes, kale, and wild plants such as fiddleheads or even young pushki (Heracleum maximum).

Beard's earliest memory of food was at the Lewis and Clark Exposition of 1905, when he was just two years old. In his memoir he recalled:

"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."[2]

At the age of three, Beard was bedridden with malaria. The illness gave him time to focus on the food prepared by his mother and their Chinese helper.[3] This helped prepare him for a 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.[4] 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."[5] Beard lived in France in the 1920s, where he experienced French cuisine at its bistros.[6] After this exposure and the subsequent influence of French culinary culture, he became a Francophile.


Beard briefly attended Reed College in Portland, Oregon,[7] but he was expelled in 1922 for homosexual activity,[8] an action for which the college later apologized by granting Beard an honorary degree in 1976.[9] In 1923, Beard joined a theatrical troupe and studied voice and theater abroad until 1927, when he returned to the United States.[7]


He initially trained as a singer and actor, then 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 in New York, "Hors d'Oeuvre, Inc." This led to lecturing, teaching, writing, and the publication of Beard's first cookbook in 1940, Hors D'Oeuvre and Canapés, a compilation of his catering recipes. According to Julia Child, his first cookbook put him on the culinary road map.[10] Rationing difficulties during World War II brought his catering business to a halt. In 1946 Beard appeared on an early televised cooking show, I Love to Eat, on NBC, and thus began his rise as an eminent American food authority. Child stated, "Through the years he gradually became not only the leading culinary figure in the country, but 'The Dean of American Cuisine'."[10]

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 thirty 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."[11]

James Beard brought French cooking to the American middle and upper classes in the 1950s. Beard starred on TV as a cooking personality. David Kamp (who wrote extensively about James Beard in his book "The United States of Arugula") noted that Beard's show was the first cooking show on TV.[12] Kamp contrasts Dione Lucas's cooking show and cooking school with that of James Beard, noting also that their prominence in the 1950s marked the emergence of a New York-based, nationally -and internationally- known sophisticated food culture.[13] 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."[14] Kamp also points out that Beard was able to meet Alice B. Toklas on a trip to Paris,[15] illustrating Beard's extensive network of fellow food celebrities that would follow him throughout his life and carry on his legacy after his death.

Beard entered into endorsement deals to promote products that he might not have otherwise used or suggested in his own cuisine. Such endorsements included Omaha Steaks, French's Mustard, Green Giant Corn Niblets, Old Crow bourbon, Planters Peanuts, Shasta soft drinks, DuPont chemicals, and Adolph's Meat Tenderizer, among others. Kamp explains that Beard later felt that he was a "gastronomic whore" for doing so. Beard thought that mass-produced food that was neither fresh, local, nor seasonal and was a betrayal his gastronomic beliefs, but he needed the money to pay for his cooking schools.[16] McNamee writes that "Beard, a man of stupendous appetites—for food, sex, money, you name it—stunned his subtler colleagues."[17]

In 1981, along with friend Gael Greene, Beard founded Citymeals-on-Wheels, which continues to help feed the home-bound elderly in New York City.

Personal life[edit]

Julia Child accurately sums up Beard's personal life in a 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.[10]

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."[18] The second was Beard's own admission of possessing "until I was about forty-five, I guess a really violent temper."[19]

Mark Bittman describes him in a manner similar to that of Julia Child: "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 country, in a city, Portland, that at the time was every bit as cosmopolitan as, say, Allegheny, Pennsylvania."[20]

Beard died January 21, 1985, in New York City, New York, United States, of heart failure at the age of 81.[21] He was cremated, and his ashes were scattered over the beach in Gearhart, Oregon, United States, where he spent his summers as a child.


Set table at the James Beard House, January 2007

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.[22] "Since its inception in 1991, the James Beard Foundation Scholarship Program has awarded over $4.6 million in financial aid to a variety of students—from recent high school graduates, to working culinary professionals, to career changers. Recipients come from many countries, and enhance their knowledge at schools around the world." [23]

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. It was during this period that chef and writer Anthony Bourdain referred to the foundation as "a kind of benevolent shakedown operation."[24] Since that time a completely new board of trustees has instituted a new ethics policy and selected a new president, Susan Ungaro, both actions explicitly targeted at preventing further abuse.

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.

The annual James Beard Foundation Awards are given to celebrate fine cuisine and Beard's birthday. Held on the first Monday in May, the Awards ceremony honors American chefs, restaurants, journalists, cookbook authors, restaurant designers, and electronic media professionals. It culminates in a reception featuring a tasting of the signature dishes of more than 30 of the James Beard Foundation's chefs.

A quarterly magazine, Beard House, is a compendium of 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.


Archival collection[edit]

The James Beard Papers are housed in the Fales Library at New York University.[25]


  1. ^ "James Beard Foundation, About Us". Retrieved 19 June 2014. 
  2. ^ Beard, A James Beard Memoir, pg. 25
  3. ^ Kamp, pg. 19
  4. ^ Beard, A James Beard Memoir, pg. 20
  5. ^ Kamp, pg. 20
  6. ^ Kamp, pg. 42
  7. ^ a b Who Was James Beard? James Beard Foundation. Retrieved on July 19, 2010.
  8. ^ Loughery, p. 173
  9. ^ "Bristling at Beard's Mention?". Reed Magazine. Retrieved 20 June 2013. 
  10. ^ a b c Beard, James Beard Beard on Food, pg. vi
  11. ^ "James Beard Foundation Website". James Beard Foundation. Retrieved on July 19, 2010.
  12. ^ Kamp, pg. 55
  13. ^ Kamp, pg. 57
  14. ^ Kamp, pg. 58
  15. ^ Kamp, pg. 60
  16. ^ Kamp, pg. 62
  17. ^ McNamee, Thomas (2012). The Man Who Changed the Way We Eat. New York, NY: Free Press, Div of Simon and Schuster. p. 339. ISBN 978-1-4391-9150-7. 
  18. ^ James Beard, The James Beard Celebration Cookbook, pg. 24
  19. ^ Beard, A James Beard Memoir, pg. 20–21.
  20. ^ Beard, James Beard Beard on Food, pg. viii
  21. ^ Krebs, Albin (January 24, 1985). "James Beard, Authority On Food, Dies". New York Times. Retrieved April 11, 2010. "James Beard, the bald and portly chef and cookbook writer who was one of the country's leading authorities on food and drink and its foremost champion of American cooking, died of cardiac arrest yesterday at the New York Hospital-Cornell Medical Center. He was 81 years old and lived in ..." 
  22. ^ Kamp, pg. 294
  23. ^ James Beard Foundation Scholarships & Grants Information
  24. ^ RECIPE FOR SCANDAL – San Francisco Chronicle
  25. ^ The Fales Library Guide to the James Beard Papers


External links[edit]