You might have heard of Julia Child but have you ever heard of James Beard? He’s better known as the founding father of American cuisine. James Beard was born in Portland, Oregon and moved to New York City in 1937 to pursue his dreams of acting and singing. Unfortunately, that didn’t work out, (lucky for us) so he fell into what would become his life’s work, food. He worked with his close friend Bill Rhodes in a catering business, which soon led to Beards first cookbook Hor’deurves and Canapés. He made many TV appearances and became the official face of all things culinary. In the 1950’s Beard opened his first cooking school to teach fresh wholesome cuisine to the men and women of America. He also starred in his own cooking show, which was said to be the first of its kind making him the first TV Celebrity Chef. James was insistent on using only fresh seasonal ingredients, an idea that was years ahead of his time. When he passed away in 1985 at the age of 81 his good friend Julia Child decided to preserve James Beard’s House as a gathering place of all things food. Peter Krump, a former student of James Beard bought the house and started the James Beard Foundation. The foundation provides scholarships and awards to amateur and professional chefs.
A portrait of James Beard hangs in the house
While in New York I decided to visit the place where it all started, The James Beard House. I was met by Kris Moon, the Director of House Operations, who gave me the tour of the house while sharing stories of James Beards life. Our first stop was the kitchen, which is tight on space but is stocked with professional kitchen appliances, which are not original to the house.
Jeremy in the Beard kitchen
There are still some things that are kept the same such as the wallpaper, which is a map of the world. While we were being given the tour, volunteers were preparing for a class. The Beard house hosts a series of classes given by local and big name chefs. Andrea Beaman, who was a Top Chef (season 1) contestant was giving one of the week’s demos on fresh healthy foods.
Chef Andrea Beaman preparing to teach a class at the House
However, the house is more known for its dinner’s, which are cooked by some of the country’s greatest chef’s. The dining room displays food paintings and photograph that are created by different artists and change each month. Upstairs is more room for dining, the house can hold 80 people, which is a lot for such a small space. One area of the upstairs was Mr. Beards bedroom, which is also very small. The story says that you could tell when Mr. Beard was done entertaining when his feet pressed against the window at the foot of his bed, in other words he was a very large man!
One of James Beard's "outrageous" Chefs Jackets
The third floor holds the private dinning room for private dinners. Guests can also gaze through the library of James Beard award wining books (James Beard also wrote 20 books himself) while waiting for their meals to be served. At the end of the tour I came to realize just what an important figure Mr. Beard was and what an impact he had on food today.
Jeremy and Kris Moon (Director of House Operations) in the upstairs dining room
So, the next time you hear of, or meet a James Beard award winner, thank them for continuing the Beard legacy and making the culinary world just a little greater everyday. For more information on James Beard and the foundation visit their web site at www.jamesbeard.org.
Keep on Cooking!!