James Beard

For other people named James Beard, see James Beard (disambiguation).
James Beard

James Beard signing books at a street fair in midtown Manhattan in 1981
Born May 5, 1903 (1903-05-05)
Portland, Oregon
Died January 21, 1985 (1985-01-22) (aged 81)
New York City
Website www.jamesbeard.org

Culinary career

Cooking style American, French, Chinese

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

Early life

James Andrew Beard was born in Portland, Oregon, in 1903 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 of this cuisine are salmon, shellfish and other fresh seafood; game meats such as moose, elk, or venison; mushrooms, berries, small fruits, potatoes, kale and wild plants such as fiddleheads or young pushki (Heracleum maximum, or cow parsnip).

Beard's earliest memory of food was at the 1905 Lewis and Clark Exposition, when he was 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 age three Beard was bedridden with malaria, and the illness gave him time to focus on the food prepared by his mother and their Chinese helper;[3] this helped prepare him for life at the forefront of culinary American chic. According to Beard he was raised by Thema and Let, who instilled in him a passion for Chinese culture.[4] David Kamp wrote, "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 during the 1920s, where he experienced French cuisine at its bistros.[6] After this exposure and the widespread influence of French food culture, he became a Francophile.


Beard briefly attended Reed College in Portland, Oregon.[7] Although he was expelled for homosexuality in 1922,[8] the college granted Beard an honorary degree in 1976.[9] In 1923 he joined a theatrical troupe and studied voice and theater abroad until 1927, when he returned to the United States.[7]


After training as a singer and actor, Beard moved to New York City in 1937. Unlucky in the theater, he and friend Bill Rhodes capitalized on the cocktail party craze by opening Hors d'Oeuvre, Inc., a catering company. 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, this book put him on the culinary map.[10] World War II rationing ended Beard's catering business. In 1946 he appeared on an early NBC television cooking show, I Love to Eat, beginning his ascent as an American food authority. According to Child, "Through the years he gradually became not only the leading culinary figure in the country, but 'The Dean of American Cuisine'."[10]

In 1952, when Helen Evans Brown published her Helen Brown's West Coast Cook Book, Beard wrote her a letter igniting a friendship that spanned until Brown's death. The two, along with her husband Phillip, developed a friendship which was both professional and personal. Beard and Brown became like siblings, admonishing and encouraging each other, as well as collaborating.[11] 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."[12] Beard brought French cooking to the American middle and upper classes during the 1950s, appearing on TV as a cooking personality. David Kamp (who discusses Beard at length in his book, The United States of Arugula) noted that Beard's was the first cooking show on TV.[13] He compares Dione Lucas' cooking show and school with Beard's, noting that their prominence during the 1950s marked the emergence of a sophisticated, New York-based, nationally and internationally known food culture.[14] Kamp wrote, "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."[15] He noted that Beard met Alice B. Toklas on a trip to Paris,[16] indicative of the network of fellow food celebrities who would follow him during his life and carry on his legacy after his death.

Beard made endorsement deals to promote products that he might not have otherwise used or suggested in his own cuisine, including Omaha Steaks, French's Mustard, Green Giant Corn Niblets, Old Crow bourbon, Planters Peanuts, Shasta soft drinks, DuPont chemicals, and Adolph's Meat Tenderizer. According to Kamp, Beard later felt himself a "gastronomic whore" for doing so. Although he felt that mass-produced food that was neither fresh, local nor seasonal was a betrayal his gastronomic beliefs, he needed the money for his cooking schools.[17] According to Thomas McNamee, "Beard, a man of stupendous appetites—for food, sex, money, you name it—stunned his subtler colleagues."[18] In 1981 Beard and friend Gael Greene founded Citymeals-on-Wheels, which continues to help feed the homebound elderly in New York City.

Personal life

Julia Child summed up Beard's personal life:

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 has two omissions. The first is that, as a lifelong bachelor, James Beard was homosexual. According to Beard's memoir, "By the time I was seven, I knew that I was gay. I think it's time to talk about that now."[19] The second was Beard's admission of having "until I was about forty-five, I guess a really violent temper."[20] Mark Bittman described him in a manner similar to Child's description: "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."[21]

James Beard died of heart failure on January 21, 1985 at his home in New York City at age 81.[22] He was cremated and his ashes scattered over the beach in Gearhart, Oregon, where he spent summers as a child.


Three small dishes, with an iris above for decoration, on larger rectangular plate
Hors d'oeuvres at the James Beard House, January 2007

The James Beard Foundation was established in Beard's honor to provide scholarships to aspiring food professionals and champion the American culinary tradition which Beard helped create.[23] "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." [24]

The foundation was affected by scandals; in 2004 its head, Leonard Pickell, resigned and was imprisoned for grand larceny and in 2005 the board of trustees resigned. During this period, chef and writer Anthony Bourdain called the foundation "a kind of benevolent shakedown operation."[25] A new board of trustees has instituted an ethics policy and chosen a president, Susan Ungaro, to prevent future problems.

After Beard's death in 1985, Julia Child wanted to preserve his home in New York City as the gathering place it was during 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 efforts to purchase the house and create the James Beard Foundation. Beard's renovated brownstone is at 167 West 12th Street in Greenwich Village, and is North America's only historic culinary center.

The annual James Beard Foundation Awards celebrate fine cuisine around 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 tastings of signature dishes of more than 30 of the 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 presented a meal at the Beard House or participated in one of the foundation's outside fundraising events.

In 1995, Love and Kisses and a Halo of Truffles: Letters from Helen Evans Brown, which contained excerpts of Beard and Helen Evans Brown's bi-weekly correspondence from 1952 to 1964 was published. The book gave insight to their relationship as well as the way that they developed ideas for recipes, projects and food.[11]


Archival collection

The James Beard Papers are housed in the Fales Library at New York University.[26]


  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. 1 2 Who Was James Beard? James Beard Foundation. Retrieved on July 19, 2010.
  8. reed.edu, Was James Beard Really a Reedie? 2011
  9. "Bristling at Beard's Mention?". Reed Magazine. Retrieved 20 June 2013.
  10. 1 2 3 Beard, James Beard Beard on Food, pg. vi
  11. 1 2 Ferrone, John (1995). "Introduction". In Beard, James. Love and Kisses and a Halo of Truffles: Letters from Helen Evans Brown (1 ed.). New York, New York: Arcade Publishing. pp. vii–xiv. ISBN 978-1-55970-318-5.
  12. "James Beard Foundation Website". James Beard Foundation. Retrieved on July 19, 2010.
  13. Kamp, pg. 55
  14. Kamp, pg. 57
  15. Kamp, pg. 58
  16. Kamp, pg. 60
  17. Kamp, pg. 62
  18. McNamee, Thomas (2012). The Man Who Changed the Way We Eat. New York, NY: Free Press, Div of Simon & Schuster. p. 339. ISBN 978-1-4391-9150-7.
  19. James Beard, The James Beard Celebration Cookbook, pg. 24
  20. Beard, A James Beard Memoir, pg. 2021.
  21. Beard, James Beard Beard on Food, pg. viii
  22. 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 ...
  23. Kamp, pg. 294
  24. James Beard Foundation Scholarships & Grants Information
  25. RECIPE FOR SCANDAL – San Francisco Chronicle
  26. The Fales Library Guide to the James Beard Papers


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