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Chef James Beard

Chef James Beard

More than a chef, James Beard was a world traveler, cookbook author, a kind teacher, and most importantly, the pioneer of the American food industry.

Born in May 1903 to honest and hardworking parents, James Beard grew up in Portland, Oregon, where he also attended Reed College. Throughout his childhood and adult life, he was influenced by many cultures, in addition to his native American, including French, Italian, and Chinese.

"Food is our common ground, a universal experience." – James Beard

After studying and living abroad for several years in his early twenties, Beard returned to the U.S. to pursue a career in theater. He quickly realized that he needed a more stable source of income, so he and a friend opened Hors d'Oeurves, a catering company with a focus on cocktail parties and small gatherings.

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At the age of 34, Beard recognized his true passion in life: food and cooking. However, it was the method in which he cooked that set him apart from the other famous chefs of his era (e.g., Julia Child) and eventually earned him the title of "Dean of American Cookery" by the New York Times.

Above all, he valued the importance of cooking seasonally and simply. Beard was known for sourcing fresh local products from small family-run businesses. As he spent most of his life on the east and west coasts, this conviction is most evident in his many recipes featuring fresh seafood.

"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." – Julia Child

Just as quickly and fearlessly as he had joined the food industry, he began to dominate it. In next three years, the chef authored his first cookbook, which he fittingly named after his humble beginnings: Hors d'Oeuvre and Canapés. After publishing, the chef began working on his next, Cook It Outdoors, inspired by years spent at war serving with the United Seamen’s Service in canteen development for sailors in Puerto Rico, Rio de Janeiro, Marseilles, and Panama.

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In 1945, Beard returned to New York City, where he was welcomed into the culinary community. He appeared in his own segment on television's first cooking show on NBC in 1946 and continued to appear in other spots on television and radio. Between his saturation of media and contributions to printed magazines like Woman’s Day, Gourmet, and House & Garden; mentoring of many restaurateurs, chefs, and producers; and management of his own restaurant on Nantucket, he became the absolute essence of American food culture.

"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."  – David Kamp

In 1955, the chef established the James Beard Cooking School, where he taught cooking to men and women for the next 30 years in two locations: New York City and Seaside, Oregon. In addition to these courses, Beard spent much of his time traveling the country to teach and speak at women's clubs, cooking schools, and civic groups. Throughout his life, Beard penned more than 20 cookbooks, most of which are considered classics and are still in print today.

The infamous chef died in New York City on January 21, 1985, at the age of 81, but his name continues to be synonymous with the category of "American food." He was honored most highly with the establishment of the James Beard Foundation in 1991, through which the chef's legacy lives on with a variety of events and programs designed to educate, inspire, entertain, and foster a deeper understanding of our culinary culture.

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