James Beard

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James Andrew Beard (May 5, 1903 – January 21, 1985) was an American chef and food writer. The central figure in the story of the establishment of a gourmet American food identity, Beard was an eccentric personality who brought French cooking to the American middle and upper classes in the 1950s. Many consider him the father of American-style gourmet cooking. His legacy lives on in twenty books, numerous writings, his own foundation, and his foundation's annual Beard awards in various culinary genres.


Early life

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. Here, Beard was exposed to the unique local foods of the Pacific Northwest, including seafood and wild berries.

James Beard's earliest memory of food was the Lewis and Clark Exposition of 1905 when he was just two years old. Beard in his memoir recalls: "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."[1]

At the age of three, Beard was bedridden with malaria. This sickness gave him time to eat and enjoy the food prepared by his mother and their Chinese helper.[2] Beard's early childhood and the influence that Chinese cooking had on him helped prepare him for a later 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.[3] 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."[4] Beard lived in France in the 1920s.[5] Consequently, Beard experienced French cuisine at bistros. As a result of Beard's exposure and subsequent influence of French culinary culture he became a Francophile.

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