Speaker 1 Well, I have this restaurant in Portland, Oregon, called Mother's Beach One Bar, and each month we feature the cuisine of a different mother and we I'm sorry, but there was more noise. Sorry. OK, why haven't I owned a restaurant in Portland, Oregon, called Mothers Bistro Bar? And each month we feature the cuisine of a different mother and we tell her story and have some of her special dishes on the menu. And when I got asked to cook at the James Beard house, I was really in a quandary because while it's really known for upscale and chic fufu food, I do the food of mothers and I just didn't know how I would fit in. So I started to read about James Beard trying to figure out what I would do when it occurred to me. Wait a minute. His mother was a brilliant cook way back in the early nineteen hundreds. And I realized that if I could figure out what she made, that would be the food I'd want to do with the beard house. Well, I read every cookbook James Beard had didn't find any recipes from his mother. And someone said to me, well, have you heard of the book Delights and Prejudices? And I said, no. And I called my nearest bookstore pals, of course, here in Portland. And they happened to have a copy there. And lo and behold, I found the copy, but it was so cool about it is not only was it signed by James Beard, but it was signed by the woman to whom he dedicated the book, Mary Hamlett. So it was auspicious. And I started to read it and learn so much about the food she made. And I decided that what I would serve at the beard house would be the food of James Beard's mother. So tell us what you learned about her. Well, James Beard's mother was way ahead of her time. I mean, she's a woman. After my own heart. I feel like she's me and Kornet. She was inhospitality. She worked in hotels before she had her own rooming house. And food was probably one of the most important things to her. She had people to feed and people to please. But she seemed to have a real inherent love of food. And she was eating basil and pine nuts and making pesto. Before that, anybody had ever heard of such a thing. And vendors everywhere couldn't wait to serve her because they finally had somebody who really appreciated the fruits of their labor. Hey, guys, can we stop clanging glasses? Dane, will you tell him to stop crying and glasses? Ask him not to put on my glasses for a second.

Speaker 2 OK, ok. OK, so. Yep. To tell the story. So maybe James beer right about it a lot of time. OK, on particular story,

Speaker 1 this is one of the coolest things I was reading in delights and prejudices when he had a he had a few caregivers. His mother was a busy woman while he was her main job. She did hire people to take care of him and she had a nurse. And in the nurse maid took him to the doctor. And after the doctor's office decided to stop at the market to pick up some things that Mrs. Beard had asked her to pick up. So she went and she got the bag of goodies and she's about to leave. And she tells the vendor, could you put that on Mrs. Beard's account? And the vendor freaked out. What? I can't give you this for Mrs. Beard. She'd kill me. And they ended up changing the product and gave her was something that Mrs. Bayer could actually appreciate.

Speaker 2 So what do you think that happened?

Speaker 1 Well, Mrs. Beard was a she had an amazing palate. She was Mrs. Mrs. Beard had an amazing palate. She was extremely discriminating. She had traveled the world. She was going to Mexico, in New York, back to England, tasting all this food. And she herself was a German. In fact, I hate to say it, but I think she was really America's first foodie. She's the one that made James Beard who he was. She gave him the appreciation of all this delicious food. So she got to know all the different suppliers, all the vendors in the market. They would come to her and bring her the first fruits of the season. She had a relationship with this guy, Delfino, and he would bring her the best basil and the best lettuces and cartoon's. I mean, James Beard was eating cartoons in the early nineteen hundreds, something I don't even think Americans today know what is. So she really had a love and appreciation for good food, had to feed people. She worked in a hotel, she had her own rooming house. So it really mattered to her the food that she served and the quality that she served and she loved food to.

Speaker 2 Yeah. Let's say just because Ron Paul talks about market and. And how it was central to everyone's life, so maybe we could just start that sentence with. James Beard started going to the market as a child with his mother

Unidentified and then also with the.

Speaker 1 Of course, of course, shopping at the Yamhill market was a big thing for his mother. I mean, that's where they got a lot of their groceries and she would send her help to pick things up and James would go to the market with his mother and shop by her side. Now, he claims that she did not create hell when she would walk around. But I think people I think people should look in their shoes when James Beard's mother would come by because she knew what was up and she knew what was good and she wouldn't sell and she wouldn't settle for anything less than perfect. So I think James learned a lot just by being there next to her while doing the shopping.

Speaker 2 Oh. So let's talk a little bit about, you know, Portlandia for the restaurant

Unidentified scene today and then maybe kind of trying to the fact that

Speaker 2 it's kind of always had a thriving restaurant.

Speaker 1 I know. I know. Nowadays, Portland is really getting very popular and being supposedly up and coming for its food scene. But the truth of the matter is, even back then, there were some products to be had in Portland and some delicious food to be had. There couldn't be had elsewhere. One of the things that we're getting is so known for is our amazing produce and the things that grow here naturally, whether it's wild mushrooms like Chanterelle Porcini or Morrell's or Pinot Noir grapes or amazing berries. So I think one of the things that attracted James Beard's mother to Oregon and Portland in particular was the availability of all these wonderful fruits and vegetables. And she could have access to things from California because it was really only a drive up. So she knew what she had when she came here. She had the best of all the worlds being in a port city, great town, while proximity to California and and proximity to California. And that's still holds true today.

Speaker 2 Again, one of the guys claiming to be the only woman out there, again, always wanting to get her hands dirty.

Speaker 1 Well, James Beard's mother is a woman after my own heart. As he says, when women were subordinate and modest, she was forceful and fearless. And she would curse like a sailor, like I kind of do. And she'd go out with the guy. She'd go fishing with the guys. They go digging for razor clams. They go crabbing. James Beard had all these delicious things at his disposal from day one. James Beard had all these delicious foods at his disposal from day one, digging for crabs, I'm sorry, digging for razor clams at 4:00 in the morning, going crabbing in the waters, hanging out with the guys, fishing. His mom was right there and she just hung out there with the guys. And James Beer was a part of that to me.

Speaker 2 Again, that's another example of the bounty, right?

Speaker 1 Exactly. I mean, that is I mean, the bottom line is, is that Oregon has a bounty unequalled in the United States from the berries to the crab to the clams. These are the things James Beard was raised on. This is what he grew up on. How could he not love food and yeah.

Speaker 2 Do that one more time. And so, you know, so he really was kind of the first. Right. Right, right, right. James, you grew up in a time when there was no one, nothing else to do.

Unidentified You always kind of his mantra was the peak of season was closest to you were doing little to it. Yep.

Speaker 1 So in essence, James Beard truly was the first locavore. He had the good fortune of living in a location that had amazing food. So he could be, but he always advocated get the freshest berries, get the food from near you. But then again, he had the clams and the crabs and the berries and the grapes to eat. But he always advocated eat the freshest, eat what's near you, what grows near you. That will be the best. And he refined that palate growing up and then into older age. So he was the locavore movement before there was a movement. He always advocated eating locally. And again, California is just a drive away. So we did have access to lots of great fruits and vegetables that he might not have had had he been living in Minnesota, for example.

Unidentified So tell us

Speaker 2 about your experience when you think of your life.

Speaker 1 Well, to cook at the James Beard house, of course, it's like the Carnegie Hall for chefs. So I felt like, oh, my God, I've finally made it. I'm cooking at the beer house. And it was just really great just being in his kitchen, meeting his helper who was still alive. I can't remember his name, but he was meeting Clay, who was still sitting in the living room, ushering people back and forth. I just felt like James Beard was right there with me. And the truth be told, I mean, while so many James Beard chefs are doing the shishi food from whatever I know from everything I have read, the James Beard was all about the quality and the deliciousness. Much so and much more than the fufu and the finicky moving around of food. The kind of food I was making was truly the kind of food that James Beard would eat. And while he was a gourmand, James Beard appreciated really good, tasty food and didn't kind of like the snobbery that sometimes we're seeing around food today. He really was down and dirty and liked it really good and honest and didn't care so much for the elevated kind of cuisine that is sometimes being done in this house. You know that that is true, actually. People would say he'd walk into places he could you just give me the blah, blah, blah, because everybody was trying to impress him and they would just he just he just. Yeah, just give me a fricassee, say, yeah. So but anyway, I felt it by the time I got to the beard house and I knew that I was going to be serving her food and I was serving her food and having read so much about him, I felt kind of part of his family and I felt that I understood him that much more. And so being there and cooking his mother's food in his house, I felt a part of his family. And it was not only an honor, but it just really it just was really rewarding personally to be able to do that.

Speaker 2 What do you think you would think about, you

Speaker 1 know, to be really honest with you, I I guess he'd love to have his name in lights. I mean, the guy really did like his fame. But I think that a lot of what happens in the food world today and in his house in particular is kind of antithetical to some of the things that he stood for. So there are a lot of people that use his name and talk about elevated cuisine. And while he totally appreciated good cooking, fine food, what he cared most was about quality ingredients prepared well and not all. I don't know that he would necessarily approve of a tweezer and other kinds of funky chemical projects and products touching food. I think he I think James Beard had a much more holistic approach to food, and it was about as much nurturing the soul as nurturing the taste buds and the mind. And there is a certain point where some of the food that might be presented in his home is very different than the kind of food James Beard would have enjoyed putting in his belly or putting or putting in his mouth.

Speaker 2 All right. Let's talk a little bit about. Again, from the book a little bit about trying to tell a little bit about last week, kind of interesting, a little bit of this, you said, you know, we have to try to show that maybe you can talk about, you know, restaurants have always employ. Certainly on the West Coast,

Unidentified most good restaurants.

Speaker 1 Well, actually, the truth be told, Mrs. Berard had a hard time keeping the shishi fufu chefs that she had hired to feed her guests. So she had a lot of friends, chefs and all these European chefs come in, but they would come and go. And she finally reached her last straw. She had a chef and a sous chef leave and she said, you know what, enough of this. I'm going to hire an Asian chef. She knew that Chinese chefs around Portland were getting jobs and restaurants. She decided she was going to hire her own Chinese chef and have him trained the way she wanted him to be trained so that she wouldn't keep losing the people that she hired. So she hired this guy left. And she had had a French chef there at the time and she had the French chef train him. And of course, this chef left but left this of course, this chef left, but let stayed and left and let continue to work for Mrs. Beard until she actually sold the business. And boy, they were strong personalities and he and her went at it and they would argue about this and that. But James Beard really did say that let really did know how to make some delicious foods that his mother couldn't even come close to. So he really did Revere Let and he did hold him in high esteem. He was quite talented. I think in in addition to him having been trained, he had an innate ability.

Unidentified Great. That's wonderful. And I think, you know, he often says that he was like second

Speaker 1 and of course, let being the only man in the household because. James Beard. Oh, no. And of course,

Speaker 2 we yeah, I we just talk about how much of the relationship. So, you know, I just want to reiterate. Yeah. James Brown's mother, Mary, his father

Speaker 1 paid off his debts. I know. And then he lived. Yes. A child.

Speaker 2 Yep. Yep. In many ways it was really. Yep. You remember the Chicken Jilly's story? Yes. He got

Speaker 1 sick. He was sick in bed and he just loved chicken jelly as a kid. He was really sick. Right.

Speaker 2 Malaria or cholera. Yeah. And basically the only way to keep

Speaker 1 down was this chicken jelly. Right. Right. Superb chicken celly.

Speaker 2 Yeah. Which basically, you

Speaker 1 know, had a chicken the age of three. He was in bed with malaria.

Speaker 2 Yeah.

Speaker 1 So the truth be known, that was not only a great cook, but after Mrs. Berard sold her guest house, let moved in with them and helped cook for the family. And that was like another second dad to James Beer, probably the only dad because his dad really wasn't very involved in his life. He and Mrs. Beer led separate lives and let took him under his wing and I think also helped foster his love for food and cooking. He was once when James Beard was three years old and in bed with malaria, let made this chicken jelly the James Beard talks about in the first pages of his book. And he says there is nothing equal to that. And while we may not be fans of Chicken Jelly, James Beard was and let me read it for you.

Speaker 2 What do you what's your opinion on it? Tell us how you came to be.

Speaker 1 Well, I always had to work and make a living. I mean, like James Beard's mother, I've been a working mother ever since I had my well before I had my daughter. But I had been working full time for Weight Watchers and I worked full time in many different jobs, working 13 hour days, doing marketing and trying to get people to buy things they didn't need. All the while, in my free time cooking, reading about food, thinking about food, magazines, books, and I got to a certain point where I realized that life was too short to not spend it doing what I love. And so at the age of thirty three, I applied to the Culinary Institute of America and I had there were there were tons of layoffs at Weight Watchers International where I was working. They were laying people off all the time and I was just kind of waiting on me next. And my turn came. I got laid off and with that I said thank you, I'm going to the Culinary Institute of America and followed my passion. So I have a lot in common because she was in hospitality and hospitality and single mothers, single mother. And yes, some of my vendors say I'm a little tough. I really care about quality. So I really feel simpatico with her and fierce and fearless. Yeah, that's me.

Speaker 2 What were you

Speaker 1 doing? I went from ninety three to ninety five. I graduated in ninety five and you know I like her. I just there's so. Much I just really see myself in her, I really care about the quality of the produce, I really care about the quality of the food I serve to my guests. And that's exactly what she was doing then, and that's what she raised when she raised James Beard.

Speaker 2 Have you and I know what you guys do,

Unidentified this of history that you learned at CIA. One of the things I kind of want to talk about is the history of the restaurant in America.

Speaker 2 Well, let's let's touch on this. One thing we talk about briefly is prohibition, right. And how prohibition really ruined the restaurant industry

Unidentified in this country for. The duration of. Of Prohibition and. Because James will tell the story about he was everything they were going to

Speaker 2 close and their patrons basically begged them to stay open because I guess back in the day you get a free turkey sandwich if you bought a beer. So, you know, everyone would eat turkey sandwiches. And then they were like, well, we got to close because the kids there anymore. And they were like, we'll just sell the turkey sandwiches.

Speaker 1 And that's just like people's their

Speaker 2 turkey dinner Thanksgiving. Yeah, kind of thing was born, right. Of course, it's still going on today.

Unidentified You know that idea that.

Speaker 2 The modern restaurant. Existed at the turn of the century, but when prohibition came, much of that industry was decimated.

Speaker 1 Oh, OK. I didn't know that

Speaker 2 it wasn't really

Unidentified until after World War Two. To see restaurants get back on their feet and 39 votes

Speaker 2 fair, of course, brought the all to New York of the second age

Unidentified of the great restaurant. There's a lot for.

Speaker 1 I really don't I can't speak to Prohibition, I don't really know. I don't know

Speaker 2 what I

Speaker 1 you know, well, I just I think I think that would I think that what's really significant is James Beard is bringing up all these gourmet ingredients and talking and writing about all these things. The to people in the 70s and 80s was new, like they'd never heard of basil pine nuts. What's that cartoon's. What is that? But these are things that the guy was raised on. I mean, he knew all about these products. So while it was big news to many Americans, the things that James Beer was raised on were commonplace for him and of course, in Europe. So while the restaurant industry was growing, while Gourmet was becoming popular, James Beer was just doing what he always knew and was sharing information you always had while

Speaker 2 a

Speaker 1 while for a lot of people back in the 70s and 80s finding out about this gourmet thing or that new product or this berry that they never heard of gooseberries James Beard wrote about. These were all news to the people in the 80s and 70s. But to James Beard, this is where he grew up. And he knew about this long before. So he was sharing his knowledge, but he knew about it well before most Americans.

Speaker 2 So let's talk again. I expect to be in it. Yeah, well, let's talk a little bit about you know, you grew up where

Speaker 1 I grew up in Philadelphia and New York. And I subscribe to the first Bonapartist magazines when they came out and I was reading all that stuff. Yeah.

Speaker 2 And did you know about things that were going on in California? And we're kind of we want to point out why Jesus and Larry Forgione, why they were so. Yes. At the time that they were again, because people take it for granted. This kind of forced people. Well, what

Speaker 1 had happened, unfortunately or fortunately, in America, we have this whole period where women were starting to get back to the workforce. And so as they're getting back to the workforce, the marketers decide, oh, well, let's come up with TV dinners and let's come up with convenience foods so that mothers don't have to have the drudgery of cooking anymore. So then we went away from home cooking to all these premade foods. Well, then here comes the 70s and we're starting to get some backlash against all these premade foods. People are kind of reminiscing and remembering what a home cooked meal might use to have tasted like. And that's I think when we start to see the prevalence of James Beard and Julia Child starting to educate people and actually how to cook again and that there might be a whole nother level of cooking that people never knew existed up until that point, it was mom's meatloaf and spaghetti. Now, Julia and James are talking about other kinds of foods that people didn't hear of. They had an experience because they've been eating either lousy home cooking or convenience foods. And now a whole new door and world is opening up to interested people. Now, you then you have Chez Panisse and Larry Forgione who start to talk about local foods and fresh lettuces and berries that are only in season. And so people but actually that it was more in the 70s and 80s that we started to fly things in from all over the world. There was a time when you couldn't get an asparagus in Pittsburgh in the middle of January. But now in the 70s, 80s, flights are less expensive. Food can be transported from here to there. So and then we start to see strawberries and asparagus in January. They just may not be so good. So I think even before that's when you get the backlash against that and where people say, wait a minute, OK, you want strawberries and asparagus any time, but do you really want them? They're not delicious local from the area, grown in the terroir. Now that's a delicious fruit or vegetable. So we've gone back and forth from home cooking to no home cooking to trying to do gourmet cooking to available for fruits and vegetables not available. So it's we're gone riding the waves back and forth

Speaker 2 where we landed,

Speaker 1 where have we landed. OK, locavores, really big. But that's where mothers comes in because mothers always eat locavore. Mothers can't afford to serve funky fruits and vegetables out of season. We have to use what's available and what's in season and a lot of it. So even at my restaurant we've got strawberry rhubarb pie, strawberry, crisp, strawberry in a salad when it's strawberry season. And all my guests enjoy it because Oregonians know you've got to make hay while the sun shines. You eat those berries while they're in season. And that's what mothers always did. And that's what I do here at mothers. And that's what people and chefs are beginning to realize. While you can get anything, anywhere, any time, you might not always want it.

Lisa Schroeder
Interview Date:
American Archive of Public Broadcasting GUID:
"Lisa Schroeder, James Beard: America's First Foodie." American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). 20 May. 2015,
(2015, May 20). Lisa Schroeder, James Beard: America's First Foodie. [Video]. American Masters Digital Archive (WNET).
"Lisa Schroeder, James Beard: America's First Foodie." American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). May 20, 2015. Accessed May 29, 2022


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