James Beard: America’s First Foodie

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Food in the 21st century has become much more than “meat and potatoes” and canned soup casseroles.” Chefs have gained celebrity status; recipes and exotic ingredients, once impossible to find, are now just a mouse click away; and the country’s major cities are better known for their gastronomy than their art galleries. This food movement can be traced back to one man: James Beard. His name graces the highest culinary honor in the American food world today—the James Beard Foundation Awards. And while chefs all around the country aspire to win a James Beard Award, often referred to as the “culinary Oscars,” many of those same chefs know very little about the man behind the medal. Respected restaurateur Drew Nieporent summed it up when he said, “Everybody knows the name James Beard. They may not know who he is, but they know the name.”

America’s First Foodie: The Incredible Life of James Beard tells the story of the Portland, Oregon native, who had the first cooking show on television (1945); who was the author of 22 cookbooks along with a syndicated newspaper column and countless magazine pieces; and who ran an acclaimed cooking school out of his townhouse in New York City. James Beard introduced Julia Child to New York, boosting her place as a culinary grande dame. Child in turn once said, “I may have brought French cooking to America, but Jim brought American cooking to America.” He was a pioneer of the farm-to-table movement, consulting on menus for iconic restaurants such as The Four Seasons, promoting seasonally driven dining.

America’s First Foodie relates the story of Beard’s life while chronicling a century in the food movement. The film will weave the biography of the man the New York Times deemed “the Dean of American Cookery” while painting a gastronomic family tree.

The last chapter of the film will explore the post-Beard years, and will discuss how the billion-dollar food industry he helped found has changed. Since Beard’s death in 1985, the James Beard Foundation and House have continued his mission. The foundation is at the center of America’s culinary community and is dedicated to exploring the way food enriches our lives. The James Beard Foundation Scholarship Program helps aspiring culinary students realize their dreams by supporting them on a path to success. The Beard name has become synonymous with culinary excellence and each year thousands gather for the James Beard Foundation Awards.

Director/Producer Beth Federici and Co-Producer Kathleen Squires have interviewed many of the country’s epicurean icons, including Martha Stewart, Alice Waters, Jacques Pepin, Wolfgang Puck, Jeremiah Tower, Ted Allen, Judith Jones, Larry Forgione, Dan Barber, Gael Greene, Jonathan Waxman, Ruth Reichl and many more.

Through a recorded and printed oral history crafted by Beard himself, personal letters from Beard to his friends and colleagues, archival footage and interviews, we will weave the history of American cooking and gastronomy with the story of its Founding Father and will explore how the food world has evolved since his death. We will visit the places he loved, including his childhood homes of Portland and Gearhart Oregon, the great restaurants of New York, Portland, San Francisco and Chicago, the great public markets like Pike Place Market in Seattle and, of course, his second and final home, New York City. By marrying current footage with archival footage, interviews and animations, we hope to create a film that truly captures the color, spirit and genius that was James Beard.

This film is a co-production of Federici Films, WNET and American Masters.


Major funding for James Beard: America’s First Foodie is provided by Feast it Forward. Additional funding provided by the National Endowment for the Arts and Art Works.

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Major support for American Masters is provided by AARP. Additional funding is provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Rosalind P. Walter, The Philip and Janice Levin Foundation, Judith and Burton Resnick, Ellen and James S. Marcus, Vital Projects Fund, Lillian Goldman Programming Endowment, The Blanche & Irving Laurie Foundation, Cheryl and Philip Milstein Family, The André and Elizabeth Kertész Foundation, Michael & Helen Schaffer Foundation and public television viewers.