James Beard: America’s First Foodie

James Beard: Timeline

1903

James Andrews Beard is born in Portland, Oregon on May 5 to Mary Elizabeth Beard (nee Jones), owner of a boarding house called the Gladstone, and John Beard, a customs official.


1920

James Beard graduates from Washington High School in Portland. In the same year he enrolls in Reed College, poised to graduate with the class of 1924.


1921

James Beard is “asked to leave” Reed College on the grounds of homosexuality. Beard biographer Robert Clark wrote: “The matter was accomplished quickly, quietly and with no formal explanation, and every trace of his name was expunged from the college yearbook only a few weeks away from publication.”


1922

James Beard arrives in London to study voice. He also studies voice in Paris, while enjoying the city’s gastronomic charms. The following year he returns to the States, performing with a theatrical troupe in New York City.


Chef James Beard at Reed College

1924

Beard returns home to Portland, where he joins a theater troupe and works as a radio announcer.


1927

James Beard heads to Hollywood, where he receives bit parts in films such as Cecil B. DeMille’s King of Kings and Queen Kelly.


1928

Beard returns to Portland, where he continues to act in local theater. Over the next few years, he spends time in Seattle, where he studies acting, and enrolls in Carnegie Tech in Pittsburgh, where he spends one semester studying scenic and costume design. He returns to Portland again in 1932 where he works in radio and onstage and teaches cooking classes for the next five years.


1937

Beard moves to New York City to embark on an acting career.


1939

Unsuccessful as an actor, Beard starts a catering company, Hors d’Oeuvre, Inc.,  with his friends Bill and Irma Rhode. The venture was a smash with the Manhattan elite, earning praise from publications such as the New York Daily News and New Yorker. The Daily News noted the debut of one of Beard’s signature dishes, saying “it is the brioche onion sandwich which gives the palate its great moment.”


1940

James Beard publishes his first cookbook, Hors D’Oeuvre and Canapés, with recipes straight from his catering repertoire.


1942

Beard is drafted into the U.S. Army. He attends cryptography school and serves in the United Seamen’s Service, with stints in Puerto Rico, Brazil, France, and Panama.


1946

On August 30, at 8:15pm, following the televised boxing matches, Beard’s television show, “I Love to Eat” premieres on NBC. It is the first national cooking show in television history.


1954

The New York Times hails James Beard as the “Dean of American Cookery.”


1955

The James Beard Cooking School is established in New York City. He would continue to teach until his death.


1959

James Beard collaborates with restaurateur Joe Baum on the Four Seasons Restaurant in New York City.


Chef James Beard

1964

James Beard releases his memoir, Delights and Prejudices, which chronicles his early life in Oregon, his travels abroad, his early cooking classes and, his love of cooking and American cuisine. The chapters are punctuated with his recipes, of course.


1973

Beard on Bread, James Beard’s bestselling cookbook, is published.


1976

On May 16, Reed College finally acknowledges Beard by awarding him an honorary degree.


1981

James Beard and restaurant critic Gael Greene establish Citymeals-on-Wheels, which provides food for the homebound elderly. The charity has served over 50 million meals since.


1985

On January 21, James Beard dies of heart failure. He was 81 years old. His ashes were scattered in Gearhart, Oregon, by his friends Mary Hamblet and Jerry Lamb.


Left to Right: Chefs Julia Child, James Beard and Edna Lewis

1986

Peter Kump, Julia Child, and a group of chefs and friends of James Beard buy his townhouse and establish The James Beard Foundation with the mission “to provide a center for the culinary arts and to continue to foster the interest James Beard inspired in all aspects of food, its preparation presentation, and of course, enjoyment.”


1989

On March 11, Beard’s onetime companion, pastry chef Gino Cofacci, dies of cancer at 75 years old.


1991

The first James Beard Foundation Awards are given, honoring chefs and restaurants across the country. Known as the “Oscars of the food world,” Rick Bayless, Emeril Lagasse, Wolfgang Puck, Nancy Silverton, David Bouley and M.F.K. Fisher were among the first winners.


2020

Ground will break on the James Beard Public Market in Portland, Oregon.