Transcript:

Speaker 1 I know that I wish I could have hung out with her, James Spears mother was a character and the perfect person from whom an additional character might be seen to spring in. The person of James James Brown's mother ran a boarding house, was a fantastic cook, very fiercely independent woman, a woman who had all kinds of affairs. And when I say all kinds, I mean all kinds of genders, something of a libertine, from what I can tell in the reading

Speaker 2 of

Speaker 1 James Spears father, was her second marriage. And it seems to me that it was a marriage that that really resulted from her wanting to have a child more so than her having a great deal of affection for Mr. Beer. In fact, he ended up and she ended up basically booting him out of the house. She always kept their finances separate. She was that kind of woman. And she raised a kid who went on to become a very unusual character himself.

Speaker 2 Tell me about how you first became aware.

Speaker 1 You know, I came along much too late to have the opportunity to know James Beer and one of many people in the culinary world that that so many of us pine for for that Julia Child being among them. He you know, any of us who was lucky enough to work in food media or to even be a chef has stands on his shoulders. I think the American Culinary Revolution that he helped to launch so many decades ago is something that he would couldn't possibly even recognize today. And almost everything that's happened in the years since he became the dean of American cookery, a word that I don't like has been nothing, almost nothing but good. I mean, James Beard sort of washed up on the shores, and that's a bad metaphor. James Beard was enormous, an enormously important figure in American cooking at a time when American cooking was really sort of a desert. There were decades and decades when the most of the population of this country, there was sort of an indigenous style of American cooking that I think came out of the south where there was a reverence for fresh vegetables and Southern style cooking. But and of course, there are culinary traditions in New Orleans and in New England, but there wasn't much appreciation in most of our country for the foods of other countries. There wasn't much understanding of what we now recognize as probably the greatest cuisine or certainly in the top five in the world and being French cooking an appreciation of those techniques which have now been made nouvelle and then made nouvelle again, but serve as the underpinning for much of the great cooking in our country today. Nobody knew about that in Ohio, in Memphis, in Schenectady, in Dallas, Beard came along with a reverence for these techniques and appreciation for foods of of the world at a time when most Americans had no clue about this cuisines. I first learned about James Beard when I was a magazine writer in Chicago working for Chicago magazine, and this was in the earliest days of the James Beard Awards. And he passed away in eighty seven or eighty five. Eighty five. By the time I had heard of James Beard, he had already been dead for eight to ten years and the James Beard Awards were just getting started. And quickly, almost immediately, almost overnight, they became the most coveted prize in all of American cooking. Today, the James Beard Awards are without question, the Oscars of the food world, the Oscars of the restaurant business, of the cookbook author, business of food journalism. It's a glittery black tie affair to today. And I can't imagine what James Beard would say other than to be manifestly thrilled that this is his legacy. There's not a chef alive in America who doesn't desperately want a James Beard award, doesn't desperately want to be invited to the James Beard house to cook. It's an honor. It's a rite of passage that really heralds you as as as has having arrived on the American food scene. And I think James would have loved that. You told us those three.

Speaker 2 Did you mean by that? Why do you think he got

Speaker 1 to be perfectly honest, I can't remember why I said that,

Speaker 2 because he was he was an openly gay man,

Speaker 1 very dangerous. And I don't know how if that's true, I don't know if that's the way I'd want to put it, because I can't really know for certain how much of an out maverick he was for how long

Speaker 2 you knew he was gay.

Speaker 1 Yes. Let me I'll talk a little about that. But so one day I was I'm very fortunate in that the James Beard Foundation has been kind enough to invite me to. At the awards every year for the past six or seven years, Susan O'Gara is a great friend of mine and has inspired me to want to contribute to this this endeavor. Moreover, it's a night of great fun to have the chance to be the person who attempts to fit a ribbon around. Ruth Reichl enormous hairdo is a privilege, and I've done it and it's not easy. Those you know, the Beard Award hangs about here, so the ribbon isn't very long. And Ruth Reichl has a famously enormous nimbus of dark hair that I had to navigate that ribbon around. And one day I was on my way to the beard awards in my tuxedo, all excited. And I decided, you know, I should read a little more about James, about the man. And the first thing I went to was his obituary in The New York Times. And when he passed away in 1985, his passing was front page news. New York Times. They did a very thorough obituary on Mr. Beard and his life and accomplishments and the many, many cookbooks that he wrote and sold. And one thing that was very conspicuously missing was the fact that James Beard was openly gay and had been his whole life. He he wasn't always extremely vocal about it, but he knew from a very early age that he was gay. He writes that he figured that out when he was about seven, which sounds more like something you would hear today. Now that we have gay role models, that's not something you had a lot of back in the early part of the century, excepting perhaps Oscar Wilde, not viewed by everybody as the most wholesome of a gay role models, but

Speaker 2 it's quite

Speaker 1 a bon vivant. So I found the Times omission of this crucial aspect of James Beard's life to be sort of puzzling. And I actually wrote an email to one of the more prominent columnists at the Times who is also gay, who said he would look into it. But I didn't. To this day, that omission is still there. In fact, he is described in his obituary as a college dropout. Well, it's a little more complicated than that. James Beard went to college at Reed College in Portland, which today is a haven for all sorts of counterculture types. You could even the word pinko sometimes comes up when people are describing this little this little liberal arts. College wasn't so much the case when James Beard was a freshman. He was he was actually kind of a big man on campus, figuratively and otherwise. He was a performer. He was an aspiring actor. And so he appeared in all sorts of plays and musical events. He was the treasurer of his freshman class. He was very visible on campus, often written about it in the school newspaper. He also had an affair with at least one male professor and a couple of male students. This was at a time when homosexuality was obviously not just frowned upon, but was actually illegal. And it remained that way for many, many, many decades. And James was just a little too out at a time when nobody was out and he was kicked out of school. There are some who say that it was sort of mutually agreed upon. But when you read about how he felt afterwards, that kind of brings a little hollow to me. He was depressed and bewildered and wandering around on the beach trying to figure out what to do with his life. His mother tried to make the best of a bad situation and sign him up for for vocal instruction in London. At the time, he still dreamed of becoming an actor, a performer of some kind, but he must have eventually come around to forgiving the school. He left half of his estate to Reed College, but as you can imagine, getting kicked out of school at that tender age would be devastating to anybody for any reason. And that kind of scandal is not something that would be easy to recover from in nineteen twenty. So to me that seems from a very early age, his sexuality was an enormous part of his life to then become an icon in American cooking and entertaining and cuisine. One of the first people ever to become a television personality, cooking and teaching, cooking to other people. The fact that that was a big part of his life is something that I think is a major omission in the paper of record. And frankly, I think it should be changed.

Speaker 2 Why do you think he was admitted in 1985?

Speaker 1 I have not spoken to the person who wrote James Beard's obituary, and I don't know I can't know why his homosexuality was omitted from his obituary except to sort of speculate that in 1985, nineteen eighty five,

Speaker 2 the

Speaker 1 West Village and much of New York was awash in death and grief, and the term AIDS probably hadn't even. In coined, yet it was 1983 that the Times first published anything about what they called them Grid Gay Related Immunodeficiency. So maybe the obituary writer thought he was doing a favor because anybody gay who died in nineteen eighty five or six or 87, it was automatically presumed that they died of AIDS, what would later become known as AIDS. That's just nothing but speculation on my part. I still think that with the gay rights movement where it was in eighty five and and we now know that the AIDS activism movement had a lot to do with making gay lesbian Americans more free. Eventually, as we are now and I'm married with an M with A capital M, I am married 100 percent married to

Speaker 2 Barry Rice,

Speaker 1 not a partner, not a civil union. Something else I think James Beard might might be excited to see had he had he lived this long? Look, it's not like this is the only thing I care about. It's not it's not that that part of a person's identity is the only thing that matters or for some people, even the most important thing. I just think that it was clearly a part of James Brown's character. There's a reason why he bought that townhouse on West 12th Street and not the Upper East Side or Rochester. Know, all due respect

Speaker 2 today to be hard to navigate the kind of.

Unidentified Now, still today, or you think things are going on?

Speaker 1 Well, I don't work in a kitchen. What I hear from I know a lot of chefs, some of my best friends are chefs. The classic sort of hierarchical French style brigade of managing a kitchen historically was extremely macho. It's even called a brigade. The terminology is very, very much top down. The title Chef is a title with great respect and one that has to be earned. And then when it is earned, you are referred to as chef. Yes, chef. No, Chef. I'm sorry, chef. Hit me with a fieldtrip again, chef for misbehaving. So the culture of the kitchen historically has been a pretty a place of machismo. The front of the house was always a lot more embracing of the more flamboyant and theatrical among us. And I think, you know, having come from a you know, my entree into television was Queer Eye for the Straight Guy on Bravo, where we were doing nothing but exploring stereotypes and tensions between gays and straights. And there have always been certain professions that have been a little more welcoming to people like us. I think also waiting tables, being a being a front of the house manager is something that lends itself to somebody who is outgoing and personable and at points theatrical. It's a lot like putting on a show, you know, running a restaurant. And obviously the theater is a place where many of us gravitate. It is a place that James Beard wanted to be himself. So the kitchen and restaurants and the culinary scene have a long history of being intertwined with the gay and lesbian world. I personally haven't had too much trouble navigating the culinary world to the extent that I do. I come at it from the media side of things. It seems to be a place where I wonder, you know, I wonder if as far there are a heck of a lot of openly gay male chefs who have risen to prominence, I think our team tends to gravitate toward the front of the house. Maybe we like nice suits. I don't know. Maybe we like expelling, denying reservations to people who aren't cute in the kitchen also has not historically been a friendly place for women. I think you actually see more representation of gay women in the kitchen openly and overtly being out than you see among gay men. I know far more lesbian chefs than I know openly gay male chefs. I don't really think it's really that relevant in the food world today. I would be surprised. Look, if you can cook, you can cook. And if there are people who are not going to recognize that because of your sexuality, I don't know why you'd be bothered with people like that. That's a long answer. I'm sorry. More Hemingway, less hardy, much more anyway.

Speaker 2 So as a writer, James Beard about his taste memory.

Unidentified Right. So what do you recall is something of significance, early memories?

Speaker 1 You know, James Beard, one of the things I love about James Beard is is one of the things I really love about James Beard is his love not only of cuisine, but of comforting food. He always said that if he if he had to name his last meal on Earth, that would be bacon and eggs. I love that. I love that appreciation for things that are just yummy at my office at CHOP. We often talk about food that has that sort of the sort of indefinable, yummy characteristic that has nothing to do with fancy technique or bells and whistles or food that's 16 inches tall on your plate, but has to do with food that is satisfying and soulful and things the things that you crave. And when I think about that kind of food, I think about my grandmother. I think about banana pudding with vanilla wafers in which I call the tiramisu of the South. I think that's something that James Beard would certainly appreciate. I think about Southern style green beans that are cooked with a hammock and onion and Tabasco until they're so soft that you could eat them without teeth. The food that that that reminds you of, of your loved ones, of your family's traditions. My earliest food memories. I'll tell you my proudest. I remember when I was in the single digits, I think I was about eight or nine years old. One Southern comfort food that I did not like was lima beans. And my and my family made me eat them. And one day I figured out that I could pop them in my mouth one at a time, like an aspirin and chase them with water. And it didn't have to taste them today. I love them. That was a real triumph for me. I mean, I think for most of us, your early food memories are cherished because they're always intertwined with grandma or an auntie or your mother. And Beard himself remembers as a as a really young child crawling over to his mother's onion bin and taking a big bite straight out of an onion and eating the whole thing. I wouldn't even do that. And I love food. I have memories. I have memories of my grandparents lived in Florida and they had citrus trees in their backyards, both of them. And I remember my cousin Tim being young enough to clamber around inside a box of oranges that we had picked from my grandma's tree. I mean, when he was two. That's the kind of power that food can evoke in memory. And I think that's a really one of the more wonderful things about it. I think that cooking with your loved ones and with your family, which was something that Beard was a huge proponent of from the very, very beginning, is so overwhelmingly important and powerful and meaningful and special. And you see people like Michael Pollan and Mark Bittman writing about this today and Michael Ruhlman and, you know, the love and respect that we have for this art. This craft is bigger than it's ever been. And you find chefs expressing that. You find chefs expressing that reverence and that beauty in every city in the country. It's not just New York and New Orleans and San Francisco anymore. It's Memphis and Rochester and Schenectady and Albany and Indianapolis. It's everywhere. And, you know, it's funny because one of my favorite biographies of James Brown, probably the best one, was the one that was written by Robert Clark in 1993. I know you're going to talk to him and I think that's fantastic. But when you look at the way Robert Clark wrote in that book about the phenomenon of the celebrity chef and a food network and all the other food media, it's it already sounds a little antique. We've gone we've the business has exploded. The growth in Americans interest in culinary and cooking and great food has grown has exploded so much since nineteen ninety three that I think Mr. Clark needs to write a new epilogue to the book. James Beard could never have envisioned what was going to be done in his name via the foundation, via the James Beard Awards. Nor could he have envisioned what would happen in food media, nor could he have envisioned that I go to book signings for my little cookbooks and I get parents who bring a seven year old boy up to the signing table and tell me that their kids, their kids in the seat, that young, seven, eight, nine years old, are saying, Mom, I'm really craving a little more salt in this dish. You know, Mom, you know, this would really be brightened with a squeeze. They don't say a sitter. They said a little squeeze of lemon, maybe some lemon zest, maybe a little tomato, a little vinegar. This is children in Midwestern cities. This is kids in Milwaukee, kids in Florida talking about food, having a reverence for food, kids getting parked in front of Food Network all day long because their parents know that it's safe and that the kids are going to enjoy it and the kids are going to learn about food at such an early age. I'm rambling a bit, but I think where we are with food in America today is something that James Beard couldn't possibly have envisioned. And if he could see it, and I hope he can, he.

Speaker 2 It's interesting you say that you couldn't possibly be missing. Do you feel like you had a hand in the Shefa celebrity or.

Speaker 1 And I think it's inescapable that Food Network couldn't have entered anybody's mind without the work that came before from Martha Stewart, from Julia Child, from James Beard, from Clag, from Craig Claiborne, from Jeff Smith. They were the early they were the early adopters in the 50s and 60s. James Beard making television about cooking French food. It's beautiful to see. Could he have known that an entire network would be created in the early 80s? That would be about nothing but food and cooking. I mean, people laughed when Food Network was launched. They don't laugh anymore. And he showed his

Speaker 2 first show, 40.

Unidentified And they can't do much.

Speaker 1 Can I steal that from you? It was sponsored by Bordin Steering Board and the cow that came out of the

Speaker 2 account was like, you know, sponsored. I'm the to. OK, you wouldn't catch a commercial break. You would just be a commercial break. The cow would come out. And I think that's OK because you really want to speak.

Speaker 1 OK, I'm going to steal that from you.

Speaker 2 So I'm going to

Speaker 1 you like animal. So remember when Food Network was launched in nineteen eighty three people left, people said, oh that's

Speaker 2 ninety three point three. He was nine.

Speaker 1 Oh because this is our 20th anniversary. Oh yeah. God it seems older than that. I we. So when Food Network was launched as a cable channel in nineteen ninety three people laughed. People said Oh you can't taste through a television. There aren't enough people who want to learn how to cook. No one's going to watch that. People don't laugh anymore. But you know, when you, when you, when you think about the idea oh is food television a good idea in the early 90s? Well, James Beard's first TV show came out in nineteen forty six sponsored by Bordin at a time when the show was eventually canceled because Bordin wasn't sure that television was going to work as a business. Oh, that's funny. And now, well, look, now we have not only Food Network, we also have Cooking Channel with two full time cable networks devoted to food and cooking. Not only that, but every network on the spectrum wants to get into the food space, as they call it. And we're talking about network networks. So, you know, I don't think that the public's demand for food media is enormous. I don't think it's going anywhere. People have been asking, when is the celebrity chef fad going to go away? And it has. And I don't think it's going away. I think it has changed a lot from the early days of the one name famous chefs, the Martha, Emeril, Mario model. It's like everything else in media, cable television and with the Internet. Everything is so fragmented. People have so many choices, so many places they can consume this media, particularly when it comes to things like instructional cooking shows you saw you see at Food Network. More of an emphasis now on competitive cooking show shows that turn cooking into a sport. There are still people who want to watch programming in which they learn how to roast a leg of lamb and they can get that more places than ever, notably cooking channel also notably on the Internet. It's the kind of thing that when I want to know how to do something, I kind of want that in an on demand basis. So if I want to know how to, I can't wait for Lidia Bastianich to show me how to roast a leg of lamb I of I'm going to go hunt for it myself. And I think that's a natural evolution of the information marketplace and the hugeness that that that it is today. But has that seen a demise of the celebrity chef? Are you kidding? There are more than ever. There are more opportunities than ever to write about food and cooking and restaurants. The hard part is getting paid for it. That's the hard part. And again,

Speaker 2 because.

Unidentified What she misses now is the instructional process, the Julia Child, and she said I.

Speaker 1 And, you know, I think that when the nature of what the celebrity chefs of today, it's there was kind of a golden era for a while of celebrity chefs when they truly were people known by only one name, you know, Martha, Emeril, Bobby, Giada, Ina, Lidia Bastianich, one of my very favorite people in all the television where you developed a relationship with this person through your screen and you just wanted to cook whatever they were cooking. Today, we have a lot more different types of food shows. We have competition shows like the one I hosted. We have Iron Chef, we have MasterChef, we have Top Chef. We have all these different shows, knife fight from Esquire, even Esquire magazine, which has launched a a cable channel of its own, very men's oriented, macho style, swaggering kind of brand that I've been affiliated with myself actually for some odd reason. And I love the magazine. I had what I feel like was a very personal relationship with Martha Stewart. She was not aware of it, but that's I actually probably learned more from Martha Stewart than anybody else on TV because her knowledge was so encyclopedic and she would show you everything from how to make a croquembouche to how to make a great mac and cheese. And you do. And I guess the one I guess I do kind of miss those kinds of relationships with television people. One of my favorite cooking shows that ever that's ever aired was Eric with the great chef Eric Repair on PBS, where he would travel to, say, an apiary and show you how beekeeping is done. And then he would come home and make a dish with honey in it and. But I don't think I don't think I don't think the phenomenon of the celebrity chef is particularly important. I think what's important is charismatic people on television teaching us this great love of this great craft and how important it can be in your life and how important it can be to your children and how it brings everybody together. And for me, food and cooking is one of the last bastions of ritual in this busy culture of ours. You know, fortunately, the Jetsons was inaccurate in its prediction that we would no longer need to eat and that we would just take a protein till we do still need to eat. And I think we need it more than ever. And the specialness of cooking with your family and friends and sitting down and sharing it, traveling around the world without ever leaving your home through cuisine is more popular and more important than ever. And I think TV's played an important role in that. None of this would have happened without James Beard, without Jeff Smith, without the child, without Craig Claiborne, without any number of other people who were. But I got to say, a Mr. Beard was definitely one of the first one of the first besides his

Speaker 2 legacy that we're seeing on television in other ways. This is legacy of the

Unidentified for women in the. There are other ways.

Speaker 2 I'm sorry, Ingredion, if you look at that,

Speaker 1 OK, I can I can work with that. One of my colleagues on Chope, one of my colleagues on Chopped chef Aron Sanchez, is very fond of saying, why are people making this big deal about farm to table? I mean, the food always came from farms and we always eat at the table. Why is this something that anybody is describing as new? James Beard's mother was farm to table in nineteen hundred. You know, she had relationships with farmers. She wanted the best local produce. Italians and villagers were farm to table back when they had no other option. Seasonal cooking was the only kind of cooking because when it wasn't in season, you couldn't get it. Or if you could, it was ridiculously expensive. True. Still today, you know, it's a very American idea that you should be able to have a cantaloupe in February and asparagus in November. And you can because we'll FedEx it from someplace and it'll cost seven dollars a pound. And it won't be very I'm talking about asparagus and it won't be very good. James Beard was an advocate for seasonal local cooking long before it became a fashionable marketing term for American restaurants here in the early aughts. How else would you cook? Why would you cook any other way? It's funny how, you know, as as exceptional as America certainly is in so many ways, our desire to get away from the drudgery of the kitchen in the 50s and 60s and 70s resulted in the suppression of good cooking and the loss of an art form for decades that our parents generation were largely responsible for it. My mother is a great cook to this day, but she doesn't do anything fancy. And growing up, we were so excited when we got our man radar range, it seemed like the future food was going to come in packets and from giant corporations and that this was the way to go. And no more than it sounds like such a Jetsons fifties idea. No more laboring over a hot stove. I am very happy to labor over a hot stove. I like to cook over a wood fire. I don't even like food. That's quick ironic considering where I work. I'm a slow food person very much. I have a garden on my roof in Brooklyn. I grow my own tomatoes and herbs. This idea is something that I can't take credit for. Actually, it's been around a long time and James Byrd was talking about this at a time when it was very much against the grain.

Speaker 2 Yeah, yeah. No, actually, the home economics

Unidentified started in 1990 and things started to go downhill

Speaker 2 and people were like me. Everything had to be said.

Speaker 1 You had someone talking about that,

Speaker 2 you know, when you and I were talking before and I like buy the twenty six percent. We weren't allowed to have fun, and she just

Unidentified and that was pretty awful. What else would you do?

Speaker 2 So we know he was not a huge problem. First, you know that I'm the one saying, OK, I'm I'm done with my body. You stay where you are. That's where I'm going eventually. OK, you're allowed to run away and you want to be a policy person when he was not a giant activist, although he did talk about which I think. Fascinating, you know, at a time in the late 60s and early 70s, when you started to see people being hurt in the housing market, when you started to see people who lived in places like St. Louis and Chicago, they had a shanty shack. They had it was basically a cardboard box that they owned it and they had a little piece of land and they could grow something, which is all there. That's everybody.

Unidentified And then you start to see people move into housing projects and then we sort of see what is that? It wasn't necessarily an excuse to be

Speaker 2 concerned about that. And I'm just wondering what you think. Like we've got the. Recession. Yet we still have a level of hunger

Unidentified in this country that is ridiculous, considering. What I want you to say about that, except

Speaker 2 that I feel like in the film is, you know, you do want to talk about where things have gone from 85 to. Talk about the media

Unidentified explosion and what sounds like a. And we're starting to see what type of peaceful

Speaker 2 cookbooks, not just your name, but. And everybody knows what they're talking about,

Speaker 1 but that's something that OK, and he published 22 of them right now. James Beard published 22 cookbooks and he never really wrote an autobiography. But the closest he came was the James Beard Celebration Cookbook, which is the book in which he announced publicly that he was gay. And then he's always been gay and he knew he was gay since he was seven years old. Again, this is not the only thing about James Beard that matters to me by a long shot. But I do think it's an important part of his character. And I think it's frankly, it's something that we in the LGBT community deserve credit for. Darn it, he was one of ours. We have long been a part of the hospitality business. And and he was one of the heroes. He is one of the icons in American cooking, and he's one of ours. Thanks. James Beard wrote twenty two cookbooks, as I mentioned, but they weren't just cooking. James Beard wrote 22 cookbooks, many of them that sold very, very well. But they were just cookbooks. They were filled with stories and humor and wit and acid. He was a tart man. He was a man with strong opinions. And he wasn't a big sort of food policy person, but he had a lot to say about our culture. And maybe that's and today in so many cookbooks, you you see people with much less personality and character to back it up, attempting to do the same thing, I mean, to read through delights and prejudices. One of my favorite of Beard's books is to really sort of participate in a phone conversation. James lived in a townhouse on West 57th Street, which today is the headquarters of the James Beard Foundation. And every time I go there for a dinner, they have dinners at the James Thurber Foundation. They invite prominent chefs from all over the country to come at their own expense and cook a dinner to raise money for the foundation. And every chef in the country desperately wants that invitation. No one turns down that invitation. It's so prestigious. It's such a rite of passage for an emerging young talent. Every time I go to dinner at the James Beard house, much of it is is kept in the condition that James left it in. And I can just imagine the conversations. I can just imagine it's like it's like wanting to be at the table with Dorothy Parker in the Carlyle back in the day. Can you just imagine the people that came through that house? Celebrities, politicians and musicians and society mavens and food experts and haughty French chefs? Just just the things that were said and the jokes that were told and the wine that was had? I it's one of the great regrets that that I'll always have that I that I couldn't have been there in the day. But, you know, you can get a little bit of that feeling now. And thank God that the James Beard house is the James Beard house and not just the home to some hedge fund manager, which it otherwise would be, or some rock star. It's a place for the public, for the people. Anybody can go to a dinner at the James Beard Foundation. And it's a fairly modest price considering that it's a fundraiser for a charitable group. The the James Beard Foundation does a lot of things. People may not realize. They create scholarships for four promising young culinary students. They have imbued this profession. I don't know if we call it a profession that they have imbued the craft of cooking with a level of prestige that without which I don't think Food Network ever would have become what it is or or many of the other food media that are out there, they've they've given chefs something to aspire to that they wouldn't have otherwise had. It's like it's like a temple. It's a Mecca. It's a place where chefs, any chef that comes to New York City, they've got to take that walk down 12th Street and look at the place and dream about cooking there someday. It's a good time.

Speaker 2 So what should we be keeping? We've got this great obsession,

Unidentified but yes, there's a lot of people still starving, some

Speaker 1 beard. And was it Barbara Kafka founded Sending Meals on Wheels? Eighty one Pilgrim, Gayle Greene. Have you talked to her? Yes. She's a nut.

Speaker 2 Not fault that Gayle Greene.

Speaker 1 My goodness. I had dinner with Gayle Greene once. It was awesome. She is. She's a legend. Another legend. Was it 1981, I believe,

Speaker 2 when we found it? Yeah, I think it was 1981. I'm going to Google it,

Speaker 1 but I just think I got something else wrong with your people.

Speaker 2 You know, literally every single thing. She sure is my child, I think with whips and that grim reaper trying

Unidentified to remember back to like something and

Speaker 2 then emerged as a plane

Speaker 1 with a captain's hat. Oh, my God. She looks great, you know.

Speaker 2 Yeah, please. Janet Jones, almost 90, and she was back.

Speaker 1 I'm so glad you're getting getting these people while you can. It's almost like

Speaker 2 you met Mr. Clay, probably when you were at the James House, African-American assistant forever. You know, I don't know whether I have my number two. So we have him in May.

Speaker 1 Oh, my gosh. You got to him. He was James, his personal assistant from 19. What were they, an item? We don't know.

Speaker 2 Maybe one. He used to be a stripper. And they probably I think he probably

Speaker 1 had no women because that's usually who? The Liberace and his driver.

Speaker 2 Yeah, right. Right, right. And not for the last 20 years, 1981. He was worked for him, Joan Crawford, Joan Crawford. And be away from him. You can't work for her anymore because

Speaker 1 she was so mean. Oh, that's hilarious. So I'm sure James was doing the guy an enormous favor. Yeah. So. It is something it is something of a paradox that at a time when American cooking is that it's better than it's ever been and is more diverse than it's ever been, that hunger in America is being recognized more, that hunger in America is also a worse problem than it's ever been. It doesn't help that our economy is not doing so

Speaker 2 well right now,

Speaker 1 but it's only natural for people in the food television business, in the restaurant business. You know, I always say whenever you're trying to raise money for a worthy cause, whether it's a disease or hunger or anything, literacy, the first place you always go is to the restaurant community and they always step up. This business, which is so harassed by health and inspectors and so harangued on sites like Yelp and Etre by the public, I don't know why we have this sort of love, hate tension with restaurants. Restaurants are so at the heart of the community and of the community when it comes to helping this generosity that's just built in to the restaurant. And cooking life is something that James Beard obviously felt as well. James Beard and Gayle Green founded City Meals on Wheels in nineteen eighty one, bringing meals to homebound and ill and elderly people and eventually, certainly many, many people with HIV and AIDS over the years still very much in business today. You see chefs like Mario Batali, my colleague on Shopped, Mark Murphy is hugely involved with Share Our Strength. No Kid Hungry Food Network devotes all of its charitable endeavors. Are the primary thrust of Food Network's charitable endeavors is share our strength. No kid hungry. Jeff Bridges is the spokesman. They raise enormous amounts of money to try to fight this problem. People don't realize to this day that hundreds of thousands of kids in New York City go to sleep hungry, hungry almost every night. Hundreds of thousands of poor kids in New York. If they don't go to school, they don't eat lunch. You know, we I mean, the restaurant industry and the the restaurant industry and the people in the food media business are devoted to this cause in fighting hunger. And by the way, you know, we can talk about, you know, organic and farm to table and locally sourced and cruelty free and whatnot all you want. But we have a world that is full of hungry people and addressing that problem. Seventeen dollars cantaloupes are not helping to fix that problem. It's going to take. I don't know what going to tell you, I think it's just a natural fit for people who are fortunate enough to make it in this business, whether that's in the restaurant side or the publishing side or the media side or the game show host side that I happen to be on. People who are lucky enough to make it in this business, I think feel a natural affinity for fighting hunger. And I'm very proud to be on a network that does so much work on behalf of share our strength, no kid hungry, whatever little things I can do. And if you look around you, the primary people leading that fight are people in the food business. And James Beard and Gayle Green were there decades ago.

Unidentified I know we probably have the rap right now. Oh, no, we're all right. And then yes, I know you are.

Speaker 1 I'm OK.

Speaker 2 So if you need some more.

Speaker 1 No, but I've got it right here and then. Yeah.

Unidentified The one thing that I don't know how we get there, but I think that what he is concerned with, too, is that

Speaker 2 fewer and fewer people,

Unidentified especially poor people, have the. It's kind of like manifest, right?

Speaker 2 Community garden is like places where people, especially in urban centers, can can not only eat, but be part of their own food comes from beer, you know, not mother had an amazing carneros relationships with farmers. It's a shame that when you go to the farmer's market, now that the property market, you know, some places you can take them to, other places you can't write that. It's not this amazing. Can never before a person kind of cut off those food desert. You not just about going hungry. That there there are a few differences, you

Speaker 1 know, how they had

Speaker 2 to be taken by

Unidentified me on one way to get to the banking system, let alone the farmers

Speaker 2 market where they could get. I don't have the ability I don't know anything about because we moved of housing projects for House and they're cut off from our. And I think I know somebody it was kind of the one thing before you hooked up game.

Unidentified But he was concerned using agricultural land. We didn't mean to tell me, you know, the family

Speaker 2 farm then brought stuff to the neighbors and trade has now been a bunch of potatoes and you'll come to work on them. And of course, that was in early March. You know, how do we address especially urban Americans cut off from being able to actually get your own hands? You know, some people are doing great things. Alice Waters doing, you know, they garden and school gardens and all that for me.

Speaker 1 Well, we're living in a time where you actually see what we're living in, a time where you see what is described it. There are a lot of people living in urban areas that have no place to buy wholesome Whole Foods. We call these areas food deserts. You see them in in rough neighborhoods in Baltimore, all over New York City, places where there simply aren't decent grocery stores. And while New York City is a place where you can use food stamps or SNAP or WIC benefits to buy food at farmer's markets, how much how helpful is that when one bunch of ramp's is seven dollars? I mean, you you can't afford it. Jamesburg was concerned about this from an early age. I mean, James Beard's mom had an incredible car. She had practically a farm from which she got most of what she served in her boardinghouse in her restaurant. She was proud of her cooking and her cooking was great. The problem of hunger in America is a very complex and political situation where it tends to be mostly about shelf life and money. And even if you have a gigantic supermarket that's full of produce, the the food, the food industrial complex of America doesn't make its money selling you bananas. They make their money selling you dried bananas in some kind of package that will keep for six years. You know, they make their money selling processed foods. They make their money adding value, adding value, the added value of convenience of being able to pop up a can and stick in the microwave. And and dinner's ready in two seconds. But I don't have the answer for that. There is not a simple answer for how you deal with people who don't have a lot of economic resources feeding their family wholesome food. One of the issues is money. Obviously, good food, better food is more expensive. One of the major issues this time, whenever I meet people who say I wish I know, I don't know how to cook, I can't cook. And I say, but you're a news anchor. You went to Harvard, you're an attorney, you're a policeman, you're highly skilled, you're a schoolteacher. You're a very skilled person. Of course, you could learn how to cook. You just don't have time or you aren't making the time or you haven't you don't happen to love doing it the way I do. When you don't have economic resources and you're working three jobs and you're struggling to pay for your kid's daycare and you come home dead tired at 10:00 p.m. for your four hours of sleep, I don't know the answer. I don't know the answer of how you feed your kids organic broccoli. I don't know. I don't know the answer to that question. It's tough. I do know I don't know enough about it to really comment about this,

Speaker 2 but the idea that we start early, we have community gardens, that we teach kids how you can grow a tomato on your balcony, but if you have a building or you have a community garden in Portland, the housing

Unidentified market, the city got a federal grant and now they have an amazing community garden that entire. This is Section eight housing.

Speaker 1 Everyone can use Section eight or so. That's that's subsidized, which is not the same as a project. OK, it's like Mitchell Lama is not the same as, you

Speaker 2 know, it's the big house, OK? They haven't been you know, they haven't it, you know, an empty kitchen. So you could actually take your tomatoes candidates on the block because

Speaker 1 you can make it in the kitchen. OK, well, an

Speaker 2 amazing

Speaker 1 mom, Alice Waters program in San Francisco gives us a glimmer of hope. OK, I don't have the answer as to how the urban poor is going to reconnect itself to the land. But there are glimmers. There are there are possibilities there. Community gardens all over New York City. Alice Waters has a program with a community garden near a housing project in San Francisco where people who don't have giant economic resources do have the opportunity to stick their fingers into the dirt and grow some of their own food. And that connectedness, that sense of accomplishment, of growing a vegetable and then eating it, especially for children, is something that is so powerful and so cool and so beautiful. And I think anybody can catch that bug programs. I mean, I think a program like that is really inspiring. I'd love to see more of it. You know, it takes money, it takes dedicated people. It takes people like Alice Waters who care. And that's something to hang on to. Whether that's a large scale solution for her, for everyone, I don't know. I don't know. But you've got to do what you can. And that's pretty inspiring you. I can bullshit for our hours

Speaker 2 to stay for another three three in every corner of my

Speaker 1 film. I mean, thank you. Thank you.

Speaker 2 Every section.

Speaker 1 I just want to know. Well, great. Thank you. I mean, you know, I know that you got to ask me something raunchy. If you're not if you're

Speaker 2 not a little harsh, if you're not comfortable, let me know. But we're going to cut the trailer to raise funds at an event, and we'll be honest with you. Thank you very much for coming tonight.

Speaker 1 I can do that

Speaker 2 if you love James Beard as much as I do. Please take a look at this web and consider contribution.

Speaker 1 What's the Web site?

Speaker 2 You know, this first thing is, you know what? American city. Oh. Oh, OK.

Speaker 1 I come here asking about America. You want me to say it's good America? You know what I think? I think maybe you can reclaim the word foodie as something good. I have no problem calling myself a foodie for a long time until I read someplace that that some people think of a foodie as somebody who is obsessed with being the first person to get at a new restaurant, the first person to taste the trendy new ingredient. I don't think that's what James Beard was. I don't think that's what I am. And I think we should reclaim that word. Those people are obnoxious. I don't want to be around those people. I don't care about trends. I don't I really couldn't care less about what is a trend. And you know what? I'm not I'm not a reporter anymore. I don't have to know what the next fad is. I don't care about fads. I care about good, honest, natural, wholesome food. And I want delicious food. And I think I think that's what a foodie really is, is somebody who loves the craft of cooking and who loves to eat and who cherishes the convivial table with friends and family. That's what a foodie really is. So do it so and so. The James Beard is America's first foodie. Absolutely.

Speaker 2 You know, we said I don't like French food.

Speaker 1 Yeah, you know you know what, one of my favorite music magazine, which unfortunately folded and it's now Web only, has a magazine called Paste Magazine and they celebrate any musical artist who was good from a bluesman to Michael Jackson to New Order, to Depeche Mode, to electronica, to folk, to freak folk, to any kind of to jazz, to standards, to show tunes, any kind of music. That's good. And they would give you a sampler each month. That's how I look at food. I love a good hoagie. I love a croquembouche. I love a twenty seven course tasting menu with molecular avant garde, modernist cooking if it's tasty and only if it's tasty. Some of those are awfully precious. And I also love a peanut butter jelly sandwich. And I think James Beard was the same way. James Beard loved macaroni and cheese. James Beard love beef Wellington. James Beard loved bacon and eggs. And like James, you know, I'm thinking of amending my last meal. I always used to say people ask me, what if I were on a desert island? What would I want to eat? I always say cyanide. And the reason I say that is that I don't want to eat just one thing. The whole point is the limitless variety of of food and wine that's out there. Cheese. Oh, my God. If I if I had to pick one thing, it would probably be cheese. But I still have to have crackers and I still want some red wine with it. It's the limitless variety that the cornucopia that's that's that's the whole point to me, whether it's haute cuisine or whether it's a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. And I think I wish James Beard were here with me in the beautiful West Village. I think he would agree.

Ted Allen Interview #1
Interview Date:
2013-10-14
Runtime:
0:52:50
Keywords:
None
American Archive of Public Broadcasting GUID:
N/A
MLA CITATIONS:
"Ted Allen Interview #1, James Beard: America's First Foodie." American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). 14 Oct. 2013, https://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/archive/interviews/1267
APA CITATIONS:
(2013, October 14). Ted Allen Interview #1, James Beard: America's First Foodie. [Video]. American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). https://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/archive/interviews/1267
CHICAGO CITATIONS:
"Ted Allen Interview #1, James Beard: America's First Foodie." American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). October 14, 2013. Accessed October 19, 2021 https://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/archive/interviews/1267

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