Speaker 1 You know, for me, when you think about when was the first time I've heard of James Beard, it's almost like just a family member. You know, James Byrd's name was always kind of thrown around in my house. You know, there was whether it was a picture of him or one of his cookbooks or, you know, it was just always around. So, like trying to remember when I first started to know about him, I just feel like I've known about him or him my entire life, so.

Speaker 2 What memories do you have

Unidentified of your father's friendship with Beard? What did your father kind of pass down and tell you about their.

Speaker 1 When I was younger, you know, he was kind of just like almost like this mythical figure that you would that you would hear about. You know, there's a story that my my my younger brother called him Grandpa Yoda, and then he kind of just turned into this thing. And but as I got a little older, you know, my dad would talk about him with with a little more reverence, I think, when I would start to understand stuff. And, you know, I think I remember being maybe a teenager and, you know, I always enjoyed cooking. I was always enjoyed being in the kitchen, whether it was professionally or just as a kid. And, you know, I remember like asking my father, you know, what is it about James Beard, you know, that that you love so much? And, you know, he kind of smiled and said that you'd be able to go over his house and talk about morals for for two hours. And then after we're done talking about morals, you talk about, you know, goat cheese for for another three hours and some farmer, some woman who made the best goat cheese that he's ever had in California, you know, and this was before you could go to the grocery store and go buy the stuff. So he would only get to get it when he was traveling in the thing and he'd talk about what the woman looked like and the color of her hair and, you know, her favorite dress that she liked to wear. And he would associate all these things with just this one spoonful of goat cheese that he might have every, you know, five years of his life or something like that. But my father said that he would just go over there and and do that and talk about food. You know, I'm sure my father told you, but even the way that they met was I think first my father wrote him a letter, you know, didn't really work, you know, tried to call him, kind of worked, but didn't really, you know, get too much of a reaction. And then he sent them a basket of food. And then once he sent them the basket of food, that was when he said, OK, you know what? You come on by and we can we can talk a little bit.

Speaker 2 Tell us the story. Why did your brother call him?

Speaker 1 Well, you know, as any kids that grew up in the in the early 80s, you know, Star Wars was a big part of of your life. And my brother and when he met him, I think it was eighty one eighty two somewhere around there. So that means my brother was probably two or three. And you know, if you kind of look at James Beard, you know, especially with the ears, you know, for for a little kid, you know, I think he just kind of, you know, kids are honest and he kind of I think he was sitting on his lap and I wasn't there. But if you get the story from my dad, I'm pretty sure he was sitting on his lap and he just kind of looked up at him and said, you know, you kind of look like Yoda.

Speaker 2 Was there a James Beard doll in your home? Yeah, I remember you telling me something about that, Lisa.

Speaker 1 Tell me about your wife. I think this was after James James Beard passed away. But, you know, they had an auction at at the house. And I think some things were left to my father. I'm not exactly sure exactly how it all works, but, you know, we had stuff scattered all through the house. There was there was a a hand I want to say it was like a charcoal drawing of of Jim's face. There was the doll. There was this, you know, beautiful, the kind of driftwood table that was in our our dining room or living room. So like I said, when you asked me before, like, you know, how does James Beard, like when do you remember first hearing of the James Beard? It's like his spirit was always in the house, you know what I mean? And even with my restaurant today, like, I feel like his spirit is is still here. So it's it's just almost been like a like a family member for me.

Unidentified You have your clothes on. Tell me about that and how you reflect James Beard in your restaurant.

Speaker 1 Well, again, as I've been saying, you know, James Beard, I feel, you know, was the start of, you know, American chef saying that, you know, we're not that bad either compared to the rest of the world. And, you know, 40, 50 years ago, if you had asked somebody, you know, do you think Americans can cook in general? You know what I mean? Would people would start to laugh, you know? And then I mean and then my people like my father and and Jonathan Waxman and Alice Waters and Paul Pridham and Mark Miller and all these these names, you know, they really rolled up their sleeves and said, you know, we're going to do this. So now I look at myself as just trying to to continue that, you know, and I look up at, you know, James Beard is kind of the same way that I think, you know, you look at George Washington for, you know, the United States. I mean, you know, James Beard was like the the founder of this whole American cookery, you know what I mean? And I think it's very evident whether people realize it or not. And I think there's some people that may not even know who he is that are influenced by him. I just happen to know who he is because he kind of, you know, because of who my father is. So, you know, I'm very lucky in that sense. But I don't think there's anybody that's, you know, an American chef, you know, born in this century, that old, you know, not put James Beard on their list of of mentors, whether they ever met him or not. I mean, you know, my bookshelves here and at home are filled with his books. And, you know, I love going in there for inspiration and taking something that he was making in nineteen sixty five and kind of flipping it. And and then I find out that my dad did it in nineteen eighty six and now I'm doing it in twenty fourteen like it's, you know, if that's osmosis I'm not really sure what it is, but it's just continuing on that American tradition of being proud of who we are and what we do.

Speaker 2 You served some dishes. James Beard dishes on the menus, I know you have one. Can you tell me what they are? Which one? Sure, yeah, of course.

Speaker 1 You know, I love to play with what James Beard like to eat and like to cook. And one of my favorite things that when I heard he liked it, to me, it sounded kind of strange. But I guess one of his favorite salads to eat was flat leaf parsley raw. I believe it was mallee onion and olive oil and sherry vinegar. It sounds kind of simple and to most people may be a little, you know, gross or weird or whatever, you know. But the first time I tried it, I fell in love with it. Up until that point, I'd never had a parsley salad before. People think of parsley as salad, and I pretty much had it on the menu at that's, you know, one of my restaurants ever since I tasted it. And right now we do it as kind of the garnish to a bone marrow dish that we serve with foie gras and short ribs and, you know, this very stringent kind of salad of radish, parsley and shaviro shallots. You know, one of my favorite things to date is Jim Beard's hash browns or home price. I first came into contact with it at an American place when I was a cook back then. And when we opened here, I've done it in a couple of different ways. It was on the menu when I was a when I was a chef at BLT. It doesn't get simpler. I mean, it's big potatoes that you let cool down. You chop them up, break them up, do whatever you want, cook them in a little bit of butter with garlic, add some fresh cream, chives, parsley in the call today, and especially with steak or chicken, it's it's fantastic. Um. Oh, and the strawberry shortcake. I mean, I know, you know, when you say his name is James Beard, it's Strawberry Shortcake, to me it's almost synonymous. It just comes right after. And, you know, every year during strawberry season, we make we make the biscuits. And, you know, it's the same way that that my dad made them and that I make them. And, you know, the secret is a little hard boiled egg yolk, which is what keeps the biscuit really moist. But as soon as we get that first crop of strawberries, we we start making the shortcake.

Speaker 2 Can you say I have a restaurant called American Pie and explain how the name harkens back to American Place and then how

Speaker 1 James Beard and. Yeah, so I just recently opened my steakhouse concept called American Cut. And, you know, we spent as with anything, you know, like when when you open a restaurant, most people don't realize this, but the name is not always the first thing that happens. You know, sometimes you're a couple of weeks away from opening and you still don't know what you're going to call this place. And, you know, we were sitting around the table and we had hundreds of not hundreds but dozens of different names to choose from. And, you know, we're starting to get stressed out at this point. Like, you know, we got to open with with something. We got to give something to the press, you know, and one of the managers at the at the table, you know, says American Cut. And soon as they said it, it just kind of sounded right. And, you know, as we were looking at it, you know, American cutting makes sense with American place. It all just kind of made sense in this. You know, going back to James Beard, you know, most people don't realize that the idea for the name and American place, which was my father's restaurant for over twenty years in New York City, was actually the name of a art gallery. And the idea was given to my father from James Beard. So it's another one of those. You know, here we are 40 years later, American cut, you know, because of an American place, because of James Beard. I mean, it's like I said, whether you like it or not or whether you believe in it or not, it's the proof is in the pudding. Oh.

Speaker 2 Why do you think it's important for the young chefs of today to learn about James Beard and his.

Speaker 1 I think in today's world, you know, of everything is very fast and everything's very I don't know what the best word is convenient is the best word, but you know what I mean, when you know, when you're looking for something or a recipe or an ingredient or, you know, we're very, very lucky these days. You know, it's not as hard as it was back then. And I think somebody like James Beard and then the generation that followed after him, like they really had to to work very hard at. At promoting or talking about or being proud of America and America and American products and American chefs and American restaurants and, you know, saying that we can do it, too, which doesn't sound so crazy. Now, you know, America is a pretty formidable cooking. You know. You know, the restaurants in America are stand up to anywhere in the world right now. But back then it didn't. And I think he was one of those first pioneers to say, you know, we can do this. You know, we have the right mushrooms, we have the right artichokes, we have the right chickens. You know what I mean? We just have to search for it a little bit and we have to work for it and we have to support the people that do these things or else it's going to go away. And I think the right people listen to him and kept it going. And, you know, I think for us now, you know, we just pick up the phone now and say, yeah, we'd love to get those, you know, Morrell's from Oregon tomorrow. Thank you. You know, it wasn't like that back then. And I think that younger chefs should really take a moment, you know, read a couple of his books and read some of the memoirs and and, you know, just pay a little homage to I don't think I would be here and I don't think my restaurant would be here. And I don't think this style of cuisine would be here without somebody like James Beard.

Speaker 2 He was the first person you get your life.

Unidentified Straight through the.

Speaker 1 Yeah, should I move to you, you're good there, OK?

Speaker 2 I think so. James Beard was the first television personality. What do you think he would think about where the television is today?

Speaker 1 That's a complicated question. What do I think, James, be able to think about where food TV is gone today? I think that there's a lot of very good TV shows, a lot of very good food, TV shows. And I think like anything, I think there's a lot of very bad food TV shows out there. But I think that he would be very proud of where it has gone and what it has done. You know, I think just in the last five or six years, because of all the good TV shows that are out there that actually educate people and show people maybe how you know, how to make parmigiano reggiano, you know what I mean, in Parma, you know what I mean? And the actual process of it. And you know where good olive oil comes from and how to make a souffle. I mean, you know, whatever all these things that people can actually turn on the TV and watch. Now, it's made the consumer smarter in restaurants, which has made chefs like myself have to really step up the game. So I think what James Beard pioneered, you know, along with with Julia, obviously is bringing it into people's everyday lives and showing people that food is part of life. You know what I mean? It's not just something that you go and sit down or you press a button on the microwave or, you know, you call and you order pizza, you know, I mean, like food is life and life without food. You don't have life, you know. And I think James Beard really helped pioneer that. And I think that the TV that has resulted from it has made Americans in general appreciate food in a way that I don't think may have been as possible without the TV aspect of it.

Speaker 2 Could you picture him perhaps being a judge on an internship or something? If he were alive today?

Speaker 1 Well, you know, people have asked me in other interviews, you know, if there are five people that you could cook for, you know, dead or alive, you know, who would want to be. And I would love to, you know, maybe not a judge and an iron chef, but if that's the case, fine. But I would love to have James Beard come in and sit down. And whether it's judge my food or taste my food, whichever way you want to look at it. But I would love to cook a meal and then sit down with him and talk about it and get his honest opinion and see what he felt about it and and all that kind of stuff.

Speaker 2 What would you make it?

Speaker 1 But I would do what I do here at the restaurant, you know, you know, which is using the freshest, you know, well sourced ingredients and, you know, doing my kind of spin on classic techniques, but done no more, I don't know, modern or interesting way. And then seeing what he thinks of it, you know, he might smack me and say, look, just put the chicken in the oven or it.

Speaker 2 What do you think his most important contribution to the world was, what's his legacy?

Speaker 1 I think James Beard's legacy was, you know, ingredient driven. You know, if you think about that, it's such a cliche now, ingredient driven, you know, marketable. I mean, look at look at the Four Seasons. I mean,

Speaker 2 it's

Speaker 1 such a simple concept, right? You cook four different menus based on what is in season. You know what? I'm not sure what year he helped write that menu, but there was no such thing as a seasonal menu back then, you know, which again today is like, so what? Everybody does it. But, you know, back then, everybody wasn't doing it. And I think that he was a very ingredient driven person who taking something from the freshest point of its life and simply adorning it and getting it on the plate, you up the house

Speaker 2 and have you put there with your father?

Speaker 1 I've cooked with a big house with my father. I've eaten in the dining room when my father cooked. I've cooked probably at least a dozen times at the bureau.

Speaker 2 So tell me a little bit about the experience of cooking there and especially with your father. If you had any memories to share about spending time

Speaker 1 in that house, you know, it's always special. Every time I get to cook at the bird house, there have been a couple of moments that really stood out for me. One was a Father's Day dinner or Father's Day brunch. Sorry that, you know, I was there. My two brothers were there, my father was there and my grandfather was there. And this was just when I was starting and my brothers, my brother was just starting. So we were all it was all our first time really in the kitchen, like wearing chef whites and, you know, as a family in there. And to to be there on Father's Day, you know, with my grandfather sitting at the head table and all that kind of stuff. It was it was a really, really beautiful family moment, you know, that we then sat around the table after and my father telling stories of, you know, again, sitting sitting on the couch and talking about Morrell's for a couple of hours or, you know, this is where James Byrd would take a shower and his neighbors would get upset because you could see them. There was just one funny story that pops in it, but just always about how how much fun it was to talk to Jim about about food and life and what it was all about.

Unidentified Why is it important for chefs and journalists to win a James

Speaker 2 Beard Foundation award today?

Speaker 1 I mean, the James Beard Awards are, you know, in this industry, you know, whether you believe in awards or not or whether you cook for awards or not. You know, James Beard Award means that it's kind of like getting an Oscar, you know. I mean, people have have paid your respects for what you do and, you know, being the best at your craft. And, you know, it's, uh, it's a moment I mean, I don't know yet, but it's it's a moment that that I think a lot of chefs, you know, work for, you know, since you're a kid, you know what I mean? Hopefully someday, you know, I can I can get a James Beard award and, you know, you know, put that icing on the cake of your career.

Speaker 2 That's chipping away

Unidentified at the programs that they say which one?

Speaker 1 Got it. You know, I don't know if if, you know, chefs are out there, you know, if everybody is cooking for awards or this, that the other thing I mean, you know, most chefs just like to cook for the people that are in the restaurant and you get recognized. But something like a James Beard award is, you know, it's like winning an Oscar. It's you know, it means that you're the best in your craft, according to the James Beard Foundation. And it's, you know, it's an honor. And, you know, hopefully someday I'll be able to tell you what it feels like

Unidentified from the beginning about. You're busy with that, but growing

Speaker 2 up, yes, in your memory, Jim,

Unidentified it's such an amazing memory, like you said. What are some of your favorite? Dad, grandma,

Speaker 2 sure, sure, sure.

Speaker 1 You know, one of my favorite food memories actually has to do with with James Beard and a dish that my father ended up doing that I ended up doing here as well. It's a it's an order of called asparagus and ambush. And I think the original recipe is a hollowed out piece of bread with asparagus, spears and some béchamel. I want to. Yeah. And then you put it in the oven and bakes gets bubbling and etouffee. So I was probably seven or eight years old. I was wearing my first tuxedo was an electric blue bow tie, and it was at the Greenbrier down in Virginia. And my father was doing a course at, you know, at a very fancy dinner. Obviously, I'm wearing a tuxedo. You know, my father's in the kitchen. So I sat by myself at this table, you know, with, you know, strangers. But so it comes to this course and my job, 70 years old. And, you know, often this thing gets put down in front of me and it's the smallest asparagus I've ever seen. And it was baby white asparagus, you know, covered in in hand. And what looked like like a creamy, like sauce, you know. And I start to eat it and like, you know, my eyes get really big and like, you know, like tugged on the person sitting next to me. And I was like, you know, like, wow. Like I didn't know that food could make me feel like this. You know, this is this is incredible. And, you know, he kind of laughed and, like, tapped me on the head. And then he's like, you know, this is actually, you know, your dad's course. And I had no idea that it was my dad's cause I was like when I was just a kid at a dinner. And, you know, most people wouldn't think that a seven year old gets excited about morals and no blank with country Ozark Ham and, you know, baby white asparagus and all that stuff. But it, like, freaked me out. I remember, you know, after it was over, like telling my dad like that that was kind of like a life changing moment for me with food. And then I did that dish again here on a menu we call props to Pops. You know, again, spun a little different, but the essence of asparagus and ambush. So that dish in itself, asparagus and ambush, is a dish that is very influential for me growing up. You know, I kind of grew up Italian, so, you know, like the sun gravy at my grandpa's house. My mother's meatballs are always something that I know a lot of chefs say that, but always reminds me reminds me of home and my dad cooking breakfast. My mother and my father both cook and breakfast always, always stepped it up with with their eggs.

Unidentified What they want to do and don't. Just because you're on your. Oh, yeah, this one.

Speaker 1 No, it was by itself, it was a handwritten thing. Yeah, I think it's in this pile.

Unidentified I think so. So then you have maybe just, you know, something I want to show you, like the review and

Speaker 2 just kind of set it up and

Unidentified then and then we'll get a. They were set up with. Here's an example. The. The impact of James Spears having my

Speaker 2 father, my father, my father felt about James. Gotcha.

Speaker 1 You know, there's actually something that that my brother, my mother sorry, there's actually something that my mother brought to my attention when she was cleaning out the basement. And, you know, when we're talking about James Beard and, you know, the kind of influence that he had on my father and then myself and so many other people. So this, I believe, is from the speech that my father gave at the opening of American Bounty at the Culinary Institute of America. And in his handwriting, you can say it says, OK, bring Beard into the speech. And, you know, I'll just read it. I mean, this is from Larry Forgione probably in about 1982 83. So says it is James Beard who deserves a great deal of credit for his assistance and inspiration to me in developing American cuisine as much as I have. His is a true presence that has defied time and support. He believed in us before we believed in ourselves. And no matter what any of us do with American cuisine, there will always be Mr. Beard as the champion, as the father of American cuisine. The new American cuisine is in its infancy now, and then he ends it with saying, Be proud to be an American. And like, you know, something like that is so relevant even today that, you know, I mean, what else can you say?

Marc Forgione
Interview Date:
American Archive of Public Broadcasting GUID:
"Marc Forgione, James Beard: America's First Foodie." American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). 09 Sep. 2014,
(2014, September 09). Marc Forgione, James Beard: America's First Foodie. [Video]. American Masters Digital Archive (WNET).
"Marc Forgione, James Beard: America's First Foodie." American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). September 09, 2014. Accessed January 20, 2022


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