Transcript:

Speaker 1 OK, tell me about your entry into the world and what the food seems like then

Speaker 2 my entry into the food world, of course, was in nineteen seventy two, seventy three. And I was talking to somebody the other day and I said, you know, the most important thing about what it was like then is that no one can believe that, for instance, there wasn't there weren't any fresh herbs, there wasn't any olive oil, there wasn't any mattarella, there wasn't any anything. You know, if you wanted fresh tarragon, you'd have to go steal it from somebody's garden or the flower pot on the kitchen shelf or something, because it just wasn't anything into the cooking world now. And foodies around the world, I mean, it's inconceivable, right, to have come since the early 70s to what's that? What's that company Gaile do use fresh foods or what? What's the fresh direct. I mean the fact that in nineteen seventy two you couldn't even find fresh tarragon if you try unless you grow it yourself to fresh direct or something like that. Our Whole Foods is extraordinary and no one will believe it. But it's true. But how I started was that I was flat broke. I mean it was a failed architect. I was broke and I took the first job that came along, which was the chef, a Japanese crazily enough. I mean, I didn't if I'd known what it was like to be a chef, I would never have done it, quite frankly. But it was a job and it was there and I did it.

Speaker 1 The California Food Revolution, what was revolutionary about it? What was happening during that time?

Speaker 2 Well, thinking again, it's hard to imagine back when when you think of a revolution that the revolutionaries had nothing in mind about a revolution. But it's true. We were just personally I mean, I was just trying to survive. I need money to live. I had a job. It was paying me only four hundred dollars a month in those days. But, you know, I wanted to fill Japanese and I wanted to make it famous so the people would come to dinner so we could pay our bills, so I'd get paid. And that was about the level of consciousness, about a revolution. Again, it seems impossible that we didn't sit or have a consciousness about, you know, we're going to change America, we're going to change the way America eats or something. But that's not what happened. But there were a couple of press events that put a consciousness or a conscience to the revolution. One was James Beard actually was the first when he said somebody asked him why he wrote in his column. And I think he had a hundred newspapers or something syndicated and he wrote an article in nineteen seventy four or five saying that his four favorite restaurants in the United States were Tony's in Houston, and that was a red plush waiters and black tie flaming at the table kind of place, you know, the way all the famous restaurants were in those days. And then the his local one in New York, which was an Italian restaurant, Italian Greek restaurant, and then maybe it was the pump room in Chicago was again more flaming swords of shish kebab at the table. And then he said and Japanese and everybody who read his columns went, they actually I mean, they never heard of Japanese. Nobody had. But they saw the address, Berkeley and went. James Beard has a favorite restaurant in Berkeley. How is that possible? So then suddenly everybody was asking, including Gourmet magazine, who came and did an article and said, this is as good as any restaurant in France. Maybe true, maybe not. But it was certainly a great article. And from then on, we never looked back.

Speaker 1 When did you first become aware of James Beard?

Speaker 2 Well, I'd known about James Beard in college, you know, so back in the 60s, early 60s, because one of my best friends was a great cook. James Beard was his favorite author, favorite cookbook author, and he had all the books. And I was sometimes staying with him in between my apartment. So I would we would cook together and he would do these amazing hams and sweet potatoes and Southern food and Virginia food and Thomas Jefferson it all because of James Beard. So when I started my career as a cook instead of an architect. James Beard, quite early on, I forget the dates, but at Stanford called the cooking classes in San Francisco and I went to one of the classes and I went up to him and said, you know, I'm somebody you should know. And that's how it started.

Speaker 1 What was he like as a teacher?

Speaker 2 I never took a class from him. I just went to the class socially because I knew the owner of the hotel at Stanford called Jim to seekers who, by the way, as somebody else. Have you talked to Jim? You have to. He's still around. And because gymnastics was the host and I mean, you know, James Byrd never paid for anything and he certainly didn't pay for the limousines and hotel suite and the dinners and the champagne that was all gymnastics and stuff. And I knew Jim SIECUS and he said, you know, of course, come to the class. And I walked in and there was Barbara Kafka, Marion Cunningham doing most of the organizing and cooking. Jim sitting there on a on a big stool and I think probably had a cane because he was always in and out of know California Hospital, San Francisco Hospital, wowing everybody, you know, just it wasn't he was an amazing presence.

Speaker 1 So tell me about your first meeting with him when you said I'm someone that you should. Now you hit it off right away. You became fast

Speaker 2 friends. Well, James Beard always had an eye for a pretty boy, you know? So when I walked in, he went, well, hello? And I went, well, hello, back to him. Because, you know, I had a sort of a skill for PR and I realized that was one fast track to PR. And I had invited him for dinner and he accepted. So he came to my apartment that I was sharing actually with the my school schoolmate, college roommate who loved James Beard. So I invited James to that apartment so I could cook and I did a sea urchin souffle. Well, I found these big green sea urchins in Chinatown and I scooped them out and clean them up, made the soufflé mixture out of the sea urchin, put the mixture back in the shells, put them in the oven, brought them out and brought them to the table. And Jim Beard, well, he had never seen that before. And he tasted it and quite beautifully said, well, that's the best thing I ever tasted. Of course it wasn't. But he was being nice to me and he was writing his next article and he said, you know, so he did write that. And that was another huge boost for sheepishness. And for me,

Speaker 1 what was it like to dine with them?

Speaker 2 Dining with Jim Beard was always an experience because he knew probably he knew. I mean, he wouldn't go to a restaurant that wouldn't buy his dinner, quite frankly, or he wouldn't go with anyone who wasn't going to buy the dinner. So he probably knew where you were dining and knew the people. But he could also get you know, he, like most great people, probably had a great temper. And I remember taking to a lunch place where I was paying and I'd never been before with some new place in San Francisco up on a hill. And it was all going fine. It wasn't great, but it was you know, it was decent enough. And he had an espresso. And the waiter, I guess, had put a little piece of lemon rind in the coffee. And Jim went ballistic along with all his jowls flapping around in the air and this sort of stentorian voice booming through the room. I didn't ask you for people, you know, so that was also dining with Jim Beer. So he was a tough customer. He was a tough customer.

Speaker 1 What was it like when he came to dine, actually? Was it a kind of a tense situation for the staff or was it convivial?

Speaker 2 Yeah, you know, I don't think in those days I don't think the staff knew very much who he was or if they did the you know, the Berkeley people, they're not going to be that impressed with anybody, but. It was easy because, you know, I'd already given him dinner, and so when he came to sharpen his, he was perfectly willing, he was ready to be amused or ready to be loved, ready to be admired and ready to have a good dinner. And he got all those things. So it's fine.

Speaker 1 Now, I understand that he encounters you had a conversation with him that inspired you to strike out on your own from say, please. Can you tell me about that conversation?

Speaker 2 Yes, it wasn't it it was in a context when he said, you know, you should really strike out on your own because, I mean, actually had already planned to. And I had left shape in the year before. And I was back at Chez Panisse because Alice was taking a three month sabbatical and asked me to come back for the fall of 79 or whatever it was to look after the kitchens and do the menus and everything while she was away. So I did. But the crew who was there, I mean, the real chef, John Pamela. And it was also Michelle Troisgros because she had asked me to accept his nephew and I started Japanese and Mark Miller, where the crew there of in those days were a bit out of joint, that Alice would ask me to come back and make sure they didn't screw up, rightly so. I mean, I should have known better, quite frankly. And that's what Jim told me, say generally doing their you know, because towards the end there was a bit of a revolution in the kitchen and they didn't really want me there. And Jim Beard was at Stanford again doing classes. And I explained it to him and was saying, you know, what should I do? And he said, what are you doing there? You know, I mean, you're smarter than that. You know, just get out and go on and continue doing your own place. That's what you're looking for, to go do it.

Speaker 1 Was he encouraging when when you just opened your own places?

Speaker 2 Well, Jim, the great thing about Jim is that if he loved you or admired you or whatever was interested in you, he was a huge promoter of your career. If you said, you know, Jim, I want to move from San Francisco, I'd like a job in New York within five minutes, he knew every job that was available that he thought was suitable. He would have that and he'd make a call. He'd call you back. I mean, he was the telephone company must have adored him and probably the only thing he paid for in his life, you know, but he did that for me a couple of times. I didn't take the jobs, but they were jobs and famous places. You know, actually, one that was Maxwell's plan was one. And then the World Trade Center was Gelbaum. But that's another story. So he was always there to help you. And as far as Starz, which is the thing I eventually found and did in San Francisco, he was there with actually with Barbara Kafka and Cecilia Chang and Jim SIECUS and various people when I took them down to show them the site. And he just and that great voice with the jowls flapping again said, you know, this is terrible, horrible. And Barbara Kafka said, Jeremie, you're insane. I mean, it was doctor and rats everywhere. There was water dripping through the ceiling. And I didn't see any of that. I just saw this perfect stage, perfect bones of a space for a restaurant, which, of course, turned out to be I'd been looking at the filthy carpet and the rat for so long. And I you know, I didn't even see them. But of course, that's the first thing they saw when they walked in later. Well, it was proven that they were wrong.

Speaker 1 Was he able to die in there before he passed? Because I think you opened the same

Speaker 2 year that, you know, he died in January of eighty six. He died in January. Was it the year we opened or the or the January afterwards.

Speaker 1 Eighty five.

Speaker 2 Eighty five. Yeah. So he died six months after we opened stores, which was July 4th, 1984. And I, I knew you were going to ask me that. So I looked up in my in my book. I knew you're going to ask me that. So I looked up in the book and there are comments he made that I reported about stars. But quite frankly, I don't remember. I was so busy, so frantic, you know, the first six months that I don't remember. But I think he did. Yes.

Speaker 1 So he was openly gay at a time when not a lot of people were right. Do you think that had any consequence to him whatsoever or was he just so comfortable in his skin and everyone knew that it wasn't

Speaker 2 a big issue? But you say openly gay and you know, that means something now. Didn't mean then. In other words, he wasn't really openly gay. He didn't he didn't say he was gay and he didn't deny he was. Nobody ever asked him. You didn't walk up to James Beard and said, are you gay? I don't know what he would have said if I said, yes, dear. And they were cute. He would have said, yes, dear, if they weren't cute. Probably would have said none of your business. I don't know. But it just wasn't an issue. And he was so powerful that. It didn't make any difference what his sexuality was, you know, that certainly everybody just looked in the other direction. Did Barbara Kafka care? Did you care what anyone sexuality was? No. Marion Cunningham, slightly different issue if you want to go into that later. But he had all those clients from the you know, the food companies and everything. And if it couldn't have been an issue with them, because you would think that they wouldn't do it. So it wasn't out in public. You can't have somebody selling Hormel meats if they're gay. I mean, now you can, but I don't think then. So open, not denied, but not publicized.

Speaker 1 In your book, I was reading the passage where you were having a meal with Elizabeth David and she had expressed some concern about some of the rent boys was keeping company with. Did you think that his some of his companions were worrisome

Speaker 2 or Rent Boys isn't very English expression, you know, going back to Oscar Wilde? Well, of course, he got into enormous trouble over rent boys. And Elizabeth was of her opinion of Jim that James Beard was that he was very impressive. But of course, anybody nobody could measure up to Elizabeth's mind. She was the most extraordinarily intelligent, best writer in English, only about food and of course, competitive in the United States in those days was a mystery to her. So she was sort of just mildly enthusiastic about James Beard. And she after a few glasses of wine, she had a razor tongue, you know, brilliant. So she would of course, she would take real poise. What she was talking about were some of his assistants, long term assistants, who we everyone assumed were also boyfriends like Karl Jérome and people like that. Were they up to snuff in terms of when you walked into the Stanford court as the assistant of James Beard, the assistant companion of James Beard, did everybody feel that those guys were up to snuff? I mean, no. In fact, there was so little that he did comment on the side, you know, but, um, was it a big deal? No, only for Elizabeth, because RentBoy sound so fabulous to her, you know, to say that.

Speaker 1 Tell me about his relationship with Gino.

Speaker 2 The first time I knew about Gino was that Jim saying, well, you have to buy his dockworkers cake because Gina was upstairs in the house making that call, whoever Jim would bully into buying. And I think they were perfectly fine. That was. But that was the first I knew about you. And I didn't really know Gino much. I would say hello if he was there by the time Jim was coming out to do his stuff in court, Gina wasn't. And maybe he came at once, but he wasn't the assistant last interview.

Speaker 1 He died maybe maybe three months after we spoke. Yeah, yeah. It's I mean, it's sad. There's a lot of people aren't around anymore. Yeah. He had a lot of great stories of God.

Speaker 2 How long has it been there?

Speaker 1 Since the 50s. Yeah. Any good.

Speaker 2 We're all set up in the back of the Gino. Yeah. Let's go back to Gina. Yeah.

Speaker 1 Oh it was like something about like you don't

Speaker 2 define who you love or something. Right. Right. I never pick up Tom Margita. He's in Santa Fe alive and kicking. Have you talked to him now. OK, the the thing that people don't know and the only people there, what, two or three people. I'm included. One of them even I wasn't there. I remember. It's all it, you know, now it's farm to table. And it was a revolution of the seventies. But actually the Four Seasons restaurant in New York, let's say it opened in nineteen fifty nine, I don't quite remember. But the menus were all about foraging and where things came from. You look at the early menus by Ronnie, right. So the thing about the Four Seasons with Jim Beard was either the consult food consultant in the beginning or very quit soon after. I don't remember nineteen fifty nine. If that's when it started. The menus were all about foraging. So it said for instance, the clams are from and I'm against the of that Hook Point and Amagansett or something like that. And we all take that is something I mean American culinary scene now thinks they invented that. It was invented by Four Seasons and Jim Beard and Jayavarman, all those people. So that's important and there's someone still alive, and it's Tom. In Santa Fe and you should talk to him because I don't know if anyone else is still alive. Who was there then?

Speaker 1 Alex didn't mentioned him, too, so. Yeah, calm down. Yeah, that's great.

Speaker 2 And I can give you his email, I'm afraid, because I talked to him all the time.

Speaker 1 Back to you. Yes.

Speaker 2 So about Gina. I mean, he if he ever came to this Denver court cooking class or came out to California or traveled with Jim out there, I don't remember. And if he did, he was probably up in that hotel room. So I knew Gino only because of the cake making at the top of the house. And Jim wanted me to buy them all the time, et cetera, et cetera. But my theory about that is that, you know, if you've ever been really in love with somebody in some way, you never stop loving them, probably most of the time. And I think that's what it was with, with Gina. But was there some big affair going on by the time in the late 60s, 70s? I don't think so.

Speaker 1 So was the love of his life.

Speaker 2 That's what everybody says. Because also, I mean, he would have, like, you know, me to be the love of his life and his love of mine, you know, but, um, excuse me. He wasn't physically, you know, the love of anyone's life by the time I know that there's wonderful stories, you know, and certainly I thought I was the only one who saw them. But I'm blushing slightly now remembering they invite you up to his room and we'd be talking and scheming and writing menus and doing all that sort of thing and talking about food. And then suddenly the bathrobe would fall open, you know, and there's Buddha with the family jewels hanging to the floor. And I mean, well, yeah, the love of anyone's life at that time. I'm not so sure.

Speaker 1 I was I was hoping you're going to tell that story over there in the book as well as Israel. But we seem to follow and gently.

Speaker 2 The road followed gently. And at the right moment, he was a master at it.

Speaker 1 I loved it at the location that I should.

Speaker 2 He was very well endowed and he was proud of it. Put it that way

Speaker 1 at the outdoor shower at the at the foundation.

Speaker 2 Oh, God. I mean, wouldn't you just have loved. Well, I don't know if you'd loved to have seen that once, but I would love to have been across the courtyard having a drink in the evening and watch this huge naked man come out and take a shower in his full glory in front of everybody. It must have been amazing. Do you think they had parties across the way? I don't know. Big viewing parties

Speaker 1 in the townhouse? That's the foundation. Right, right. Did you did you spend a lot of time there? Do you have memories of it? When he was living there,

Speaker 2 I used to visit him there all the time when I was in New York and a couple of times he had said German, I come to New York, I need to talk to you. But curiously, he never cook for me. I never ate anything in that house, even though everybody somehow he was nervous to cook for me or just wasn't right. I had no idea. He's certainly cook and like, you know, Julia Child, a good cook, a chicken. But but beard obviously could because he knew and I'd watch him in the classes. Oh, no, no, dear. He'd say, no, don't do it like that. Do it like this. But we'd have champagne and sit there and talk and then we'd go out to lunch or out to dinner or whatever it was. But it was a perfect excuse for an in-between telephone calls, which was constantly going to gossip about everybody. I never heard him say a negative thing about anybody except as a little aside in private. And he would talk about people who are not going to go into exactly who, but he would talk about people who would be absolutely horrified to hear that that he didn't love them because he was he knew how to use people when mean he was a master at that. So he made people love him and become his slaves. But over a little glass of champagne, you know, or the second glass of champagne, he would give a little little aside. Oh, yeah.

Speaker 1 Let's talk a little bit about his relationship with Julia Child. You're saying how would you describe their relationship, where they were, their friends, rivals? Both.

Speaker 2 You know, I really have no experience at all of. Jim Beard and Julia Child together. She never said anything to me about him. He said occasionally didn't really come up, actually, as I'm sitting here remembering. I don't think I dared bring up Julia Child. You didn't talk about it's coming back to me. You certainly didn't talk about George Lang, who was an amazing, wonderful man, a genius, a complete genius. But he was the the rival not only in restaurant consulting, but in cookbooks and and followers. You know, people who adored George were in his camp and then people were in Beard's camp. But you want them both if they knew about it. So I played it safe. So you weren't you either and Beard's camp or you were in George Lancs camp and you weren't in both if they knew about it. And so I never took the chance of having beer furious at me for being in George Lancs camp. So I never talked about it. And it was a bit as I remember it was a bit like that about Julia, but not nearly as strongly

Speaker 1 about Craig Claiborne. I've been hearing that it's the same kind of you're either in the Craig camp or the James Beard camp and kind of not really

Speaker 2 either in the Kleban camp or that camp. I don't think so. I would say no, that's it. They weren't in the same business, Jim. Bed was made at restaurants by saying in his newspapers or whoever it was that he loved them or he making the choosing, the putting the chef in there and then walking in, you know, after it was a success, of course, not ever and saying, you know, I did this and all that kind of thing. He was tall. He had have an amazing presence. But he wasn't in the restaurant reviewing business. He didn't write for The New York Times. Again, I never really heard, but it was very diplomatic, very careful. He wouldn't say a negative thing about somebody in case it rock the boat and vice versa about everybody else, you know. What he really felt about Kleban, I'm not quite sure. And, you know, Kleban couldn't cook, couldn't boil an egg, so that was certainly no threat. Kleban couldn't give a class. He had Freney do all that cooking. And, you know, I mean, the team the Kleban team was pure Freney and James. Have you have you talked to him? Oh, yeah. Like, oh, don't miss that word. He's in East Hampton, so that's easy. Yeah.

Speaker 1 Yeah, that's right. Marion Cunningham, tell me you mentioned some issues previously. Tell me about their relationship.

Speaker 2 Marianne, the the James Beard, Marion Cunningham relationship is very, very indicative of what James Beard was like and in terms of careers was all about. I mean, he got her peak. I know I'm making this up a little bit, but I think I've got I'm right in saying, you know, he picked up the phone to Judith Jones and said, I have somebody do this if I'm a book and do it, you know, that that was the kind of situation, I'm sure,

Unidentified and it happened. But therefore,

Speaker 2 Marion was grateful. But she'd been his slave before that, you know, as I was. And and I did it because I adored him and I was. And it was also good for my career, which opened the Stanford court in the morning and was like the grand living of Louis the 14th, you know, and, you know, he had terrible circulation things. So you put the bandages on his legs and we'd have coffee and gossip about everybody and what's going to happen that day and how's it going? And you know, that stupid man that's smart and you should be doing this, et cetera, et cetera. Well, if I wasn't there, Marion was doing it and she was married with a family, but she'd be in there at the crack of dawn, you know, and stay in until the whatever the French term for going to bed with Louis the 14th. The same with James. So she was a slave. And I use that word because I think it eventually grated on her. She turned into a very mean bitch. And in fact, the last time I saw Jim, if he didn't come to. Yeah, that's when I saw him, when he called me and said, come to New York, I got to talk to you. I have something to tell you. And he said, you know, you have a great enemy in California. I don't know if you said California, you sound great. And in the United States. And I said, well, you're not telling me it's Alice. I mean, that you've just wasted a lot of money flying here. You know, that's not and she's not a great Alice wasn't a great enemy. So I said, what are you talking about? And then I looked and I said, You're not going to tell me who it is, are you? He said, no, if you're not smart enough to figure it out. And it was Marion Cunningham, of course she had. And I was a great friend of mine and talk every day, that kind of thing, you know, and all of a sudden she was. A venomous cobra against me and I to this day have no idea why, except I would guess it's that she got that Jim finally wasn't treating her the way she expected. She also believes that she was fabulous and great all of a sudden after the fanny farmer and then she turned sort of homophobic as well. I think she felt and this is just speculation. I don't know that she thought it was sort of like a homosexual conspiracy against women or something. I don't I just know there was a little bit of that there. Otherwise, how could you turn so nasty? I mean, going from loving me and Jim and everyone to incredibly nasty. Why would he call me to New York to say,

Speaker 1 you know, show you a picture that you're familiar with? This picture of you and Jen. Oh, yes. Tell me about that occasion. What was the occasion? Who was there? What do you remember?

Speaker 2 I had it Ventana and I had after Japanese and before Santa Fe, N.M., and going back to San Francisco, I took the job. But to make something great in terms of food out of Ventana in Big Sur. And I thought, you know, I'm just relying on what what works? Get James Beard there, have him write about it, and then suddenly we'll be famous again, you know? So I did a dinner for him and invited. It was James A. SIECUS. Darryl Corty. There's somebody you should model down, knows everything. So he might be a good interviewer. Not bad. Darryl Corti and Cecilia Chang and Alice Waters and was marrying there. I'm not quite sure. I don't remember. That was the core of it anyway. And Darryl wrote that read from that wonderful thing from Lucien Tonchi about the nuns who are ravenous for crayfish. So it is a great night. And the night ended with me. There was a little something about everybody who was invited. So the last course was the entrance of the mandarin's because Cecilia Chang had the Mandarin restaurant and Mandarin Chinese, etc.. So to the music of the overture to Coppelia, we wheeled in to orange trees that were about six feet tall and I had wired mandarin oranges which had been hollowed out, and then the sorbet made from the juice put in, then gold wire through them and we hung them on the tree trees. And we will. The men and the waiters unhooked the mandarin oranges from the tree, pull the wire out, put it on a plate and served. It was pretty magical. He was blown away but didn't write about it.

Speaker 1 It sounds so theatrical. Why don't you think he wrote about that?

Speaker 2 Because I know he didn't. I don't think he maybe. And stupidly, I assumed he still had, you know, the hundred newspapers syndicated, but I don't think he did anymore. And he was a good excuse for a party.

Speaker 1 What are some of your fondest memories of James Beard? Do you have maybe one or two that the way that you always would like to remember him?

Speaker 2 You know, I'll never forget the espresso speed. I heard everybody knives and forks dropping and, you know, under the scare, the shit out of everybody in the dining room. I'll never forget that. I mean, it was over 11 p.m. I mean, OK, 11:00 p.m. I don't want lemon Bellambi espresso, but maybe maybe the lunch wasn't that great. So he went and he was being polite and he couldn't stand it anymore. You know, I'll never forget that last meeting when he called me in to give his final advice to me because he really considered himself my mentor and was to a certain extent. The scenes at Stanford caught him sitting there like a like a Chinese emperor. Actually, that's probably the best image. You know, if you if you are a huge Chinese emperor because he used to have Chinese jackets and things like that, you know, and he he always dressed sartorially. Colourfully. So the best memory and have been the bathrobe falling over at the perfect moment, not when you walked in, not towards the end of the visit, because you always knew with Jim, there was definitely you know, he was on a schedule. So you knew without him saying it when that meeting was going to end. But so not right away. But it's still enough time for something sexy to happen if that's what was going to happen

Speaker 1 at the end of his life. Did you see him in the hospital? What was he like as.

Speaker 2 You know, the end of his life was in New York and apart from that visit, which was actually, you know, a few months before he died. And that's and there was no invitation to lunch and nothing to eat normally would always go to lunch after that. And there was no invitation to lunch. So looking back on it, he must have been feeling pretty ill or something. I would, of course, visit him many times at the Presbyterian Hospital in San Francisco. He was always in and out, you know, when he was doing the cooking classes. But towards the end, I know apart from that, that our in his house in New York, I didn't I didn't see him after that, but he was always he was always on death's door. So. So what was new about dying? You know, even I

Speaker 1 was he was he depressed at the

Unidentified end of his life, would you say? Or was he the single Jim?

Speaker 2 Well, our last meeting was so serious that it was hard to tell what he was, I don't know, but he was depressed or not. But the fact that we didn't go to lunch, I'm assuming, was because he wasn't feeling up to it, but depressed. No, I mean, when you summon someone to fly across the United States on a moment's notice and you give them pretty astonishing advice and news that a depressed person. I don't think so. I think he was still in charge. I don't

Speaker 1 know. What do you think are some of the biggest misconceptions about James Beard that are out there?

Speaker 2 Oh, I mean, that he was a great chef, wasn't a chef, was a great cook. I don't know. But other people will know because, as I said, he never cooked for me. I don't know. But certainly that he must have been amazing to cook with and sit down with it in his house. Anybody who can write delights and prejudices if he did write it. But to go straight out there, you know, the most famous one is that woman that he never gave any credit to anyone who can write delights and prejudices. Has to be completely, totally in love with food, thinking about it, cooking it and certainly eating it,

Speaker 1 who were some of his ghost writers? I know John from his name you

Speaker 2 collaborated with was. What was her name, was it Helen? No, no. Uh oh, just a small dumpy

Unidentified may not name me.

Speaker 2 I met him so many times and one of the things that Richard only always said about Jim is that how could he not give credit to everybody? You know, how could he not write his own books? Well, that was Richard only puffing himself up, but he was a great friend of the. Well, the woman who if I have the timing right, you know, the great one, the American Cookbook, whose name I will remember in a minute that both Elizabeth at lunch in London was Elizabeth and Richard only and just the three of us. If they didn't bring it up, I would mention James Beard just to get the gossip going after a bottle of wine. It was very amusing to hear all the little comments coming out of everyone's mouth, you know, and always Richard would say, well, can you believe how nasty he was to the name? We're going to remember and never giving her credit. And she wrote all the books and everything that's, you know, after a lot of wine. And Richard exaggerating, but definitely some truth in it. What was her name? Well, the fact you haven't come across it, it shows you how quiet it was kept. Yeah, sure.

Speaker 1 What do you think his biggest contribution to the food world was?

Speaker 2 Wow. You know, there are so many versions of the revolution that started in the 70s in the States and what the way it's come to everything to, you know, now farm to table everything that Jim gets, a Jim Beard gets a bit lost in all of that. But so everyone writing a story puts the anchor down at a point where they put it down with me or what was going on in Los Angeles with Wolfgang and Michael McCarty and everybody wherever they put their anchor makes the story. OK, so it all started at Michael's in Santa Monica and then came right to this morning. Well, that's a way of telling a story, but that's not the whole story. And but behind anybody's story, whether they mention it or not, is Jim James Beard because he's the one who loves these anybody. Now, me, we're just out of short pants. When he was saying, you know, it's OK, it's more than OK to look at American food. I mean, he was just as much in love with French and Italian food and going to Paris as anybody. But he kept saying, hey, wait a minute, you know, what about Shad Roe or Shad cooked on a plank on a beach in Connecticut? What about. And I told him the story, which I already knew about this clambake in the 19th century, where on Long Island, where the day before they cut fresh cantaloupe melons out of the field, cut the top off, dumped out the seed, filled it up with 100 year old Madeira, put the top back on, wrap them up and put them down the well overnight so they would come out after the clambake at this perfect temperature of 60 degrees or something. And then you sat there with a spoon drinking the old Madeira and the candle it no. Hello. If somebody did that today, I mean, The New York Times, the Food Network would be all over it saying, oh, my God, look at this, what people are doing, how amazingly new and wonderful this is. Well, that was one hundred and fifty years ago. Jim knew about that, that story. He knew the book that I had read it in. And he he was the one who he was sort of either at the forefront of the story or is the sort of fuel underneath that whole time because he was saying, look at America. Larry Forgione is probably the one who picked up the most on that. After Meals on Wheels at Rockefeller Center one summer, Larry came to me and said, I've got a clam. We're going out to Long Island after this to do a party with all the chefs. I have a clam I want you to taste. And it's from this particular bed, wherever that was in Long Island, I think. Will you ask Larry? Larry will tell you that I think. And he called his restaurant an American place. I think that's James Beard.

Speaker 1 Oh, so tell me about. I know that a California dish has been compared to delights and prejudices, do you agree that there are similar? Where would you draw that comparison?

Speaker 2 I wanted to call California distillates and prejudices. They wouldn't let me. So the name's already taken. So in my next cookbook, Jeremi tell our cooks the first chapter is called Delights and Prejudice. I had to use it, had to plagiarize at some point. So such a perfect title. I you know, I was blown away when I read that book. It's just the most brilliant personal love affair with food, with a lot of knowledge behind it, because Jim was a library of knowledge about food and people. So, yes, I should have I wanted to call it delights and prejudices.

Speaker 1 Tell me about how did it feel when you won James Beard Foundation Awards? Did you feel kind of his spirit

Unidentified when you were honored?

Speaker 2 Did I feel Jim's spirit when I was there? Not really, because, I mean, there are two camps, one camp. Tell you what, he didn't want the foundation and he would be horrified by these awards. These are from people who never knew him as well as people who knew him. The other camp is he'd be so flattered, he'd love the attention. This is a great idea and he should have thought of himself. Those are from people who knew him and didn't know him also. So who knows? I do know that despite all that, if he could have walked down that center aisle up onto the stage and have all his people applaud, he would have been in absolute heaven. I mean, come on, he started his career in the theater, you know, and carried on his whole life as a theater. So did I think of Jim at the time? No. In fact, I give that rather controversial speech, sort of Jim wasn't on my mind. It was much more the foundation.

Speaker 1 He had said once the epicures, a man who likes food, the gourmet is a man who likes to talk and he talks about making food. How do you think he would react to the term food?

Speaker 2 Well, James would have reacted to the word foody by claiming he had invented it, then he would love it because he invented it, or if there was a way for it to be look like he invented it, he would have loved it. He didn't. I never heard him use the word because I think it's newer than him. Yeah, anything. Anything wonderful and amusing and instructive he would have loved.

Speaker 1 How do you feel that his legacy is relevant to young chefs today?

Speaker 2 I want to go back to the word epicure, you know, because I just recently was doing some research, Epicurious and what it meant to be at the time, an epicurean, and which is why whole segment of that society 2000 years ago didn't was against them, is because they their main belief, and I'm not going to put it very well, but the main belief was that if you listened to the best instincts in your self and your spirit and then you enjoyed the best things that life had to offer in terms of eating and music and sex and whatever you like with moderation, then it was guaranteed you would be a decent person. Epicurean wasn't about gorging yourself and vomiting like a Roman and had nothing to do with that. So that's the important part of what Jim was saying about whether you're, you know, an epicurean gourmet because he was definitely an epicurean and a Roman. I never saw him vomit. But, you know, he could certainly eat. It's great, because then what was the question then?

Speaker 1 Just how do you feel that he is relevant to young chefs today, if at all?

Speaker 2 Well, if if young chefs read a couple of his books is incredibly relevant because, again, it's that passion. Like wherever you are looking, you know, you don't have to look that far. It's not a huge, surprising message now to say look to your own backyard. I mean, every chef is dying to find arugula in his own backyard. So we know. But if you want to know, have some background about what you're going to do with arugula. It helps to know what people have done, whether it's a raccoon or a great sirloin steak. So read, you know, the American cookery book that he did read a couple of his books, The Early One on Fish. There's a passion about. Origin and authenticity in those books, which is relevant to everybody.

Speaker 1 Why do you think it's important to tell his story today?

Speaker 2 I mean, it's important to tell a story because who else is a colorful and large in every possible way and in terms of career, and he's somebody who started it was a terrible actor who became a fabulous actor, but in a different world, in the food world, who was terrible on TV but great when he walked through a dining room. I mean, he had that thing that Nooria had when he came into stars my restaurant. You know, people would look, even if they didn't know what what they had, stand up and clap because he had that presence. And Beard could walk into a dining room if they didn't know he was. There was a six foot four guy weighed 300 pounds who expected the adulation and got it. You know, so the career without the conventional things is should be an interesting source of information for any cook, any restaurateur, any sommelier, anybody.

Jeremiah Tower
Interview Date:
2014-03-07
Runtime:
0:49:34
Keywords:
None
American Archive of Public Broadcasting GUID:
N/A
MLA CITATIONS:
"Jeremiah Tower, James Beard: America's First Foodie." American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). 07 Mar. 2014, https://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/archive/interviews/1284
APA CITATIONS:
(2014, March 07). Jeremiah Tower, James Beard: America's First Foodie. [Video]. American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). https://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/archive/interviews/1284
CHICAGO CITATIONS:
"Jeremiah Tower, James Beard: America's First Foodie." American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). March 07, 2014. Accessed December 01, 2021 https://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/archive/interviews/1284

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