Transcript:

Speaker 1 The first time I met him, we did at a dinner party, a lunch for him of Kate Fisher, and we had some guests of honor, Cecilia Chang, James Beard, Gerald Cordie, a bunch of luminary food luminaries at that time. And it was just a wild affair. It was really crazy. And we never really served lunch in Japanese except upstairs. This is the whole downstairs dining room. And I remember was the launch of Book Summer, and it was just a wonderful luncheon. Did you immediately know? You know, I was just a little timid, blank cook, you know, wearing my Hawaiian shirt, my shorts and my flip flops. And so I didn't really I didn't really talk to him at all. I'm sort of in all the feathers of funny incidents about James Beard and homosexuality at that time, but I'll save that for later. And the first time that I ever really chatted with James, who really got to know him, was when I moved to New York in 1983. And I had seen him a few times, like Four Seasons restaurant and were once going to Four Seasons. He was having lunch with Jeremiah Tower. And because I knew Jeremiah, I would have to say hello. And he introduced me to James. I remember Jim grabbing my hand and his hands were so large. I have small hands, but it was like he had just engulfed me. But the look on his face was like like like like Buddha. It was like this look of complete serenity. And and he was just this really larger than life character in many ways.

Unidentified Let's go back to. Sure. Police, what was happening during what was called the revolution during that time was.

Speaker 1 Yeah, I don't even know why the word revolution even came about, but I think probably it was about. You know what, I think, looking back on things I remember is shaping is being built in 1971, it was this little house in Shattuck Avenue and was at old Berkeley House. These people were renovating. And we all wonder what what the hell is going on at that time, Nazi David had a restaurant called Nazis and. That was kind of a big deal in Berkeley, Kensington, actually, and then there was potluck, which is owned by a friend of our families in Berkeley itself, and there was a traditional restaurants in San Francisco and also in this restaurant, chaplaincies opening up on Shaddick. And it was very curious about it when I started going there. And it was I remember going with a friend of mine has been a rock roll band, and he said the first time that he began, he had gone to dinner the night before. We were talking about a practice, what he ate, because, you know, I had this thing called pesto. It was the greatest thing I had in my life. And it was, you know, it was that sort of thing that triggered my imagination. And I started eating shape every day for lunch. I couldn't afford dinner. And it was lunch was a crazy affair and. You know, who knew that seasonality and strict adherence to cookbooks from the 16th century and you know this traveling around the world and gathering up recipes was a. I think people just we just love doing it. I think that's what the weather was really about. It was just his passion. And no one thought about it as a methodology or thought about it as a. You know, something that would continue for a long time, even that was I was a little setpiece and cute, you know, cute idea, fun, and no one thought that would coalesce into what it's happened. What's happened?

Unidentified James Beard doesn't mince words. Well, I

Speaker 1 was very lucky because I formed a relationship with Larry for Joan at that River Cafe when I was at Michael's in Santa Monica and Larry and I, Larry King, meet at the restaurant. We started talking. We started communicating those it always by phone. So hard line, no cell phones. And Larry and I started doing events together around the country and we formed we became brothers. And I didn't understand his relationship with Jim because he never we never talked about it. He kept it very private. His time with Jim was very. Very much a special thing for Larry and when I was opening. Jamz, I was friends with Danny Kaye and build the SIECUS and watch people, and they were also friends with Jim. And so Jim started coming around and he was curious about what I was doing. And I was just this naive guy from California. I had no idea what was going on. And Jim was was sort of behind the hill, behind my back, doing things I didn't understand. And he was basically supporting me in a way that I never even knew about. And there was a big part of that. And the first time he came to eat, it was just, you know, it's a magical thing. And then later on, I became friendly with him and he he wasn't feeling well in those days. He was really was this last couple of years. And, you know, it was sad for me because I wish I had known him. He was a little bit stronger. And the oddest thing that happened was that his daughter, my daughter, who became my doctor. And so when Jim was hospitalized once in this special hospital on the Upper East Side, Larry, comments. Can you feed Jim today? I said to him yesterday, you want to feed Jim today. So it's over care packages. And then Denny, who is doctor, call me up, said, Jonathan, I know what you're doing. I know that you stuck a bottle of Glenlivet in the patch. Because you love Glenlivet and you know it, you know, just talking about anything was about whether you were just Appel's, he had not only a photographic memory, he had an old factories sensitivity like no one. No one. And he can remember meals back he ate 30, 40, 50 years ago in sort of precise detail. And I was flabbergasted by that. It's like, how does it how do you do it with no, no. Taking everything else? And that was just kind of person he was. And, you know, after he passed on and I did the first dinner at the house with Wolfgang Puck, it was weird being there. It was like he still felt like he was there. You know, I to go upstairs to see that outside shower met Jim because he was obviously no shrinking violet out there naked on that balcony, taking a shower of all his her horrified neighbors. I just just laughed my head off, you know, but he was just this amazing person to many, many, many ways.

Unidentified You're known as a great mentor to. Did you take their from.

Speaker 1 Yeah, I think there was a sensibility about Jim that that was hard to pass up on when he was really an embodiment of the kind of person I would like to be, you know, someone who was very comfortable in his own skin, that loved what he did, was passionate about what he is, what he did, but also that he influenced so many different types of people from Joe Baumert, you know, restaurant associates to the mayor of New York, to people on, you know, like as diverse as your from Julia Child, Jack the painter and everybody else for any and all those people. And I think that he was just this quiet giant, both stature wise and, you know, intellectually. But he was really a cook. And I remember talking to to Alice about it once. And, you know, and she just said, you know, Jim just had this love of people. And I think that was the cue that I really thought about. It wasn't just the love of food and all this stuff. It was love feeding people. And I think that was kind of the thing that I really drew upon from him, that he really felt that feeding people and teaching people about especially the food of America. I mean, listen, he understood Italy. France set it up. But his but his true love with a true passion was American.

Unidentified What do you think this is the most important contribution to?

Speaker 1 Well, it's interesting, I mean, I talked to Aaron Sanchez and I talk about this all the time, is that, you know, that we want to preserve his. Passion preserve his legacy, and to do that, you have to keep you have to go back to his books, Brown on Bread, grilling all his you know, he had he had many different styles of cooking, that he incorporated all his books. And when you read them, they're really fun. You know, I remember, you know, strawberry shortcake. It's like the greatest thing in the world. And I want all my young cooks or all the kids. I don't care what age they are to go and read recipes like that and understand where Jim is coming from when he developed his recipes, because he really he he looked at probably the joy of cooking and other fanny farmer and different things. And he goes, you know what, I can do better than that. I can create something and I can also incorporate all that, you know, tell you about. There's different strawberries in different parts of California. You know, there's asparagus in different parts of America. This white asparagus and asparagus and green asparagus. There's eighteen hundred kinds of apples. There's different kinds of potatoes. And he was in love with that whole depth of knowledge. And I think that that's so important for us to learn and take with us in the Aaron. And I always talk about the people need to really search search that out. Otherwise you don't you're not complete as a cook. You're just going to get you're just going to be in today's. Time frame, but that doesn't give you a sense of history in the sense of history is so important.

Unidentified So you would say that it's important for young.

Speaker 1 Today, oh, I think I've I'm not just but not just Jim, I mean, to know who else Waters, you know, is and understand who you know, where she came from and and Jacques Pepin and and all these legendary figures. I mean, you know, I mean, I love reading stuff about Julia when she went to France and and you know, how but you know, the hurdles she had to get over to to get to where she was. And, you know, Elizabeth David, I mean, this is a David to me is the greatest person on the planet. Whenever I'm depressed, I read Elizabeth David or somebody reading. She's just such an amazing writer. But it's more than that. It's she really felt the culture. And it's like when you read it, you understand sort of the date and the time where she was writing. Remember, it was right after the war and she was writing about stuff that, you know, England had nothing to have powdered eggs and powdered milk and powdered everything. And then she would go to places like Sicily and all of a sudden people living like kings, you know, and she wanted to bring that joy back to England. And I think reading about that, really, it's impressive. That was kind of sad because, Larry, Fortune and I have planned we're planning a birthday, a birthday celebration for him at Rockefeller Center and Rockefeller was run by IRA and Jim had a long association with R.A. and we wanted to celebrate his birthday by having our chef friends come and do a benefit. And we didn't know we were thinking about it. Maybe getting a scholarship for young young chefs. We didn't know we were just cooking. And I remember we were talking about it and we got a call that Jim had done. From from our our doctor, who was very new, we were very close to him and he calls up

Unidentified I'm sorry that Jim had passed away. What was he like at the end of his life?

Speaker 1 Very Jim was very frail at the end of his life and. You know. People that were very close to him, like Al Green and people like that, I think probably better sorts of you know, they spent a lot of time in the hospital with him and stuff, but. You know, I just remember him just sort of a little bit of a shadow of who he was. I think everybody is like that at the end of their lives, you know?

Unidentified Fond memory, thank you.

Speaker 1 I think it's the first time I met him at Four Seasons, you know, and he he was the king of the Four Seasons. It was his place. He helped designed it. He helped with the architecture. He helped with the plates, the silverware, the glassware, the menus, the lighting, the everything, and see him there in his element, you know, this elegant. Man. It was just so serene and it was just magical. And I could be hard to describe and I every time I see is his portrait or his, you know, and he does it for the James Beard Awards, I said, I want people to understand who he was, you know, this great, great guy.

Unidentified Some of the biggest misconceptions about James.

Speaker 1 Well, number one, James was never really a professional cook. I mean, he did things professionally, was more of a caterer, and he was really a teacher. He was not a restaurant, cook was a restaurant, he wasn't a chef, he always got the whole thing about chef and cooks mixed up, I think. You know, a restaurant chef is different from someone who is a teaching chef in their own home, which is what Jim really was, and Jim was really an author. Jim was an educator. He was the first television chef. He was I think he was on in 1948 with with what was her name? The cow. Elsie the cow. That's the cow. You know, so he was the first guy on TV, did radio. He, you know, catered to amazing people, was a great teacher and then taught people who then taught other people. And I think that we get confused with what a restaurant chef is and that type of person. I always wish I could have become a Shakespeare rather than a restaurant chef. I think you get a much better life, you know, you're going to get all the stress of having to do all this. I'm sure he had his own stress, paying the bills and all that stuff. But he always seemed like, you know, and I understand he had a tough time early on his career. He wanted to be an opera singer and he wanted to do all these different things. And I think that's the beauty of being an American chef. So you can change careers. You could you could spin on a dime. You could say tomorrow, you know, screw this. I want I could do something else. And I think Jim is the embodiment of the American cook.

Unidentified The house was.

Speaker 1 You know, I did not spend a lot of time in the house, I was busy with my own stuff and, you know, I wasn't I wasn't a single fan. I wasn't that type of person. I was lucky to know him more as a friend than I was as a professional.

Unidentified That makes sense. Was backtracking, you want to tell a story?

Speaker 1 Speaking, you know, I think that. You know, when I was in shape, there was one fellow who was just was odd, there's a lot of people who shaped his that were hangers on and did things because Alice just couldn't refuse anybody. You know, Alice is just the most generous person on the planet. And there was this guy that actually taught me foraging and but he was an absolute hysteric about homosexuality. And he heard that James Beard was going to be at this luncheon. He wanted to out James Beard as a homosexual. And Alex said to me, he said, Jonathan, you've got to keep him out of the room with this guy. First of all, I had a loan on my shoes because he didn't have any shoes on his character, and then I had to shoot him, I had to figure out how to get him away from the luncheon. And I don't remember what I did to make that happen. But I know I kind of saved the day for many of the James Beard, and I thought about that for years while. I grew up in Berkeley, California, we everybody knew what was going on. There was you know, there was no mystery about lesbians, you know, you know, about being gay. Come on. I grew up in a different world than most people. You know, I thought I thought that the whole world was like Berkeley. And of course, it wasn't. But, yeah, there was there wasn't. That stigma attached to his sexuality, I think was big. OK, do you know?

Unidentified Tell us about the American security details in your report.

Speaker 1 Well, the American chefs tribute started as a memorial to Jim, to Jim after he died, and we didn't want to do it and bring him to Larry and me and said, well, would you guys think about doing it as a memorial? And and we have lots of it's a great idea. Thank you, Gail. And it was really Gill's tenacity that created this event. And it came out of Wolfgang Puck, had done a Meals on Wheels event in Los Angeles that I had participated in. And I had told Gill about that. And she said, well, why don't we do that for, you know, for for Jim, for his memorial. And luckily, Ari said that they would donate Rockefeller Center. You know, we invited our friends who had done this dinner because AIW after dinner that I had helped organize in 83. And that's the first time I really got to know people like Barbara Kafka and Jimmy Shabad and Bradley Ogden and Sepi Ringley from Four Seasons and all these different people. So we invited about 13 chefs. And we had no idea what the hell we were doing and we threw this party and it just magically just happened. It was like this perfect thing. And who do like that? It's going to be I think this is 25 years this year, I think. And it's been more than 20 years because it was 19. Was 30 years ago, we did the first one, so we skipped a couple of years, but it was just a magical thing that happened and I think that Jim's ghost was obviously there.

Unidentified Who, you know,

Speaker 1 everybody felt it and everybody was humbled by it.

Unidentified Why are you being nominated for?

Speaker 1 Well, listen, you know, it's it's always an honor when your peers nominate for something, you know. I'm wondering if they're doing it because they know that I'm getting old now and people feeling a little sorry for me or there's I don't know what it is, but it's an honor and it's an honor being associated with Jim, you know, you know, to have his, you know, name and mine on the same email or letterhead or wherever it's going to be. It's pretty it's pretty great. It's pretty.

Unidentified It's very special. A documentary about this.

Speaker 1 Well, I said before, it's really about it's about preserving his legacy, preserving the legacy of American food. It's about making sure that he is indelible, that we all know who he is and and we all want bits and pieces of him. We all want to absorb his DNA. I mean, that's the most important thing that he grew up in, a time that we want to we want to rediscover that time when, you know, there was before pesticides and before there was mechanization for plastic, before airplanes, before FedEx, before all that stuff, that there was a sensibility about how to cook that was intrinsically American, old fashioned from the hearth. And just like my little heart here and think that that is super important. And you know, it's funny, I'm building this restaurant national right now, and and I don't consciously think about Jim Beard, but he's there all the time. He's I've got my little I love my little angels on my shoulder, you know, Alice and Andre Salter and Craig Claiborne, always different people on my shoulder. And without them, I. I wouldn't be anything. I really wouldn't. There was getting to who Brathwaite study with his parents and love Red and who had worked up in the 30s. And he understood that connection. And that's what Jim is. Jim, is that connection to the past. And we need to we really need to keep that alive.

Unidentified You talk about how you how do you see the. Starting now, what is going to be?

Speaker 1 You know, I think the biggest change from when I started, when I you know, when I was I was selling Ferraris in Berkeley and I went to cooking school with Mary Recy and Cisco and she said, you become rich, you should become a chef. I said, what's up? And she encouraged me to go to the library in Paris. And we were just making it up as we went along. And I remember being a librarian with a bunch of Americans and Canadians and other people who similarly with no clue about what we would do. I love being in Paris, love being in France. I love being part of that whole thing. And we all of a sudden we all started to talk about the same thing, how we could reinvigorate, reinvigorate or we could germinate a sense of food sensibility in America. And we were like little Johnny Appleseed. We didn't know it. We didn't. But we were packed with ideas and different things. And when I got back, luckily, I got to work at a place like Chez Panisse and Michaels and I could stretch my legs. But getting ingredients was impossible, especially like when I was in L.A. There was no fishing at all anymore. San Francisco, the fishing industry had died down to really just doing crabs. And, you know, it really had shrunk to a very small situation. There were still farmers that were doing heirloom stuff, but there was few and far between. I think they're the real it's the farmers, the the fishermen, the ranchers, the food, the guys in the middle, you know, the people that they gathered all the stuff and brought it to be there. That's the magic that really happened. And I was you know, I was thinking about this whole thing about, you know, who are the new farmers going to be? Who are the new fishermen going to be? Who are the new butcher? It's going to be you know, there's no bushes left in New York. So I think that. Will has change in a lot of ways and a great way that a lot of ways it's grown, we've shrunk back. So I think there's got to be on both sides of the fence. It's going to be a balance.

Unidentified If you cut your cable so many.

Speaker 1 Well, that's why, you know, I was just in love with Jim because, you know, I grew up in Sanomat My grandparents had had a chicken farm and they raised their own vegetables and they had their own cows and their own sheep. And and that's and that was, you know, that's what people did. It was a hard life. It was very difficult. Now we kind of take it for granted, you know, that we're going to get the best strawberries at the height of the season. But I remember back when I was a cook and I read this thing about the first melon in Japan, went to the emperor and he got a paid six hundred dollars to the first melon season. And why was that so important? And so that's that's crazy. And then he started thinking about it. But that is it, because the harsh harshness of winter is going away and you get that beautiful first melon and that's the first thing in the spring. So it's almost Paganistic in a way, the way we look at things, that is that we go back to a time which is almost primordial. You know, that's why I love cooking with fire. You know, I love to cook over a campfire, you know, and I think that, you know, go forage for things. And, you know, that's why people go around. We'll go see. Sure. And pick up little, you know, barnacles and some of that. There's a huge romance in. That is a reality. But it's not reality. You know, not we all forage all the time. There'll be nothing left. You know, it's like I was reading Larry McMurtry long ago and and they used to pick prairie chickens along the way and grab and wring their necks and roast them with fire. I mean, the reason I got in cooking, it's the craziest thing. I watched Robin Hood and, you know, the 1930 version of it was Basil Rathbone. And and when they had that that big feast there with Bayberry and I said, that's cool. I want to do that. I want to roast to hold dear over the fire. And I think that's that would be great, but it's not really reality. So I think there's a whole different thing that has to happen. There has to be a better sensibility, how we raise animals, how we how we raise chickens, pigs, lambs, cattle, et cetera. But we also understand that the land is only finite, you know. So there's a lot there's a lot of there's a lot of issues with that. So the whole farm to table thing is a very big issue. You see? So, yeah, yeah, I remember back when days when I was a kid and people always talk about the food surplus in America and yet people were hungry. And I said, what the hell is going on here? If we have a food surplus, if we can't feed our own people? What's what is the dichotomy here? What what's what is the what's the message that we're trying to send to people? And I think really it's it's lack of passion and lack of understanding. And also it's it's a selfishness. And I think as Americans, we are very selfish and I think we're very coddled. We're very spoiled. I think there is a lot of things we take for granted. But one thing we shouldn't take for granted is that people are hungry. People can't read people. You know, there's a lot of things. And how how do you create. An education process that makes us think about these things, and I think it's really it's really awareness, you know.

Unidentified Maybe this is, you know, what fear is your take on? Chefs are stars loaded. What do you think of that?

Speaker 1 You know, I have a theory about it, when I was in school in Paris in 1976, there is a huge article in Paris Match with public who is getting his his or his military award. And it was public is in the middle of a phalanx of of chefs, of course, all male, you know, all their toques on the cover of Paris Match. I said, what the hell's going on here, chefs? On the cover of their Life magazine? And I think that's where it started. I think that I think it started in France and the whole nouvelle cuisine thing and in the birching of that situation and that hop, skip and jump to America. And then all of a sudden it's Sheff's. Rock and roll, all that stuff is became a big bubbling pot of stew that out of that came Emeril Lagasse and Bobby Flay and all those other people that got on TV. And it wasn't easy at the beginning for them, was really tough for them. But they had tenacity and they made it all work. And they actually provided this platform, which I think is really cool, had people who were great cooks that just want to become stars. Well, that's fine. Those cooks who want to be stars, they want to be stars. But it also creates awareness for our business because. If anybody is interested in food, what what's going to happen? You're going to get somebody tell me about the farmers that the guys at Cornell told me that a hundred people go look every every every spring up in Millbrook to go up on a farm. Of those 100 people, 20 people come back for a second. Look, of those 20 people, 10 people get serious. And there's 10 people. Six people actually try it. Right? Well, I think it's the same thing with, you know, TV. You know, if a million people watch, you know, Bobby Flay on TV, one hundred thousand are going to try those recipes. Ten thousand of those people are going to buy these books, a thousand people to think about becoming a chef. And then half the people make a cooking school. And and and I think that's how things build.

Jonathan Waxman
Interview Date:
2014-03-31
Runtime:
0:31:22
Keywords:
None
American Archive of Public Broadcasting GUID:
N/A
MLA CITATIONS:
"Jonathan Waxman, James Beard: America's First Foodie." American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). 31 Mar. 2014, https://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/archive/interviews/1286
APA CITATIONS:
(2014, March 31). Jonathan Waxman, James Beard: America's First Foodie. [Video]. American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). https://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/archive/interviews/1286
CHICAGO CITATIONS:
"Jonathan Waxman, James Beard: America's First Foodie." American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). March 31, 2014. Accessed December 01, 2021 https://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/archive/interviews/1286

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