Skip to main content Skip to footer site map
S31 Ep4

James Beard: America's First Foodie

Premiere: 4/28/2017 | 00:01:30 |

Today’s American food movement can be traced back to one man: cookbook author, journalist, television celebrity and teacher James Beard.



About the Episode

Food in the 21st century has become much more than “meat and potatoes” and canned soup casseroles.” Chefs have gained celebrity status; recipes and exotic ingredients, once impossible to find, are now just a mouse click away; and the country’s major cities are better known for their gastronomy than their art galleries. This food movement can be traced back to one man: James Beard. His name graces the highest culinary honor in the American food world today — the James Beard Foundation Awards. And while chefs all around the country aspire to win a James Beard Award, often referred to as the “culinary Oscars,” many of those same chefs know very little about the man behind the medal. Respected restaurateur Drew Nieporent summed it up when he said, “Everybody knows the name James Beard. They may not know who he is, but they know the name.”

America’s First Foodie: The Incredible Life of James Beard tells the story of the Portland, Oregon native, who had the first cooking show on television (1945); who was the author of 22 cookbooks along with a syndicated newspaper column and countless magazine pieces; and who ran an acclaimed cooking school out of his townhouse in New York City. James Beard introduced Julia Child to New York, boosting her place as a culinary grande dame. Child in turn once said, “I may have brought French cooking to America, but Jim brought American cooking to America.” He was a pioneer of the farm-to-table movement, consulting on menus for iconic restaurants such as The Four Seasons, promoting seasonally driven dining.

America’s First Foodie relates the story of Beard’s life while chronicling a century in the food movement. The film will weave the biography of the man the New York Times deemed “the Dean of American Cookery” while painting a gastronomic family tree.

The last chapter of the film will explore the post-Beard years, and will discuss how the billion-dollar food industry he helped found has changed. Since Beard’s death in 1985, the James Beard Foundation and House have continued his mission. The foundation is at the center of America’s culinary community and is dedicated to exploring the way food enriches our lives. The James Beard Foundation Scholarship Program helps aspiring culinary students realize their dreams by supporting them on a path to success. The Beard name has become synonymous with culinary excellence and each year thousands gather for the James Beard Foundation Awards.

Director/Producer Beth Federici and Co-Producer Kathleen Squires have interviewed many of the country’s epicurean icons, including Martha Stewart, Alice Waters, Jacques Pepin, Wolfgang Puck, Jeremiah Tower, Ted Allen, Judith Jones, Larry Forgione, Dan Barber, Gael Greene, Jonathan Waxman, Ruth Reichl and many more.

Through a recorded and printed oral history crafted by Beard himself, personal letters from Beard to his friends and colleagues, archival footage and interviews, we will weave the history of American cooking and gastronomy with the story of its Founding Father and will explore how the food world has evolved since his death. We will visit the places he loved, including his childhood homes of Portland and Gearhart Oregon, the great restaurants of New York, Portland, San Francisco and Chicago, the great public markets like Pike Place Market in Seattle and, of course, his second and final home, New York City. By marrying current footage with archival footage, interviews and animations, we hope to create a film that truly captures the color, spirit and genius that was James Beard.

"The only thing that will make a soufflé fall, is if knows that you are afraid of it."

This film is a co-production of Federici Films, WNET and American Masters.

About American Masters
Launched in 1986 on PBS, American Masters has earned 28 Emmy Awards — including 10 for Outstanding Non-Fiction Series and five for Outstanding Non-Fiction Special — 14 Peabodys, an Oscar, three Grammys, two Producers Guild Awards, and many other honors. To further explore the lives and works of masters past and present, American Masters offers streaming video of select films, outtakes, filmmaker interviews, the podcast American Masters: Creative Spark, educational resources, digital original series and more. The series is a production of The WNET Group.

American Masters is available for streaming concurrent with broadcast on all station-branded PBS platforms, including and the PBS Video App, available on iOS, Android, Roku streaming devices, Apple TV, Android TV, Amazon Fire TV, Samsung Smart TV, Chromecast and VIZIO. PBS station members can view many series, documentaries and specials via PBS Passport. For more information about PBS Passport, visit the PBS Passport FAQ website.

About The WNET Group
The WNET Group creates inspiring media content and meaningful experiences for diverse audiences nationwide. It is the community-supported home of New York’s THIRTEEN – America’s flagship PBS station – WLIW21, THIRTEEN PBSKids, WLIW World and Create; NJ PBS, New Jersey’s statewide public television network; Long Island’s only NPR station WLIW-FM; ALL ARTS, the arts and culture media provider; and newsroom NJ Spotlight News. Through these channels and streaming platforms, The WNET Group brings arts, culture, education, news, documentary, entertainment and DIY programming to more than five million viewers each month. The WNET Group’s award-winning productions include signature PBS series Nature, Great Performances, American Masters, PBS NewsHour Weekend and Amanpour and Company and trusted local news programs MetroFocus and NJ Spotlight News with Briana Vannozzi. Inspiring curiosity and nurturing dreams, The WNET Group’s award-winning Kids’ Media and Education team produces the PBS KIDS series Cyberchase, interactive Mission US history games, and resources for families, teachers and caregivers. A leading nonprofit public media producer for nearly 60 years, The WNET Group presents and distributes content that fosters lifelong learning, including multiplatform initiatives addressing poverty, jobs, economic opportunity, social justice, understanding and the environment. Through Passport, station members can stream new and archival programming anytime, anywhere. The WNET Group represents the best in public media. Join us.


Major funding for James Beard: America’s First Foodie is provided by Feast it Forward. Additional funding provided by the National Endowment for the Arts and Art Works.


Support for American Masters is provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, AARP, Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III, Rosalind P. Walter Foundation, Cheryl and Philip Milstein Family, Judith & Burton Resnick, Seton Melvin Charitable Trust, The Blanche and Irving Laurie Foundation, The Ambrose Monell Foundation, Lillian Goldman Programming Endowment, Vital Projects Fund, The Philip and Janice Levin Foundation, Ellen and James S. Marcus, The André and Elizabeth Kertész Foundation, Koo and Patricia Yuen and public television viewers.


♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ Ungaro: We're here tonight in beautiful Lincoln Center to celebrate the culinary arts.

Allen: The James Beard Award is the most important prize in American food.

They're the Academy Awards of the American culinary industry.

Batali: There is no greater night to put on my annual tuxedo and get down.

Woman: When I think of James Beard, I think, 'Wow.

A good time, a good American, and great food.'

Pomeroy: Just presenting the best of the best in a really classic and simple way.

Man #2: And he made it a little bit nerdy.

It's great to be kind of a food geek.

Niccolini: He did the original menu at the Four Seasons restaurant.

We still have some of his dishes on the menu today.

Man #4: James Beard's certainly a legend in his own time.

Lagasse: An amazing man. Man #5: Larger than life.

Man #6: A pioneer.

Man #7: Everybody knows the name -- James Beard.

They might not know exactly who he is, but they know his name.

Narrator: When this man speaks, master chefs listen.

This is James Beard.

Beard: This is Ceresota unbleached flour.

Let me tell you what 'unbleached' means.

It means untouched, unartificial, unfooled with, untampered with, unmessed with, unfiddled with, uncorrected, unperfected.

♪♪♪ Allen: James Beard was an enormously important figure in American cooking at a time when American cooking was really sort of a desert.

Jones: There wasn't a food world in the sense that we have one today.

There was the women's magazines, and they had a lot of recipes, fast and easy.

Lamb: Before Jim Beard, the average American table was meat and potatoes, and casseroles were made from canned soup.

Higgins: It was much easier for the industry to just make it simple and put in a box, in a can and freeze it or package it and just sell it at a supermarket.

Jones: When James Beard came on the scene teaching you how to cook, making you understand techniques and why you were doing something, there really had never been anything like it.

Wolf: The first time I got to his house, I was hungry, and I said, 'Is there anything to eat?'

thinking, you know, slabs of foie gras, pot of caviar, right?

He said, 'Yeah, there's some Skippy in the fridge.'

Allen: Yes, he liked Beef Wellington, but he liked chipped beef on toast.

He loved macaroni and cheese.

He appreciated a great ham sandwich.

Wolf: His glasses would be down on a chain, and you could see what he had in the previous meal on the glasses.

Greene: He was one of the founding fathers of eating well and carrying on about it and gossiping about the other people who are doing it.

Wolf: He gave us benchmarks for eating, for cooking, and for living.

♪♪♪ Allen: James Beard was born in 1903 in Portland, Oregon, at a time when the city was going through a huge boom -- a big timber town.

James had really picked the right mother.

She was a bit of a libertine, fiercely independent.

She was, herself, a tremendous cook, and a bit of a raconteur.

She ran an inn.

Batterberry: In the 19th century, our population was constantly on the move.

If you had just arrived from the East Coast or the Middle West, you didn't look for a hotel unless you were very wealthy.

You said, 'I'll find a good boarding house to stay in,' and the quality of the food was so important, because it replaced home food.

Lamb: Jim Beard was a mama's boy.

His mother married his father only to have a child.

His father was very seldom in the picture.

He came and went as Jim was growing up and be gone for months or years at a time and then appear again.

His mother was very popular socially in Portland and was a very prominent guest and hostess for the best families.

Paul: Portland in those years was larger than Seattle, aspired to be the San Francisco of the Pacific Northwest, and so took its food and other parts of its culture very seriously.

The market culture really had a central role in Portland's culinary development.

If you can envision hundreds of vendors on a daily basis, just clogging the sidewalk and the street corner, selling everything edible as well as dry goods and things that everyday shoppers would need.

Lamb: And Jim loved markets.

They had healthy, good food, and things were not changed by science, and he and his brother would go down, and they would shop, and they knew all of the purveyors by name.

Higgins: I can just imagine those vendors competing to make sure they were the ones who gave this pudgy, little foodie kid of the day, whose mother is the most influential food person in the city, the most delicious morsel to wander through the market.

Schroeder: James Beard's nursemaid had taken him to the doctor and stopped at the market to pick up some goods for Mrs. Beard.

And after the vendor at the market packed it up and handed her the bag, the nursemaid said, 'Oh, can you please put that on Mrs. Beard's account?'

The vendor grabbed it back and said, 'Ugh! It's for She'd kill me if I sold her that.'

Mrs. Beard had an amazing palate.

She was extremely discriminating, and she herself was a gourmand.

In fact, I hate to say it, but I think she was really America's first foodie.

She's the one that made James Beard who he was.

She gave him the appreciation of all this delicious food.

♪♪♪ Higgins: I've always felt, like, a strong kind of kindred thing with James Beard, maybe 'cause I was a hungry kid, too.

I grew up in a big family, single mother.

We gardened. We raised a lot of our own food.

So from an early age, I had my own curiosity and a mother who was a good cook.

Beard's mom had a lot of interesting approaches to food, what we would consider to be just classic country cooking, and it was taking place in her kitchen and out of her vegetable beds and fruit trees.

And so, you've got a pretty adventuresome woman who's willing to talk to the farmer coming to the back door, or buying vegetables from the Italian guy off the back of his truck, and they would bring their vegetables and maybe some other little special things out of California, things that were very exotic to the common cook of that era.

And if she didn't know how to cook it, she would develop relationships with Mr. Delfinio or Mr. Antosi, and they would talk about how their grandmother cooked that and introduced new ideas, new sort of regional cuisine into Beard's mother's cooking.

Great stuff, and it reads like a menu of today.

♪♪♪ Jue: He mentioned his mother often, and he once said to me 'If she had not been my mother, we would have been very good friends.'

Lamb: It was a complicated relationship.

They both adored each other, but there was always conflict because, well, Jim had to grow up and be a man.

Allen: He's described in his obituary as being a college dropout.

It's a little more complicated than that.

James went to school at Reed College -- even then, and certainly today, a haven for counterculture types.

He was a big man on campus, figuratively and literally.

He was interested in the arts.

He performed in many plays.

He was popular and well-known.

He was also popular with men with whom he had affairs -- other students, at least one professor.

This is at a time it was actually illegal to be gay, and he was kicked out of Reed College.

I mean, he's lucky he wasn't thrown in jail.

James was a little too out at a time when nobody was out.

♪♪♪ After leaving Reed College, James' mother sent him to Europe to study opera.

Lamb: He wanted to be an opera star, but that was in the Valentino period when you had to be small and Italian, and he was anything but that.

♪♪♪ Allen: It was Europe that really opened his eyes and his palate to great food -- eating at the great restaurants on the Left Bank in Paris, eating at the Ritz just opened a whole new world for him.

He was a gentlemanly companion for socialite women in Paris and London whose husbands didn't want to go to parties.

James loved going to these parties.

He loved the glamour, he loved the food, and, as he liked to say, 'You know, if you have a nice dinner jacket and can talk about art, you can eat really well for very little money.'

James comes back from Europe in the '20s and bounced all over the United States trying to create a career in theater.

He was bouncing between New York, Seattle, Portland, a little time in Hollywood, where he appeared in a DeMille film, and made his way back to New York in the late '30s, and I think it was somewhere around this time that it began to dawn on him that this acting-theater thing wasn't gonna work out.

♪♪♪ Pomeroy: The time is just after prohibition, it's New York City.

There were about 250 cocktail parties a night, and James was attending a lot of them.

He loved the booze, he loved the socializing, but he didn't love the food that was served at those parties.

The hors d'oeuvres he calls 'Doots' and 'Doodads.'

So he decides to develop his own catering company called Hors d'Oeuvre, Inc.

And he developed a sandwich that he became quite famous for -- The James Beard Onion Sandwich.

I read about the sandwich, and I started making it when I had a catering company.

It sounded delicious to me, because it's his mother's homemade mayonnaise recipe.

She used to make it in her boarding house, and she would actually make it table-size.

You take homemade brioche... slice some onion... James' mother's mayonnaise... ...a little bit of crunchy salt... add a little parsley.

This is such a perfect example of James Beard's taste -- simple, classic, very elegant, awesome.

♪♪♪ Reichl: If there's a restaurant of the 20th century in New York, it's probably Le Pavillon.

It virtually transformed restaurants across the country.

Henri Soulé, who owned it, had this idea that some people were 'his people,' and they had to be people who loved food.

Boulud: Soulé created what they called a 'Royale,' which was an area in the restaurant where if you really are powerful, you belong in the Royale.

♪♪♪ Davis: James Beard's first book, called 'Hors D'oeuvre and Canapes', around 1940 -- that was probably the first cookbook written by a man with an American, a New York approach to food that was about entertaining and about sort of the good life in a way, but a very practical book.

'This is how you make a canapé.' 'This is how you roll a cracker into a beautiful, little hors d'oeuvre.'

It sort of tapped into this urbane entertainment, food-as-more-than-just- sustenance idea, and I think it was a revelation at the time.

Reichl: Certainly cookbooks, in those days, were the domain of women.

They were, like, good girls who wrote practical advice for people, and it was a very small world, a very clubby world.

They knew each other, and I think it would have been very strange for a man to write a cookbook.

Allen: James Beard wrote 22 cookbooks.

But they weren't just cookbooks -- They were filled with stories and anecdotes and tales and opinion and acid.

♪♪♪ Stewart: Well, I've been cooking ever since I was a young child with mother in the kitchen, so we had James Beard's cookbook.

We had 'Beard on Food.' We had 'Beard on Bread.'

I consider him, like, a mentor.

I read his recipes in every Sunday.

It was a big deal.

And then 'Beard on Bread,' and I really loved baking bread.

The recipes in the book -- Oh, I still make some of them.

William Melville Childs' Health Bread.

Whole-Meal Bread with Potatoes I loved.

Cracked-Wheat Bread.

And I would make these breads and they were dense and heavy breads.

'Slice them very thinly for picnics with homemade pâtes.'

Nothing was too much effort.

Whims: My mother had several James Beard cookbooks, and there's one book that she gave me called 'Menus for Entertaining.'

Say you wanted to throw an afternoon tea party or a formal dinner party or a clambake, and he would just lay out all the recipes for that.

It was like, 'I can throw that party just like James Beard.'

Whiteman: It was also Jim who made it okay for men to cook.

And it was also okay for men to now think about food as part of an adventure.

Ungaro: Here was a man who wrote columns for and and newspapers all over this world every day.

And he was the first television chef to go on TV and teach America how to cook.

♪♪♪ Beard: Good evening.

Well, here we are again, and, as usual, I'm left home to prepare the supper.

Collins: 'Elsie presents James Beard in I Love to Eat' began in 1946 on NBC, and it was the first nationally televised cooking show.

No one really had a television, so it was not really seen by many people.

The televisions that existed for public consumption in those days were in department-store windows, they were in bars.

So a lot of his audience was men who were watching him before the Friday night fights.

Beard: Today we're going to make chili con carne.

Elsie: And we're going to have a session of Kitchen Clinic.

Beard: And we're going to discuss sponge cakes.

Elsie: Tell me, do you ever use what they call a 'filler' in a -- in your hamburger?

Either the large patties -- Beard: What do you mean 'a filler'? Elsie: When people talk -- I'm not accusing you, but you know how people often put extra ingredients into hamburger -- filler.

Beard: Oh, you mean cereal?

Elsie: Yes, that type of thing. Beard: No. Mnh-mnh.

I'm a purist. Elsie: Mm-hmm.

Collins: It wasn't really the right time for epicurean delights to be presented on television.

Elsie: Ready?

Collins: At least as he presented them, and I think he was a little bit early to the party, maybe a few decades early.

And then Julia Child appears in 1963, on 'The French Chef.'

Well, of course, she didn't intend to change the landscape.

Child: What's missing in this picture?

The goose!

And here it is.

We're cooking a goose today on 'The French Chef.'

Collins: Julia Child was not only bringing in 'French Food' at the height of its popularity, but also was a very charming entertainer.

She just was her natural self and had a great personality.

Child: And here it is, just sitting up waving at you.

Jones: When Julia Child came on the scene with this really wonderful book, I called Jim up, and I said, 'I have a remarkable manuscript, and I think you'll really be the person to appreciate it.'

He called me back within two or three days.

He'd looked at the whole thing, and he just said, 'It's remarkable.'

And then he said, 'I wish I'd written it.'

[ Laughs ] Davis: When Julia Child wrote 'Mastering the Art of French Cooking' and was coming to America, her editor, Judith Jones, who knew James Beard very well, asked who she wanted to meet when she came to New York, and she says, 'James Beard.'

And Beard threw a party to introduce her to the American experience.

Beard and Julia Child became best buddies.

They were both outsized figures. They were both over 6 feet.

They both had sort of funny voices.

They both sort of commanded attention in a room.

And they found comfort in each other, sort of in this outside space.

Barr: James and Julia loved each other.

They loved to cook together.

They gave themselves the nickname 'Gigi' for Julie and Jim.

Beard: What a lovely feast it is.

You know, Julia, when they had a collision like this, they usually celebrate with a mulled beer drink that was an wassail.

Jones: It was love and envy.

I don't think Julia was envious of Jim, but Jim was a little jealous of her.

You know, Julia was great with an audience, and he knew he wasn't so hot.

Child: And a toast came from dipping toast into wassail.

Beard: That's right.

Child: Well, let's say 'wassail' to the spirit of '76.

♪♪♪ Wolf: Jim's entrée was social ladies.

He was a raconteur.

And remember, early on, after he'd studied opera, he sang for his supper, and later on, he cooked for his supper.

Beard: New York 1956.

We're all set for tomorrow's blast.

We have 40 paid students.

And the first lesson is an hors d'oeuvre table, chicken three ways, corn bread, salad, and a plain layer cake.

Not exciting, but the right thing for a beginning class where everyone is getting accustomed to one thing or another.

For some reason, I am looking forward to classes because I'm such a ham, I guess.

Carroll: Jim started teaching in New York City in the mid '50s.

First, with André Surmain at Lutèce, and then later, in the kitchens at And then, eventually, in his house, on West 12th Street.

Greene: I decided that I should take James Beard's famous cooking course.

So I called, and they said I could not enter the advanced class without taking the beginner's class.

I said, 'But I'm Gael Greene. I-I'm a restaurant critic.

I'm a cook. I cook.'

They said, 'No, you can't take the advanced class until you take the beginner's class.'

I remember when he was showing how to do mayonnaise, and he put his giant hand on top of my hand and moved it in the direction that you would move the fork.

Grausman: In the classroom, he was able to give someone the confidence and encouragement to do things they had never done, which gave that person the feeling that they had achieved so much, and I think that was a gift that he had.

Carroll: In 1973, James began teaching classes at Seaside High School in Seaside, Oregon.

It was an ideal setup because in those classes, they got to work with the bounty of the Oregon coast, and it gave James an opportunity to be back in his childhood home.

♪♪♪ Lamb: Growing up, he spent the summers at Gearhart, Oregon.

Mary Hamlet was his childhood friend.

Mary would tell you about the time he made mud pies at the beach and forced her to eat one.

So he was a foodie very early on.

It was why he came back here to cook in the summer with the fresh seafoods, the wonderful berries, because he said, 'I can get the things I remember, and we can do them the way they were.'

Narrator: James Beard continues to return to the Oregon coast each summer to vacation and to teach cooking.

Beard's students have come from all over the country and paid $450 a piece to take the one-week class.

Jue: I was lucky enough to be chosen to attend James Beard's first cooking class when he held them in Seaside, at the high school.

And we became the disciples of James Beard.

Lamb: This was not a demonstration class for us to watch.

We would go in, there'd be a menu on the board, and you would pick what you wanted to do.

Then he would come around while we were cooking and critique us.

And then we'd go have lunch and eat what we'd cooked.

So we'd taste-test our own cooking.

Jue: We just all became this wonderful group that cooked all day and ate all afternoon and then partied all night.

So one day I asked Jim, and I said, 'How do you get up and do it for six weeks?'

And he says, 'Oh, that's easy.

They just roll me over and blow me up.'

Carroll: James Beard needed a fair amount of assistance in those classes.

There was lots of organizing and lots of shopping to be done.

And on the West Coast, he had me and Marion Cunningham.

On the East Coast, he had Barbara Kafka.

Jones: Everybody was vying to be Jim's favorite.

And sometimes it got a little bit nasty.

Kafka: I have done everything in the food and wine industry, from being a consultant to writing cookbooks to teaching.

Whatever it is, I've done it.

Batterberry: Not everybody loved Barbara.

She was extremely knowledgeable, extremely precise.

Kafka: Keep it simple, get it right, know what you're doing, don't complicate things.

Then you can be creative. Go right ahead.

Be my guest, but first learn your job.

Fabricant: Barbara Kafka is one of the brightest people I've ever met and very opinionated.

Jones: She was extremely, uh...high-handed with Marion Cunningham.

Wolf: Marion Cunningham was his pal.

She was the manifestation of what Jim loved -- a survivor from difficult times who had an inherent elegance, force of personality, stature, presence, and had been a gas-station attendant.

Reichl: She'd never been on a plane.

She was terrified of heights, of people, of everything, and she went to this class that Beard was holding up in Portland, and she was liberated.

Lamb: He took her from an alcoholic housewife to one of the finest cooks in California and a teacher and so forth.

Wolf: This woman had been through a lot and had come out the other side to write 'Fannie Farmer,' a cookbook that sold millions.

Carroll: I remember being in an elevator with James and Marion Cunningham, and Marion said, 'James, you've just been so wonderful to me.

You have given me a career that I would never have had otherwise.

How can I ever thank you?'

And he leaned on his cane and his eyes darted about, and he said, 'Marion, you can't.'

Tower: The James Beard/ Marion Cunningham relationship is very indicative of what James Beard was like.

She was a slave.

And I use that word because I think it eventually grated on her.

She turned into a very mean bitch.

Reichl: She was very huffy about Barbara.

And they, I don't think, were ever in the same room.

And you couldn't have two more different people.

Jones: He and Marion had such a delicious relationship.

They just adored each other.

And Barbara didn't have that kind of intimacy.

Reichl: Jim Beard kind of loved the fact that they fought over him.

Jones: I think it was really just Barbara was obsessed, she had to be top dog.

Wolf: I've never told anyone this, certainly on the record.

I was in a room with Barbara, and the discussion was who was going to be the next James Beard.

And Barbara said that she should be, and if she lasted long enough, she would.

They were talking about who was next.

You know, and the fact of the matter is, when somebody's an original, no one's next.

♪♪♪ Reichl: Now, he got a lot of invitations to go to dinner with people.

And at that time, there were a lot of press events, a lot of products had all kinds of marketing promotions going on -- luncheons all over the city -- and they all invited Jim to come.

And he would say yes to every single one.

I didn't hear him talk about needing money, and he was comped so much that most of what he did for teaching classes or traveling, were paid for by someone else.

Tower: James Beard never paid for anything.

He certainly didn't pay for the limousines and the hotel suite and the dinners and the champagne.

Jones: I remember that first lunch.

I had to pay for it, and I didn't have enough for the tip, and I was mortified.

And he said, 'Oh, we'll just let it go.

I'm gonna tell him we'll stop by with the tip.'

[ Laughing ] 'We'll stop by with the tip.'

But he didn't offer it out of his own pocket.

Niccolini: I said to Tom Market, I said, 'Well, I have to ask the question,' like, 'Who ever pays his bills?'

I mean, he gets up and leaves all the time, and you ask me just to sign his name on the check and that's it.

And he said, 'Well, James Beard, you know, has never paid for a meal in his entire life.'

Beard: My eggs pipérade requires very accurate heat control.

So that's why I use the Corning Gourmet Range.

Jones: Jim Beard took money for things to promote them, if he believed in it.

He needed the pennies.

Wolf: Well, that was at a time when you weren't supposed to take endorsements.

Yeah, those days are long gone.

I mean, now if you don't have an endorsement deal, you're actually not a person.

Jones: I mean, this is a business, and he's got a name.

And if you really believe in something, why not?

Beard: Hmm. I'll have that recipe for my next book.

Woman: Do you cater?

♪♪♪ Davis: Beard consulted on several restaurants and had a very close relationship with Joe Baum.

They created iconic American restaurants that really ushered in an era of American dining.

Baum: The Four Seasons opened in 1959 to huge fanfare, huge expectations.

It's philosophy was theatrical, and this incredible temple of design on every single level.

And it was really focused on the entire experience.

Niccolini: And I think this is basically the relationship of James Beard, considering he was an actor in his previous life.

You have to understand that you have to think about the service.

You have to think about the decor.

Food alone does not carry a restaurant.

You have to add everything all together.

Waxman: He helped design it. He helped with the architecture.

He helped with the plates, the silverware, the glassware, the menus, the lighting.

He was the king of the Four Seasons.

It was his place.

Niccolini: The cost of opening the restaurant in '59 was more than $5 million.

The Grill Room is basically where the so-called 'power lunch' word came from.

And his table was always the center booth at the Four Seasons restaurant.

It was the first restaurant in America that started serving American wine on the wine list.

I mean, there was no other restaurant in America that would even touch American wine.

And James Beard had a lot to do with it again.

Baum: And it was his idea, over 50 years ago, to create a restaurant where the menu changed with the seasons.

And that's why they named it the Four Seasons.

They were dealing directly with farmers and producers who were growing things specifically for their restaurant, like in 1959.

Tower: The menus were all about foraging.

So it said, for instance, 'The clams are from Hook Point in Amagansett,' or something like that.

The American culinary scene now thinks they invented that.

It was invented by Four Seasons and James Beard.

Baum: Preceding the change of every season, it was like a theatrical opening.

Everybody got all dressed up. The press was invited.

And I remember being part of that excitement.

Davis: I actually think that the Four Seasons is really the first 'American Restaurant' with a capital 'A' and a capital 'R.'

They really changed the game for restaurants that came after it.

♪♪♪ Larry: I had the great fortune of growing up with a grandmother who had a self-sufficient farm on Eastern Long Island.

And I really wanted the ingredients that I remembered from my childhood.

I remember the fruits and vegetables, the going out and picking them, nice and fresh, and using them fresh, and that's what I wanted for the restaurant.

You know, I wanted to get back to where cooks knew that cauliflower didn't grow with a plastic bag over it, that things came from farms.

We have to start having a one-on-one relationship with our farmers, and that was back in the mid-'70s.

I decide I would open my own restaurant in 1983.

And I couldn't think of a name for the restaurant at all, so I called Jim up.

I said, 'Jim, what do you think a good name for the restaurant?'

and I barely got it out of my mouth, and he said, 'An American Place.'

Reichl: I mean, long before farm-to-table, before farmers markets, I will never forget going to An American Place and seeing Larry Forgione with cream in a jar, and he was shaking it, and I said, 'What are you doing?'

He said, 'I'm whipping the cream.

Mr. Beard says that you can get cream like this,' and he went out and found it.

Larry: Jim loved strawberries, and especially strawberry shortcake.

That was one of his favorites.

I have a recipe that he gave me that was handed down from his mother.

We had it on the menu at An American Place for as long as I can remember.

Marc: You know, I remember, like, asking my father, you know, 'What is it about James Beard, you know, that you love so much?'

And, you know, he kind of smiled and said, 'You'd be able to go over his house and talk about morels for two hours.

And then after you were done talking about morels, you'd talk about goat cheese for another three hours and some woman who made the best goat cheese that he's ever had, 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.

Larry: You know, Jim never really changed over all the years.

He still believed in the philosophy of American food and the great bounty that America had to offer.

And it just took us a while to catch up to him.

Fabricant: He was the pioneer in the beginnings of any kind of farm-to-table movement.

Many of the chefs that he did mentor over the years are chefs that you now see in that very movement.

♪♪♪ Waters: A lot of people were dropping out in the '60s and trying to live their own way, whether it was on a farm or whether it was eating healthy food.

And I think it wasn't really until we sort of came to our senses about the purity of food, and it was juxtaposed against fast food.

It became very revolutionary.

Allen: It's very common today to go to restaurants where you feel like you're having dinner at a friend's house, with very fresh food from the farmers market.

That was not common at all in 1970.

People who were architects and musicians, not even chefs before, found their way into this little Alice Waters hippy commune at Chez Panisse.

They came to work with her and be a part of this revolution.

Tower: I was a failed architect, I was broke, and I took the first job that came along, which was the chef at Chez Panisse.

If I'd known what it was like to be a chef, I would never have done it, quite frankly.

[ Chuckles ] James Beard wrote an article in 1975, saying that one of his favorite restaurants in the United States was Chez Panisse.

And everybody who read his columns went, 'James Beard has a favorite restaurant in Berkeley?

How is that possible?'

Waters: After Chez Panisse opened, Marion Cunningham said, 'I'm bringing James Beard.'

And I remember we made a special dinner.

And I know he was sitting over here.

And he was a very open, expressive, charming person.

After he left, he said to Marion Cunningham, 'This is not a real restaurant.'

And I knew what he meant. I did know what he meant.

And I consider it a great compliment.

♪♪♪ Lamb: The house was like Grand Central Station.

People came in to just talk to him.

People came in for an autograph.

Wolf: This was very orchestrated chaos.

He lived on two floors of a brownstone that were designed to never have a stay-over guest.

It was a singular residence.

It was about him, and it was about him receiving people.

He would call me up and he would say, 'I'm tired and the Ambassador from Spain is coming.

Can you come over?'

And I'd come over in my little jeans and T-shirt and sit on the floor, quietly listening until he nodded off, and then I talked to the Ambassador from Spain, or whoever it was.

Barr: Beard was the fount of all information and gossip.

He was not the greatest person to lock himself away in a room and finish the book he was meant to be finishing.

That was really, really hard for him.

He was the kind of person who always needed to have people around him.

He prized his role as being the source of all gossip and information, and that's what kept him in the mix and kept him in the center of things.

Tower: He would talk about people who would be absolutely horrified to hear that he didn't love them.

Wolf: I used to say to him, 'Why don't you like Giuliano Bugialli?'

And he'd say, 'Well, well, well...' I'd say, 'Jim, why don't you like him?'

He said, 'I don't like the way he smells.'

Stuart: Jim sat in a desk that faced the street, so he faced two windows and could see anyone who walked back and forth.

Sometimes he didn't bother to get dressed, and he would sit in his jockey underwear and wave at people, and people would wave, and then they would be taken aback a little bit.

And his shower -- they built it on the balcony, at the top of the stairs, in his greenhouse.

Someone across the way, if they wanted to, they could look towards Jim's house and see him showering.

Lamb: Some neighbors complained.

They'd call and say, 'Will Mr. Beard put on a robe?'

[ Chuckles ] And he said, 'Just look the other way.'

Stuart: He wasn't a modest man.

Jones: He couldn't bear not to answer his own telephone.

He'd pick it up and he'd say, 'Well, yes?

Mm-hmm? And what degree was your oven?

Well, you shouldn't have basted it.'

And it would be somebody out in Omaha.

Tower: He was a people-person.

He was a real friend to everyone.

And everyone that knew him adored him, because he was real.

Reichl: I was invited to a party, and Marion Cunningham, who I met for the first time at that party, sort of saw me looking lost, off in the corner.

And she said, 'Would you like me to introduce you to James Beard?'

And she took me up and introduced me, and I said something like... 90% of the garlic that is eaten in the United States is grown in California.

...and he looked at me, and he said, 'Really?'

And I was done.

Marion found me a little bit later, and she said, 'Oh, I should've stayed with you.

He's much nicer to boys.' [ Chuckles ] ♪♪♪ Allen: James wasn't always very vocal about it, but he knew that he was gay from a young age.

He figured it out one day at the beach.

Tower: Jim was very brave in his coming out early.

He was always a gentleman. It was a private matter.

He never flaunted it.

I'm blushing slightly now remembering that he'd invite you up to his room and then we'd be talking and scheming and writing menus and talking about food.

And then, suddenly, the bathrobe would fall open and there's Buddha with the family jewels hanging to the floor, and I'm like, 'Yeah, well...' Aaron: We were in the Four Seasons, Jim and me, facing the entrance.

He looks up, and he sees a friend of his who's also gay.

His friend is walking in with a woman, and Jim gets his whole 7 1/2 feet up and says, 'If there's anything I can't stand, it's a hypocrite!'

Wolf: James was in a relationship for something like 40 years, 38 years.

We used to call it the most expensive cocktail ever, because he picked him up in a bar in Rome, and that was it.

Stuart: Gino Cofacci, Jim's companion, lived upstairs.

Jim sent him to Europe to study pastry.

And then Jim helped him get accounts in restaurants to make pastry.

And they had a personal relationship for a while, but they led completely separate lives.

Wolf: For many years, everybody accepted that he was kind of a ward, but the fact of the matter is he was an ex.

They were no longer an intimate couple, but they were a couple.

Lamb: There would be weeks they wouldn't see each other, or even speak if they were upstairs and downstairs.

And it was a cantankerous affair, I think.

Stuart: And it was always a little bit of a mystery as to why he still took care of him.

Lamb: How can I say this nicely?

He was almost mentally ill.

He was such a perfectionist.

And an Italian temperament -- he could be lovely one minute and flying off the handle the next.

Stuart: Jim somehow felt some kind of responsibility for him, because in his will, Gino was left the life rights to his apartment upstairs, plus a financial stipend.

Lamb: The tragedy was, Jim had a pug dog that Gino adored and took care of, and the week after Jim's death, Gino was walking the dog and it bolted, ran right in front of a car, and was killed.

And that was almost the end of Gino.

He just could hardly handle it.

It just seemed like the dog wanted to go with Jim.

♪♪♪ Carroll: James Beard loved feeding people.

He lived to bring people together and to bring people around a table.

And it was very upsetting to him to find out that there was not enough food available for housebound seniors in New York City.

Greene: I called Jim. We said, 'Let's organize.'

And actually, I think it was Joel Grey who gave us the name 'Citymeals On-Wheels.'

And we went on from $35,000 to, 32 years later, we are raising $19 million a year.

♪♪♪ Boulud: Last year, we started a program called 'Chefs Deliver.'

This dish is classic French cuisine, with all the seasonal vegetables of early summer, cooked with love by a chef.

I think James Beard would've been very proud.

The idea is to bring a little bit of brightness and contact and a little bit of joy to people by having a meal prepared by the chef himself.

I prepared for you a beautiful veal stew... It's also the human touch.

People feel connected.

...with a little bit of love from all the chefs in New York.

Man: That's what make good cooking, is love.

Boulud: Doing Chefs Deliver, it's saying 'Thank you' to James Beard for what he did when he started, for sure.

♪♪♪ Greene: Jim had several serious illnesses and was in the hospital.

And you often thought he might be on his last moments, but he actually had eight lives.

I was in the hospital one evening at about 5:30, 6:00, and suddenly, the elevator doors opened and there was a line of chefs, all in their chefs' caps, carrying Jim's dinner.

[ Chuckles ] Jaffrey: We went in, and there he is in his bed, sitting up, lots of people.

It's a party going on.

Waxman: So, I would send over care packages, and then Denny, who's his doctor, called me up and said, 'Jonathan, I know what you're doing.

I know that you stuck a bottle of Glenlivet in the package.'

Stuart: When he was in the hospital, he was complaining about the chicken soup and said maybe a chicken walked through it, but that's the closest a chicken ever came to that soup.

Greene: He was not allowed to eat salt.

And he said to me, 'If you can't eat what you want to eat, what's the point in living?'

Stuart: He had been in the hospital so many times, we thought he was gonna get through whatever it was and that he would be home.

Carroll: James Beard was interviewed by a reporter from the And he didn't feel well that day, but we drove down to the beach and James didn't want to get out of the car.

But the reporter insisted, so he got out of the car, he took a few steps on the beach, and he took what is now quite a famous picture.

And the first time James Beard saw that photograph, he cried.

He said, 'It's just the end.'

Larry: I received a call in the middle of the night from his doctor, letting me know that Jim had passed and that Jim had a little message for me to just say that everything is gonna be all right, and he's in good hands.

Reporter: James Beard, one of America's leading authorities on food, died of cardiac arrest in a New York hospital Wednesday.

Beard's portly frame was often seen on television, sharing his vast knowledge of food and drink.

He trained and inspired numerous American cooks, and to many, he became their mentor.

Beard wrote 18 books on everything from outdoor cookery to pasta.

He was 81.

♪♪♪ Lamb: After he passed away, his childhood friend, Mary Hamlet, and I took Jim's ashes to the beach at Gearhart.

I spread them on the beach.

Then we went to the old hotel in Seaside and had a stiff drink and drove home.

[ Laughs ] The thing Jim always said was, 'I want no monuments. I don't want a tomb.

I don't want people to make a god out of me.

Remembrance in love, yes, but not a phony tribute.'

♪♪♪ Stuart: When Jim died, Manufacturers Hanover Trust was the executor of the will.

They gave the contents of the house to William Doyle Gallery to auction, and the proceeds would go to Reed College.

I don't know why he left everything to Reed, except that he also went back there when they gave him an honorary degree.

Lamb: The only thing he ever said to me about Reed was, 'I think it's time they apologized.'

They had never communicated with him at all until they gave him an honorary doctorate.

Wolf: You know, Reed College kicked him out for fiddling with a boy, and he gave them a bunch of money, which I think is kind of wonderful.

It made them acknowledge him, you know.

It was a rather flamboyant and generous 'screw you.'

Stuart: Jim died in January 1985, and the auction was in October.

And then they put Dumpsters outside in the street so the house could be cleaned to be put on the market to sell.

There was a group of us who were trying to decide if there was anything that could be done to save that house.

That was sort of the beginning of The Beard Foundation.

Puck: Larry Forgione called me one day after Jim died, and he said, 'You know, we should preserve his house.

He used to teach cooking classes there.

That should be a monument to American cooking, really.'

Larry: And we got together with all of the great chefs of America and said, 'We need to raise this money to put this down payment down on the house.

Let's do a series of dinners across the country -- The James Beard Night.'

And there were hundreds of chefs, hundreds of restaurants across the country that said, 'Absolutely.'

And we raised the money for the down payment.

And then we came up with the idea of opening the house up to chefs to be able to come in and do dinners in order to keep it running and functional.

The first official dinner at the house was Wolfgang Puck.

Puck: And I said, 'Oh, my God.

What a great honor to cook in this icon's kitchen.'

So here I went then, to New York, and I remember we did the dinner.

We were cooking downstairs, bringing the food upstairs into the dining room.

And that was really the beginning, but also then, every chef from all over the country was honored to come and cook at the James Beard House.

♪♪♪ Higgins: There's never a time that I've been there that I haven't felt his presence in some way.

I still really love that feeling of the first couple times working with the bad oven and the electric burners and, you know, the Pyrex cookware.

Very, very Beardian, I guess you would say.

Boulud: A young chef today who is just starting to be known, the dream is to go and cook at the James Beard House and the dream is to become a great American chef.

And I think it's the rite of passage as a young American chef.

If you want to earn recognition, if you want to earn respect, and if you really want to fulfill your dream, you have to cook at the James Beard House.

Zimmern: And the Beard Award goes to...Bâtard.

[ Cheers and applause ] Allen: There's not a chef alive that doesn't desperately want a nomination for a Beard Award and the opportunity to win.

This is the Oscar, this is the Tony, this is the Emmy, this is the Grammy all rolled into one.

The evening, itself, of the James Beard Awards is a very interesting night because about 85% of the people walking in the door are gonna lose, and they know that.

Pomeroy: I have a lot of beautiful dresses to show for all the years that I didn't win.

Waxman: Well, I was always the bridesmaid, never the bride.

It's always an honor when your peers nominate you for something.

I'm wondering if they're doing it 'cause I'm getting old now and people are feeling a little sorry for me.

Allen: The James Beard Awards is a night of watching people's careers change right before your eyes.

It's a big, big deal.

It can change people's businesses.

Boulud: The second James Beard Award I won was Best Chef in America.

It was, maybe, the biggest day of my life.

Woman: For my team.

Higgins: I was a recipient of the James Beard Award.

I got it around here somewhere.

Puck: I won the James Beard Award twice.

I think they might have forgotten that I won already or something.

Whims: But the most amazing thing about it is that I got invited to be part of the club.

Allen: I will never, as long as I live, forget the night that I won a James Beard Award.

It was like an out-of-body experience.

It was awesome.

Carroll: Someone asked me once if I thought James Beard thought about a legacy, and I don't think he ever did.

I think it was enough for him to get through this life without thinking about what was going to be beyond this life.

I think he would be very happy to know that his name and his face -- that they live on.

He might even be a bit surprised to know that.

Allen: I think that is what a foodie really is -- someone who loves the craft of cooking, who loves to eat, who cherishes the convivial table.

So, James Beard, as America's first foodie -- absolutely.

[ Indistinct conversations ] [ Indistinct conversations ] ♪♪♪ [ Cork pops ] [ Glasses clink ] All: To Jim!

Announcer: 'James Beard: America's First Foodie' is available on DVD.

To order, visit or call 1-800-PLAY-PBS.



PBS is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization.