the Cocktail issue

James Beard by Marcelle ienvenu

hour visits that James Beard came up in conversation. It was no surprise that Ella knew not only the renowned Mr. Beard but also Julia Child and Jacques Pepin—my culinary idols. And in fact, my cookbook collection began with books by Child and Beard. My interest in Beard progressed further when the late Patrick Angelico, a colleague at Commander’s Palace, mentioned that he collected Beard’s books.Our friendship led us to find some of Beard’s out-of-print books to add to our culinary libraries. (One I cherish is Hors d’Oeuvre and Canapés , his first book, published in 1940.) As I became more involved in the world of gastronomy, I made it a point to learn about the players who were involved in shaping and redefining American cuisine during the 60s, 70s and 80s. This is what I know about Mr. Beard.He was born in 1903 in Oregon and was exposed to good cooking as a youngster. Not only did his mother operate a boarding house, but he and his family also spent summers at the beach on Oregon’s coast gathering shellfish and wild berries, and cooking meals with whatever they could find. As a young man, his interests turned to the theater rather than cuisine. He travelled abroad for several years and studied voice and theater, but returned to the United States in 1927. When he realized being in the theater was not lucrative, he began a catering business, opening a food shop called Hors d’Oeuvre, Inc. in 1937, and he finally realized that “his future lay in the world of food and cooking.” The James Beard Foundation website tells us that during the war years, Beard “served with the United Seaman’s Service, setting up sailors’ canteens in Puerto Rico, Rio de Janeiro,Marseilles and Panama.” After returning to New York in 1945, he became very involved in the culinary world, and by 1955 had written several influential cookbooks. In 1946, he appeared on television’s first cooking show on NBC. Through the years, he contributed articles in magazines such as Woman’s Day , Gourmet and House & Garden and consulted with restaurateurs and food producers. He established the James Beard Cooking School in 1955 and continued to teach for the next 30 years. Beard, Julia Child and Craig Claiborne unknowingly began the revolution of American gastronomy in the post-war years. (A must- read for those interested in American culinary history is The United States of Arugula: HowWe Became a Gourmet Nation by David Kamp.) James Beard died at 81 on January 21, 1985, leaving the country with a “legacy of culinary excellence and integrity to generations of home cooks and professional chefs.” After Beard’s death, Julia Child prodded his friends and colleagues to do something with his house. On November 5, 1986, the James

Who is James Beard? The James Beard Foundation’s mission is to celebrate, nurture and honor America’s diverse culinary heritage through programs that educate and inspire. I n 1970, I was visiting the Time-Life Books test kitchen in New York City when I observed a gentleman stirring a pot of roux that seemed to be bubbling up like a witch’s brew. Uh-oh, I thought to myself. Was he using self-rising flour and thus this gonflé (swollen and puffy) mixture? The jovial fellow pulled the pot off the fire (thank goodness) and introduced himself as James Beard.The name didn’t ring a bell, but it appeared he was someone important. It was during dinner that evening that I learned he was a much-published cookbook author and bon vivant. I found him to be absolutely charming. A few years later I was asked by Ella Brennan (whom I met while working as the local consultant for the Time-Life Books’ Foods of the World Series on American Cooking: Creole and Acadian ) to come to work at Commander’s Palace. My first reaction to her invitation was an absolute “no.” I knew that restaurants are open days and nights, weekends and holidays and I wasn’t ready to give up my social life, but Ella was persuasive.Within a week, I was set up in the catering department and thus began my long friendship with the matriarch of the Brennan family.We often had late afternoon chats on the patio sipping on Sazeracs discussing the cuisines of south Louisiana. It was during one of these cocktail

Ella Brennan — photo by Frank Aymami



Made with