Slow food, whole food, real food, local food – they're all media buzzwords these days, stemming from a growing desire to skip the unpronounceable ingredients and get back to culinary basics. But it wasn't always like that. In decades past, home chefs in the U.S. were more interested in the latest advances in gelatin-mold technology than they were in crafting a delicacy from fresh, local and seasonal ingredients. James Beard helped change all that.
This Nov. 19, 1975 file photo shows Julia Child, left, and James Beard, being honored by the New York Wine and Food Society at a dinner at the Pierre Hotel. (AP Photo/File)
Born 110 years ago today, James Beard was one of America's first celebrity chefs. His I Love to Eat, debuting on NBC in 1946, is believed to have been the first TV cooking show. He established the James Beard Cooking School and for decades taught students how to cook. And he did it as a true American chef, looking to our homegrown food heritage for inspiration.
Beard based his American cuisine on the foods he ate as a boy, but he also loved the foreign foods that, at the time, were considered incredibly fancy. He was one of the first to bring French cooking to the U.S., having been enchanted with the country's dishes while living there in the 1920s. Somehow, Beard made the dichotomy between foreign and homespun work. It's a fusion formula that has become almost the definition of American food – a dish borrowed from this country, a technique lifted from that one, on a base of comforting local favorites.
Beard himself best summed up his own philosophy of cooking:
"I don't like gourmet cooking or 'this' cooking or 'that' cooking. I like good cooking."
We have to agree with that assessment – and we have to thank James Beard for encouraging good cooking, all his life.
Written by Linnea Crowther