James Beard is often referred to as the father of American Fine Dining. His life and passion still fuels great American chefs from all over the country. The simplicity, and the technical aptitude of his cooking makes his food and style very close to the style I strive for in my culinary career. His respect and passion for ingredients was far ahead of his time. The mere mention of his name will cause any chef or cook to pause and reflect reverently. James Beard died in New York in 1985 when I was very young, his efforts and passion carry on in his foundation- The James Beard Foundation. Unlike chefs a bit older than I, I never grew up watching him on TV, and while I have read a few of his books, and cooked a few of his classic recipes I can never say in a romantic way that while watching this giant of a man cooking I was inspired to cook for a living, or at least motivated to cook more aggressively and passionately at home.
What most people don't realize is that James Beard was born in Portland Oregon. A mere 80 miles from where I live and work. Furthermore as a child he vacationed through the summer in a beach house in Gearhart Oregon, a town where I grew up and my parents still live. He taught classes at Seaside High School where I attended and volunteer to be a chef mentor for our culinary "Prostart" class. He held weekend seminars throughout Astoria Oregon as well. His food is always classified as America, but he was very open and honest about his passion for local ingredients, Northwest ingredients, Oregon ingredients. Oysters, clams, berries, salmon, mushrooms all ingredients I am able to work with on a daily basis. Ingredients that he built a career out of a simple passion for, and was able to instill that passion in others. After his death his ashes were scattered on the beach in Gearhart.
After his death his home in New York city was renovated into a restaurant where chefs from the world over are invited to attend- packing their local ingredients with them culminating in a meal presented to about 80 ppl. with a real focus on local food. Why leave New York when you could have the best local ingredients cooked by the best local chefs from any given point on a map on any given night. The best chefs in the world have cooked in that kitchen, the most famous eaters, writers, and journalists have all eaten in that dinning room.
Since I began my tenure at work our company has made that pilgrimage 2 times, and disappointingly to me I wasn't included either time, the first I didn't really qualify for and the second was real heartbreak. While the rumblings from upper management have been that the hope was to go again this year, and I figured I had to go this time, I wasn't going to count my chickens before they hatched. Last week I was asked to attend. We are cooking at the James Beard House on Wednesday October 12th, at 167 West 12th Street New York NY at 7pm. In the past due to our fluctuation in business the winter always made the best time to go, but our owner has (wisely, and correctly) decided that fall is a much better time to really showcase the same foods that Mr. Beard himself was so passionate about. A group of 3-4 chefs will go, our owners and managers, our marketing group, local journalists, and wives and friends of the restaurant and stay for at least 4 days in New York and with some luck Melissa will be able to join me. While I am absolutely ecstatic about the opportunity, it is to be approached with the up most reverence. A menu will be developed and tested, a local winery will most likely be selected to attend with us to highlight those pairings, and even a few local purveyors/farmers/fisherman will have the opportunity to come with us. This is a huge honor, an experience that you can not be the headlining chef for until you have gone under another headlining chef, so it is a relief to get out of the way as I hope to be able to attend multiple times over the course of my career as a headlining chef. It also consumes an astronomical amount of work, resources, time, and money for both my company and restaurant to agree to absorb. I have seen a overnight Fed-ex bill for 4k dollars before. Again, I am so fortunate that I get to go to work everyday doing things I love, working with people who take the time to mentor and teach me, get paid fairly, and still have opportunities like this. I guarantee as we go through the menu development process, and the process of travel and the actual event itself I will keep you all posted. For now I am just fortunate to have this opportunity. James Beard took the time to make cooking cool. At a time when this country was obsessed with Jello, and Tupperware he strived to make food more. He argued for better ingredients, grown and harvested in a better manner far before it was trendy to do so. He was a pioneer of the food movement that I strive daily to preserve and develop.