Chicago Chefs on the Influence of James Beard

Daniel Hautzinger
James Beard. Photo: Reed College
Photo: Reed College

James Beard: America’s First Foodie is broadcast by American Masters on Friday, May 19 at 9:00 pm, and will be available to stream then. It’s directly followed by a rebroadcast of Julia Child: American Masters, at 10:00 pm.

Although he is less well-known than his good friend Julia Child, the cookbook author, television personality, and teacher James Beard has been perhaps even more influential in American cuisine. Farm-to-table cooking, a distinctive American cuisine, the early education of many important chefs through cookbooks: Beard helped bring it all about. As Child said, “In the beginning, there was Beard.”

Two young Chicago chefs discuss Beard’s influence and what it’s like to win or be nominated for a James Beard Award.

Sarah Grueneberg

Chef/Partner, Monteverde Restaurant & Pastificio. Winner, James Beard Award for Best Chef: Great Lakes in 2017

Sarah Grueneberg of Monteverde Restaurant. Photo: Galdones PhotographyPhoto: Galdones Photography How has James Beard influenced you?

At culinary school, they teach you almost right at the beginning who James Beard was, and about his influence as the godfather of American Cuisines. As a result, one of the first cookbooks I bought was by him. All of his books are really a great source of inspiration and really last the test of time.  One of the cookbooks has this amazing recipe for making bourguignon-style braised short rib. That dish is so delicious that it inspired me to create a beef cheek ragù with creste di gallo pasta that we put on the menu right before the 2016 James Beard Awards. It was such a hit that it remained on the menu for the rest of the summer.  I also received his book Beard on Pasta as a gift and I look at it from time-to-time when I need to get some old-school inspiration. 

What does it feel like to win a James Beard Award?

It feels surreal and incredible. As I grew in the industry, I wanted to be a chef that guests would love, but also be respected by my peers. A James Beard Award is a testament to that, as it’s voted on by our culinary peers. It makes me take a step back and reflect on the accomplishment, for myself and my team at Monteverde, reflect on my mentors like Tony Mantuano, Missy Robbins, and Chris Shepard, and it also keeps that drive of wanting to make sure that I’m always cooking my best and creating welcome, innovative dishes that surprise and satisfy. The James Beard Awards bring our community together, which is what he wanted, and what food does. 

Do you have a favorite James Beard recipe?

He has this angel hair pasta with caviar which is something that I plan to cook on New Year’s Eve. He makes the pasta and drains it, then cooks it in butter and folds in the caviar and lemon. It’s something you just want to eat on a celebratory, decadent night – though I think I would sub out the butter for crème fraîche and chives. 

(Grueneberg appeared on Chicago Tonight the day after winning her award. Watch her conversation with Eddie Arruza.)

Greg Wade

Head Baker, Publican Quality Bread. Nominee, James Beard Award for Outstanding Baker in 2017

Greg Wade of Publican Quality Bread.

How has James Beard influenced you?

For me, James Beard represents a level of integrity brought to cooking and baking. His importance and influence to me is trying to achieve, maintain and uphold that integrity in the way that I think about baking and running a bakery in general. 

What does it feel like to be nominated for a James Beard Award?

Being nominated for a James Beard Award was pretty unreal, especially because the baker award is a national one and not regional. I had the pleasure of talking to a few of the other baker nominees and one thing that I really enjoyed about our conversations is that we all are very community-oriented. Bakers love to share knowledge and experiences. We aren't a particularly competitive crowd. So while we all agreed that winning would be great, we were all overjoyed and extremely humbled to be recognized.

Do you have a favorite James Beard recipe?

My favorite recipes are often simple ones. One that I personally really enjoy from James Beard is his brown bread recipe. He uses 100% stone-ground, whole wheat flour for this bread. Using all whole wheat flour is something that is coming back around in modern baking.

James Beard
American Masters
Chicago