James Beard: America's First Foodie

Daniel Hautzinger
James Beard, America's First Foodie. Photo: Dan Wynn
Photo: Dan Wynn

You may not know who he is, but if you’re at all tuned into the world of food you’ve probably heard his name. James Beard, “America’s First Foodie,” was a revered teacher, television personality, and author of twenty-two influential cookbooks. His legacy lives on in the James Beard Foundation, which governs the annual James Beard Awards, the “Oscars of Food,” and hosts world-renowned chefs at Beard’s historic brownstone home in Greenwich Village.

Beard was a culinary pioneer in many ways. His 1940 Hors d’Oeuvre and Canapés, which compiled tips from his work as a caterer, is one of the first cookbooks written by a man. Through his career, Beard made it acceptable for men to cook in an era when the kitchen was the woman’s realm. His short-lived TV show I Love to Eat, broadcast from 1946-1947, was the first nationally televised cooking program. He advocated for local, seasonal ingredients in his own cooking and through the iconic Four Seasons restaurant, which he helped open. That restaurant also made him a forefather of American cuisine, which previously had been dismissed as flavorless and lackluster.

Beard was also a close friend of Julia Child, whose own life you can explore in an American Masters documentary airing immediately after America’s First Foodie, at 10:00 pm on May 19.

Enjoy some recipes from James Beard here, courtesy of American Masters and the James Beard Foundation, paired with some of his delightful quotes about the love of his life: food.

James Beard's Onion Sandwich. Photo: Kait HoehneJames Beard's Onion Sandwich. Photo: Kait Hoehne Onion Sandwiches

“Too few people understand a really good sandwich.” 

This no-frills dish, which featured his mother’s home-made mayonnaise, made Beard famous when he served it as a caterer.

James Beard’s Famous Oat Bread

“Good bread is the most fundamentally satisfying of all foods; and good bread with fresh butter, the greatest of feasts.”

Martha Stewart is just one devoted fan of Beard’s cookbooks, which she learned from while growing up. She especially loved Beard on Bread, as she relates in America’s First Foodie

James Beard's Chicken with Tarragon. Photo: James Beard FoundationJames Beard's Chicken with Tarragon. Photo: James Beard Foundation Chicken with Tarragon

“I believe that if ever I had to practice cannibalism, I might manage if there were enough tarragon around.”

Enough said. Beard clearly loved tarragon, as in this recipe.

Chicken with 40 Cloves of Garlic

“A gourmet who thinks of calories is like a tart who looks at her watch.”

Beard, a large man, was not one for scrimping. So why not use 40 cloves of garlic to flavor chicken?