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Meet LGBT History Month Icon James Beard

Dubbed the “Dean of American Cookery” by The New York Times in 1954, James Beard was a prominent American chef, culinary instructor and television personality. He is regarded as the first TV chef. Beard wrote 20 cookbooks and trained countless other acclaimed chefs.

Born in Portland, Oregon, Beard was exposed to Pacific Northwest cooking, which included seafood, moose meat and venison. His family made meals using wild berries and freshly caught fish. Chinese culture and the meals prepared by his family’s Chinese helper also influenced him, along with the culture and cuisine of France, where he spent his 20s. During the 1950s, Beard was known for bringing French cuisine to the American middle and upper classes.

After briefly attending Reed College in Portland, Beard was expelled. He believed it was due to his homosexuality. In 1937 he moved to New York City, and in 1939 he founded a successful catering company, Hors D’oeuvre, Inc., which served the Manhattan elite.

In 1940, at age 37, Beard published his first cookbook, “Hors D'oeuvre & Canapés,” which contained a collection of his catering recipes. In 1942 he garnered acclaim for elevating outdoor cooking with “Cook It Outdoors.” His best-selling cookbook, “Beard on Beard,” was released in 1973. He also wrote articles and columns for numerous magazines such as Woman’s Day and House & Garden.

In 1946 Beard began hosting television’s first live cooking show, “I Love to Eat,” on NBC. His popularity led to endorsement deals for products such as Omaha Steaks and Adolph's Meat Tenderizer. In 1955 he created the James Beard Cooking School in New York City and Seaside, Oregon. He dedicated more than 30 years of his life to teaching and mentoring chefs at his two schools and to lecturing at women’s clubs and other civic groups around the nation.

Beard died of heart failure at the age of 81. The James Beard Foundation was established in 1986 to honor his life’s work. Since 1991 the prestigious James Beard Awards have annually honored chefs and restaurants. Early recipients included Wolfgang Puck and Rick Bayless. The Foundation’s scholarship program has provided more than $4.6 million in financial assistance to students and chefs to help develop and advance their culinary careers.

Notable quote

“Food is our common ground, a universal experience.”

Learn more about James Beard here.