On this day, November 5, 1986, the James Beard House opened in New York City. James Beard was a chef, author, cooking TV show host in the 19402) and a culinary educator, bent on introducing the world to the joys of cooking. He died in in 1985 at the age of 82. A year later, many of his friends, including Julia Child, turned his home into a public space for culinary events and the James Beard Foundation was founded. JBF gives scholarships (of which I am a recipient) and James Beard Awards, given in many categories, such as Best New Restaurant, Best Cookbook, Best Food Writing, etc. In the culinary world, receiving a JB award is like winning an Oscar.
The townhouse in the West Village is an interesting space. You go down a few steps and to the right is the reception room/shop. To the right of that is a passage that leads to the kitchen, which then leads out to an atrium-like back room, with glass ceiling and a glass outer wall that looks out into the lovely sitting garden.
That back room was obviously an extension because the inside wall looks like the outside of a house: painted brick half wall, pipes, trellis-style wood on the upper wall. In that room, there is a staircase that leads up to the dining room. There are a set of stairs that lead up when you first walk into the house, too, but I don’t know where exactly that leads, since I’ve never been up there.
Although it is now a public space and the main office of a foundation, it still looks like a home. Many of the original furnishings and touches remain and you can almost picture James Beard sitting there in front of his fireplace, or browsing his incredible library of books.
Events at JB House give talents chefs a chance to show off their skills. Sometimes the dinners are a showcase for a particular chef/restaurant; sometimes the meals are collaboration from different chefs from different restaurants. But the chefs’ dishes are built around a theme. I was there the other day for a Día de los Muertos Fiesta event, a brilliant dinner composed of numerous dishes that left me not only full and satisfied, but lifted and inspired. I’ll be telling you about that in another blog.
I’m very grateful to the James Beard Foundation for choosing me as a scholarship recipient and for being instrumental in making the culinary arts a respected and enviable profession and pastime.
For more information about James Beard, visit the James Beard Foundation site.