Television | American Masters, James Beard: America’s First Foodie
The James Beard Foundation Award is the most coveted honor in the American food industry. It is frequently regarded to as the “culinary Oscars.” But what do we truly know about the man whose name has come to be synonymous with culinary excellence?
The new documentary, James Beard: America’s First Foodie, premiering nationally Friday, May 19 at 9 p.m. ET on PBS as part of the 31st season of American Masters (check local listings.), chronicles a century of food through the account of the man behind the medal, the iconic cookbook author, journalist, television personality and educator.
The film is the first of American Masters “Chefs Flight” of four features on culinary legends including Julia Child, Jacques Pépin, and Alice Waters. New documentaries on Beard (1903-1985) and Jacques Pépin will be coupled with encore presentations of films on Julia Child and Alice Waters, respectively. Immediately following Beard, American Masters –Julia! America’s Favorite Chef will air at 10 p.m. ET.
“James Beard was an enormously important figure in American cooking at a time when American cooking was really sort of a desert,” said Ted Allen, television host and James Beard Award winner.
America’s back-to-basics food movement can be traced to the pioneering work of this one man. Dubbed the “Dean of American Cookery” by The New York Times, Beard was a Portland, Oregon native who loved and celebrated the bounty of the Pacific Northwest. He spoke of the importance of localism and sustainability long before those terms had entered the culinary vernacular. He was a pioneer of the farm-to-table movement and helped shape the iconic Four Seasons concept and menu.
When the world was fixating on “all things French,” Beard appreciated what America had to bring to the table. A pioneer foodie, he was the first chef to go on television hosting the show I Love to Eat on NBC in 1946 to teach not only women but men how to cook.
He authored 22 cookbooks, penned a syndicated newspaper column and wrote countless magazine columns. He introduced Julia Child to New York – later becoming best pals with her – and ran an acclaimed cooking school out of his townhouse in New York City.
Through a recorded and printed oral history formulated by Beard himself, letters to friends and colleagues, rare archival footage, vintage photos, and interviews with Beard’s friends and peers, the documentary reveals Beard’s gifts, sense of humor, and genius.
Among those appearing on the film are James Beard Award Foundation President Susan Ungaro and Executive Vice President Mitchell Davis, James Beard Award winners, and noted chefs including Pepin, Waters, Daniel Boulud, Wolfgang Puck, and more.
Among the many highlights in the documentary are Boulud and restaurant critic Gael Greene telling how Beard helped start Citymeals on Wheels; Pépin reminiscing about cooking with Beard; Martha Stewart sharing how Beard’s cookbooks influenced her; Allen disclosing Beard’s difficulties being an “out” gay man at a time when same-sex sexual activity was illegal; chefs Jonathan Waxman and Larry Forgione reflecting on Beard’s mentorship and its influence on their career; Puck recounting how he helped found the James Beard Foundation; Waters explaining how Beard discovered Chez Panisee; chef Jeremiah Tower offering insight into Beard’s association with Marion Cunningham; chef Naomi Pomery demonstrating how to make the famous James Beard’s Onion Sandwich; and next generation chefs such as Marc Forgione, Greg Higgins, and Pomeroy discussing how Beard’s influence is still felt today.
“Jim never really changed over all the years, says Larry Forgione, restaurateur and James Beard Award winner. “He still believed in the philosophy of American food and the great bounty America had to offer. It just took us a while to catch up to him.”
“Beard was a passionate teacher, who nurtured a generation of American chefs and cookbook authors,” said Michael Kantor, executive producer of American Masters. “His pioneer work transformed American cuisine and forever changed the way we cook, consume and think about food.”
The full “Chefs Flight” schedule follows below:
American Masters – James Beard: America’s First Foodie
Premieres Friday, May 19, 9-10 p.m. on PBS (check local listings) New
American Masters – Julia! America’s Favorite Chef
Friday, May 19, 10-11 p.m. on PBS (check local listings) Encore Presentation
Celebrate the life and legacy of Julia Child (1912-2004), fondly remembered for introducing French cuisine to American home cooks through her television series – beginning with WGBH’s The French Chef in 1963 – and books. The film tells two love stories: one between Julia and Paul Child, the other between Julia and French food. Originally broadcast in August 2004, the film features previously unseen photos, including several from Paul Child’s personal archive, granted exclusively to the film’s producers. Child was a pioneer in public television’s long tradition of cooking programs, revolutionizing the way America cooks, eats and thinks about food. Directed by Marilyn Mellowes. A WGBH production.
American Masters – Jacques Pepin: The Art of Craft
Premieres Friday, May 26, 9-10 p.m. on PBS (check local listings) New
Discover the story of Chef Jacques Pépin (b. December 18, 1935), a young immigrant with movie-star looks, a charming Gallic accent, and a mastery of cooking and teaching so breathtaking he became an early food icon—joining James Beard and Julia Child among the handful of Americans who transformed the way the country views the food world. Not content cooking in French palaces, where he was the personal chef to three French presidents including Charles de Gaulle, Pépin’s American journey took him through the kitchens of Howard Johnson’s, bringing his commitment to great taste, craftsmanship and technique to American popular food. With his landmark cookbooks and television shows, he ushered in a new era in American food culture – a story that continues to unfold. Produced and directed by Peter L. Stein. Executive producer Michael Isip. Co-executive producer Susie Heller. Narrated by Stanley Tucci.
American Masters – Alice Waters and Her Delicious Revolution
Friday, May 26, 10-11 p.m. on PBS (check local listings)
Follow Alice Waters (b. April 28, 1944) through a year of seasonal shopping and cooking, and discover both the recipes and vision of an artist and an advocate. She and her now-famous restaurant Chez Panisse became a major force behind the way Americans eat and think about food, launching the explosion of local farmers’ markets and redesigned supermarket produce departments. Distressed by the food she saw in public schools, Waters started an organic garden with an integrated curriculum at the Martin Luther King Middle School near her house, an idea inspired by The Garden Project at the San Francisco county jail. The idea of an Edible Schoolyard has now spread across the U.S. – and inspired similar programs worldwide. She is an activist with a flawless palette who has taken her gift for food and turned it into consciousness about the environment and nutrition, and a device for social change. Originally broadcast March 2003. Directed by Doug Hamilton.
Launched in 1986, American Masters has earned 28 Emmy Awards — including 10 for Outstanding Non-Fiction Series and five for Outstanding Non-Fiction Special — 12 Peabodys, an Oscar, three Grammys, two Producers Guild Awards and many other honors. To further explore the lives and works of masters past and present, the American Masters website (http://pbs.org/americanmasters) offers streaming video of select films, outtakes, filmmaker interviews, educational resources and In Their Own Words: The American Masters Digital Archive: previously unreleased interviews of luminaries discussing America’s most enduring artistic and cultural giants as well as the American Masters Podcast. The series is a production of THIRTEEN PRODUCTIONS LLC for WNET and also seen on the WORLD channel.
James Beard, America’s First Foodie: American Masters is a production of Federici Films LLC and THIRTEEN PRODUCTIONS LLC’s American Masters for WNET. Written, and Directed by Elizabeth Federici. Produced by Elizabeth Federici and Kathleen Squires. For this production, Federici compiled 100 hours of raw interviews, thousands of photographs and rare archival footage. Squires, an award-winning food writer of two decades, recruited participants, conducted many of the interviews and helped shape the story.
Funding for “Chefs Flight” is provided by Feast it Forward. Major support for American Masters is provided by AARP. Additional funding is provided by Rosalind P. Walter, Ellen and James S. Marcus, Lillian Goldman Programming Endowment, The Philip and Janice Levin Foundation, The Blanche & Irving Laurie Foundation, Judith and Burton Resnick, Vital Projects Fund, Cheryl and Philip Milstein Family, The André and Elizabeth Kertész Foundation, The National Endowment for the Arts, Lenore Hecht Foundation, Michael & Helen Schaffer Foundation, and public television viewers.