5 Things About James Beard, Portland's Original Foodie

The first chef on television still captures our hearts and culinary imagination

By Zach Dundas and Marty Patail August 24, 2015 Published in the September 2015 issue of Portland Monthly

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Image: Paul Child


“To entertain successfully, one must first of all pay attention to his cookery, but food should look as well as taste good. Put on a fine show! Like the theater, offering food and hospitality to people is a matter of showmanship, and no matter how simple the performance, unless you do it well, with love and originality, you have a flop on your hands.”  —Delights and Prejudices, 1964


Beth Federici, the Portland director of America’s First Foodie: The Incredible Life of James Beard (premiering spring 2016):

“He was really one of the pioneers of the food revolution. Many of the things we take for granted today—like the farm-to-table movement—were spearheaded by James Beard. When Julia Child moved [back to the US] in the 1960s after she mastered the art of French cooking, she said, ‘I want to meet James Beard.’ She is the one that said, ‘In the beginning, there was Beard.’

He was the first chef on television, in 1946. He was always one step ahead of the game. And he was six-foot-three, 300 pounds. He wasn’t a slight, effeminate guy. All of a sudden people started to hear a male voice, and it gave men permission to be interested in food, too.

He was out there like a lone wolf for so long, touting American food, American produce, at a time when everything was French and Italian. There was a huge farmers market here in Portland. His mother knew all the farmers and they would even save all the best stuff for her. That’s why he was always professing to people, ‘Why do we keep touting quince and jams from England, when we make incredible jam?’”

3) Résumé

1903  Born in Portland

1922  Expelled from Reed College for having an affair with a male professor

1937  Moves to New York City to pursue theater

1946  Becomes the first TV chef with I Love to Eat on NBC

1955  Establishes a cooking school in NYC and Seaside, Oregon

1976  Receives an honorary degree from Reed

1983  Publishes Beard on Pasta, his 22nd and final cookbook

1985  Dies at age 81. His ashes are scattered in Gearhart.

1991  The James Beard Foundation’s first awards for excellence in food

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Image: Pim


Beard once said: “I can easily make a whole meal of onion sandwiches, for to me they are one of the greatest treats I know.” At Northeast Portland’s Expatriate, the James Beard Butter and Onion Sandwich consists of fluffy white bread, butter, thinly sliced sweet onions, gray salt, and parsley. (The James Beard Foundation offers a recipe that subs mayo for butter.) “He had a couple recipes for it,” says Expatriate’s Kyle Linden Webster. “Ours is purely butter.” 


A conceptual rendering, from prestigious Norwegian design firm Snøhetta and local partners, of what Portland’s James Beard Public Market could look like. The long-proposed market is currently slated to take shape at the west end of the Morrison Bridge.

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Image: Snohetta

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