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James Beard & Gino Cofacci

andrew potter
James Andrew Beard (May 5, 1903 – January 21, 1985) was an American chef and food writer. The central figure in the story of the establishment of a gourmet American food identity, Beard was an eccentric personality who brought French cooking to the American middle and upper classes in the 1950s. His legacy lives on in twenty books, numerous writings, his own foundation, and his foundation's annual Beard awards in various culinary genres.

In 1956 Beard met architect Gino Cofacci, who later moved in with him. Cofacci became an accomplished pastry chef and the two men hosted many gay soirees at their home, including Thanksgiving dinners with New York Times food writer Craig CLAIRBORNE and his lover. After Beard’s death in 1985, the house on 12th Street became the James Beard Foundation, America’s only historical culinary center.

Beard was born in Portland, Oregon, to Elizabeth and John Beard. His mother operated the Gladstone Hotel and his father worked at the city's customs house. The family vacationed on the Pacific coast in Gearhart, Oregon. There, Beard was exposed to the unique local foods of the Pacific Northwest, including seafood and wild berries.

Beard's earliest memory of food was the Lewis and Clark Exposition of 1905, when he was just two years old. Beard in his memoir recalled:
"I was taken to the exposition two or three times. The thing that remained in my mind above all others—I think it marked my life—was watching Triscuits and shredded wheat biscuits being made. Isn't that crazy? At two years old that memory was made. It intrigued the hell out of me."

James Beard Foundation

At the age of three, Beard was bedridden with malaria. This sickness gave him time to eat and enjoy the food prepared by his mother and their Chinese helper. Beard's early childhood, and the influence that Chinese cooking had on him, helped prepare him for a later life at the forefront of culinary American chic. According to Beard, he was raised by Thema and Let who instilled a passion for Chinese culture. According to David Kamp, "in 1940—he realized that part of his mission [as a food connoisseur] was to defend the pleasure of real cooking and fresh ingredients against the assault of the Jell-O-mold people and the domestic scientists." Beard lived in France in the 1920s. Consequently, he experienced French cuisine at bistros. As a result of this exposure and the subsequent influence of French culinary culture, he became a Francophile.

According to the James Beard Foundation, "After a brief stint at Reed College in Portland," (from which he was expelled in 1922 for homosexual activity) "in 1923 Beard went on the road with a theatrical troupe. He lived abroad for several years studying voice and theater, but returned to the United States for good in 1927."

He trained initially as a singer and actor, and moved to New York City in 1937. Not having much luck in the theater, he and his friend, Bill Rhodes, capitalized on the cocktail party craze by opening a catering company, "Hors d'Oeuvre, Inc.", which led to the publication of Beard's first cookbook, Hors D'Oeuvre and Canapés, a compilation of his catering recipes. Rationing difficulties during World War II brought his catering business to a halt. In 1946, he appeared on an early televised cooking show, I Love to Eat, on NBC, and thus began his rise as an eminent American food authority.

According to Julia Child, Beard was on the culinary road map in 1940 with the publication of his first book, Hors d'Oeuvre and Canapés. Beard started out with a catering business in New York, followed by lecturing, teaching, and writing both books and articles. Child states, "Through the years he gradually became not only the leading culinary figure in the country, but 'The Dean of American Cuisine'." According to the James Beard Foundation website: "In 1955, he established The James Beard Cooking School. He continued to teach cooking to men and women for the next 30 years, both at his own schools (in New York City and Seaside, Oregon), and around the country at women's clubs, other cooking schools, and civic groups. He was a tireless traveler, bringing his message of good food, honestly prepared with fresh, wholesome, American ingredients, to a country just becoming aware of its own culinary heritage."

James Beard brought French cooking to the American middle and upper classes in the 1950s. Beard starred on TV as a cooking personality. David Kamp notes that this show was the first cooking show on TV. Kamp contrasts Dione Lucas's cooking show and cooking school with that of James Beard, noting also that their prominence in the 1950s marked the emergence of a New York-based, nationally- and internationally-known sophisticated food culture. Kamp notes, "It was in this decade [the 1950s] that Beard made his name as James Beard, the brand name, the face and belly of American gastronomy." Kamp points out that Beard was able to meet Alice B. Toklas on a trip to Paris, illustrating Beard's extensive network of fellow food celebrities that would follow him throughout his life and carry on his legacy after his death.

Beard entered into ethically questionable endorsement deals promoting products that he might otherwise have not used or suggested in his own cuisine. Such endorsements included Omaha Steaks, French's mustard, Green Giant Corn Niblets, Old Crow bourbon, Planters Peanuts, Shasta soft drinks, DuPont chemicals, Adolph's Meat Tenderizer, among others. Kamp explains that Beard felt that he was a "gastronomic whore" for doing so. Apparently, mass-produced food that was neither fresh, local, nor seasonal, was a betrayal of Beard's gastronomic beliefs, but arose from his desire to pay for his cooking schools. McNamee writes that "Beard, a man of stupendous appetites - for food, sex, money, you name it - stunned his subtler colleagues."

In 1981, along with friend Gael Greene, Beard founded Citymeals-on-Wheels, which continues to help feed the home-bound elderly in New York City.

Julia Child accurately sums up Beard's personal life in a brief description:
Beard was the quintessential American cook. Well-educated and well-traveled during his eighty-two years, he was familiar with many cuisines but he remained fundamentally American. He was a big man, over six feet tall, with a big belly, and huge hands. An endearing and always lively teacher, he loved people, loved his work, loved gossip, loved to eat, loved a good time.
Child's summary makes two significant omissions. The first is that he was homosexual. Beard's memoir states: "By the time I was seven, I knew that I was gay. I think it's time to talk about that now." The second was Beard's own admission of possessing "until I was about forty-five, I guess a really violent temper."

Mark Bittman (who did not know Beard personally) describes him in a manner similar to that of Julia Child: "In a time when serious cooking meant French Cooking, Beard was quintessentially American, a Westerner whose mother ran a boardinghouse, a man who grew up with hotcakes and salmon and meatloaf in his blood. A man who was born a hundred years ago on the other side of the country, in a city, Portland, that at the time was every bit as cosmopolitan as, say, Allegheny PA."

Beard died January 21, 1985, in New York City, New York, United States, of heart failure at the age of 81. He was cremated, and his ashes were scattered over the beach in Gearhart, Oregon, United States, where he spent his summers as a child

Gino P. Cofacci, a retired pastry chef, died of cancer March 1, 1989, in a Greenwich, Conn., nursing home. He was 75 years old and lived in Manhattan.

Mr. Cofacci began his career as an architect but with the encouragement of his partner James Beard, he switched to a culinary career in 1972. Mr. Cofacci studied pastry-making in Paris and returned to the United States, where he created elaborate pastries for a number of New York restaurants.

He was co-author of two books, ''How to Eat (And Drink) Your Way Through a French (or Italian) Menu,'' with Mr. Beard, and ''Desserts With Spirit,'' with Robert Carmack, published in 1971. He retired in 1986.

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Beard

Further Readings:

The Solace of Food: A Life of James Beard by Robert Clark
Paperback: 357 pages
Publisher: Steerforth (June 1, 1998)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1883642043
ISBN-13: 978-1883642044
Amazon: The Solace of Food: A Life of James Beard

IN THE BEGINNING there was Beard," said Julia Child, and perhaps no other individual played such a central role in America’s postwar fascination with food and cooking. James Beard took American food seriously at a time when French cuisine was revered above all others, and his ebullient personality, genuine culinary talents, and assiduous self-promotion (he once called himself "the world’s greatest gastronomic whore") transformed the struggling actor from Oregon into a world-renowned authority on cooking and eating. First published as James Beard, a Biography (HarperCollins, 1993), this award-winning book was chosen as a "Notable Book of the Year" by the New York Times Book Review and called one of the best food books of the year by Julia Child on "Good Morning America." The Solace of Food is both the definitive biography of Beard and a fascinating history of food. Clark writes candidly about the "feuds and bitchery, betrayal and revenge" inside the food world and about Beard’s homosexuality in a closeted period. "Clark has given us a vivid portrait of a sometimes bizarre but ultimately fascinating man of our times," said the Times, "but his real achievement is having produced a valuable and thoroughly engrossing work of contemporary cultural history."

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