The James Beard Foundation’s mission is to celebrate, nurture, and honor America’s diverse culinary heritage through programs that educate and inspire.
Food matters. You are what you eat not only because food is nutrition, but also because food is an integral part of our everyday lives. Food is economics, politics, entertainment, culture, fashion, family, passion…and nourishment. The James Beard Foundation is at the center of America’s culinary community, dedicated to exploring the way food enriches our lives.
A cookbook author and teacher, James Beard was a champion of American cuisine who helped educate and mentor generations of professional chefs and food enthusiasts. Today the Beard Foundation continues in the same spirit by offering a variety of events and programs designed to educate, inspire, entertain, and foster a deeper understanding of our culinary culture. These programs include educational initiatives, food industry awards, an annual national food conference, Leadership Awards program, culinary scholarships, and publications. In addition to maintaining the historic James Beard House in New York City’s Greenwich Village as a “performance space” for visiting chefs, the Foundation has created a robust online community, and hosts conferences, tastings, lectures, workshops, and food-related art exhibits in New York City and around the country.
The James Beard Foundation is a national not-for-profit 501(c)(3) organization based in New York City.
About James Beard
Anointed the “Dean of American cookery” by the New York Times in 1954, James Beard laid the groundwork for the food revolution that has put America at the forefront of global gastronomy. He was a pioneer foodie, host of the first food program on the fledgling medium of television in 1946, the first to suspect that classic American culinary traditions might cohere into a national cuisine, and an early champion of local products and markets. Beard nurtured a generation of American chefs and cookbook authors who have changed the way we eat.
James Andrew Beard was born on May 5, 1903 in Portland, Oregon, to Elizabeth and John Beard. His mother, an independent English woman passionate about food, ran a boarding house. His father worked at Portland’s Customs House. The family spent summers at the beach at Gearhart, Oregon, fishing, gathering shellfish and wild berries, and cooking meals with whatever was caught.
After a brief stint at Reed College in Portland, 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. Although he kept trying to break into the theater and movies, by 1935 he needed to supplement what was a very non-lucrative career and began a catering business. With the opening of a small food shop called Hors d’Oeuvre, Inc., in 1937, Beard finally realized that his future lay in the world of food and cooking.
In 1940, Beard penned what was then the first major cookbook devoted exclusively to cocktail food, Hors d’Oeuvre & Canapés. In 1942 he followed it up with Cook It Outdoors, the first serious work on outdoor cooking. Beard spent the war years with a brief stint in cryptography, but he primarily served with the United Seamen’s Service, setting up sailors’ canteens in Puerto Rico, Rio de Janeiro, Marseilles, and Panama.
When he returned to New York in 1945, Beard became totally immersed in the culinary community. Between 1945 and 1955 he wrote several seminal cookbooks (click here for a complete list). He appeared in his own segment on television’s first cooking show on NBC in 1946, and then on many other spots on television and radio. He contributed articles and columns to Woman’s Day, Gourmet, and House & Garden, served as a consultant to many restaurateurs and food producers, and ran his own restaurant on Nantucket. He became the focal point of the entire American food world.
In 1955, Beard 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. Beard also continued to write cookbooks, most of which became classics and many of which are still in print. (See below for a complete list of Beard’s books.)
When James Beard died at 81 on January 21, 1985, he left a legacy of culinary excellence and integrity to generations of home cooks and professional chefs. His name remains synonymous with American food.
A dedicated staff, a strong board of trustees, a diverse membership, hundreds of volunteers, and the sheer force of James Beard’s personality and passions have propelled the James Beard Foundation to the forefront of American gastronomy.
After James Beard’s death in 1985, a group of his friends and colleagues led by cooking school founder Peter Kump heeded a call from Julia Child to do something with Beard’s house. While he was alive, Beard always welcomed students, authors, chefs, and other food and beverage professionals into his home—his kitchen was truly at the heart of America’s burgeoning 20th century food scene. Kump organized a fundraising campaign to raise the downpayment to purchase the Greenwich Village townhouse from Beard’s estate, which was held by Reed College.
On November 5, 1986, the James Beard Foundation officially opened the James Beard House “to provide a center for the culinary arts and to continue to foster the interest James Beard inspired in all aspects of food, its preparation presentation, and of course, enjoyment,” according to a press release issued that day. Calvin Trillin presided over an opening ceremony that welcomed Jacques Pépin, Judith Jones, Larry Forgione and other culinary world luminaries who had been touched and inspired by Beard.
Although the mission of the organization would evolve over the years, Kump, who had founded a theater troupe in a previous career, initially envisioned the Beard House as a performance space for chefs. On February 1, 1987, Kump wrote a thank you note to an influential young chef working in California who was generous enough to cook a dinner at the Beard House to help the new organization raise some money. “Dear Wolf,” Kump wrote to Wolfgang Puck, “When you initially suggested coming out and cooking a dinner here it gave us the idea for starting this as a monthly event. First of all, it is a good way for the Foundation to bring in regular funds. Second, it also performs a very valuable service to our members and the food community: for the first time the great chefs from outside the New York Metropolitan area can come here, allowing us to experience their food fully rather than just a taste in a party atmosphere. Finally, it starts a tradition for showcasing new chefs who have not yet received recognition.”
Today the Foundation hosts more than 250 events at the Beard House annually, realizing Kump’s vision and maintaining Beard’s home as an important meeting place for America’s food community. See who’s visiting this month.
In 1990 the James Beard Foundation made another leap forward by establishing the James Beard Foundation Awards for excellence in the food and beverage and related industries. The first awards were given in 1991. By shining a spotlight on the people behind the food we were learning to appreciate and enjoy, the James Beard Awards preempted the era of the celebrity chef we now take for granted. See more about the Awards.
View the 2015 James Beard Award Winners and the 2015 James Beard Award Nominees.
Throughout its history the Foundation has supported the culinary arts in a variety of ways. Our robust scholarship program has distributed more than $3.5 million in cash awards and tuition waivers to talented culinary students in need of funds to pursue their education. View our current scholarships.
Our educational programs—which take the form of conferences, festivals, tastings, lectures, classes, and workshops—have helped educate thousands of people about food and its centrality in modern life and health. In 2010, in anticipation of our 25th anniversary, the James Beard Foundation launched its annual food conference, bringing together a diverse group of thought leaders and stakeholders in the country’s food system, as well as the JBF Leadership Awards, recognizing visionaries helping to make a better, safer, more equal, and more delicious future for everyone. See educational programs.
As an organization, the James Beard Foundation has evolved beyond the scope of influence any one person could have had, but all the while keeping true to the ideals that James Beard professed—that is, emphasizing the importance of simple, wholesome food, good cooking, and good eating by educating, mentoring, supporting, and caring for the people who prepare and enjoy it. We continue to build on the foundation James Beard laid.
Categories: Food Associations