James Andrew Beard was born on May 5, 1903, in Portland, Oregon. His mother, an independent English woman passionate about food, ran a boarding house. His father worked at Portland's Customs House. As a child, Beard spent his summers at the beach at Gearhart, Oregon, fishing, gathering shellfish, picking wild berries, and cooking meals with what he collected. In 1923, after studying briefly at Reed College, Beard went on the road with a theatrical troupe. He lived abroad for several years, studying voice and theater, before returning to the U.S. for good in 1927. Although he continued his attempts to break into show business, by 1935 he needed to supplement his meager income by starting a catering business.
Beard quickly revolutionized what then passed for cocktail food by offering more substantial fare. With the opening of a small food shop called Hors d'Oeuvre Inc. in 1937, he decided that his future lay in the world of food and cooking. In 1940 he published the first major cookbook devoted to cocktail food, Hors D'Oeuvres & Canapés, and followed up with Cooking It Outdoors, the first serious work on outdoor cooking. During World War II, Beard spent most of his time with the United Seamen's Service where he helped to set up sailors' canteens in Puerto Rico, Rio de Janeiro, Marseilles, and Panama. Upon returning to New York in 1945, he immersed himself in the culinary community.
Between 1945 and 1955, Beard published seven books. He also appeared in his own segment on television's first cooking show on NBC in 1946, following that with many other spots on television and radio. Beard contributed articles to magazines including Gourmet and House & Garden, served as a consultant to many restaurateurs and food producers and ran his own restaurant on Nantucket in Massachusetts.
In 1955, he established The James Beard Cooking School. For the next 30 years Beard taught cooking, both at his own schools in New York and Seaside, Oregon, and around the country at women's clubs, other cooking schools, and civic groups. He was a tireless traveler, spreading everywhere his message of good food, honestly prepared with fresh, wholesome, American ingredients. Beard also continued to write cookbooks, many of which became classics. Among the titles: The James Beard Cookbook (1959), Beard on Bread (1973), James Beard's Theory & Practice of Good Cooking (1977) and The New James Beard (1981).
Often hailed as "The Father of American Cooking," Beard was the champion and the embodiment of American food. From his best-selling books to his pioneering work in television to his famous cooking school, Beard's efforts provided a strong foundation for a country just becoming aware of its own culinary heritage. When he died in 1985, aged 81, he left a legacy of excellence and integrity to generations of home cooks and professional chefs.
(Sources: James Beard Foundation | Epicurious.com)