An Insider’s Look At Dining
In the Prestigious James Beard House in New York City
By Alona Abbady Martinez
Heralded as the “Dean of American Cookery” by The New York Times in 1954, James Beard was a larger-than-life figure that inspired a generation of chefs and cookbook authors to redefine the way America eats. A pioneer foodie, Beard was a chef, food writer and television personality that wanted Americans to have fun in the kitchen, enjoy the pleasures of cooking and eating, and explore new cultures and cuisines, all the while championing local products and markets. Along the way, he amassed 20 cookbooks and, with his passing, left a legacy of culinary excellence that continues to inspire home cooks and professional chefs today.
After his death in 1985, a group of his friends and colleagues heeded a call from Beard’s dear friend Julia Child to do something with Beard’s house, a quaint townhouse in New York’s charming Greenwich Village. Beard was known to welcome students, chefs and other culinary professionals into his home, so it was befitting that in 1986, the James Beard Foundation officially opened The James Beard House.
The mission of the James Beard Foundation is to celebrate, nurture and preserve America’s culinary heritage and future. Toward this end, chefs are invited to “perform” at the Beard House by presenting lunches, brunches, workshops and dinners to Foundation members and the public. A typical dinner consists of three to five passed hors d’oeuvres, five courses including dessert, and matching wines for each course.
A Night To Remember
International Opulence is a proud member of the James Beard Foundation, with JBF President, Susan Ungaro, among our distinguished columnists. Chantal Forster, Marketing Director of International Opulence, had the pleasure of dining at The James Beard House while Rob Nelson, Executive Chef of Tusk & Trotter, was the visiting chef. Nelson’s acclaimed American Brasserie in Bentonville, Arkansas, focuses on elegant, locally sourced southern cuisine.
“Chef Rob and his team were the most hospitable people you could ever hope for, all extremely down-to-earth and genuine,” Forster recalled.
A Historic House To Admire
Entering the venue brought personal memories back as well, “It reminded me of my grandparents’ house,” she said, which was especially fitting because dining with Chantal was her mother who was celebrating her 60th birthday. “It’s a quaint townhome that exudes cordiality and character. The traditions and memories are tangible; it was evident that the dining experience was going to be memorable.”
The house, built in 1844, is enriched by relics of the late James Beard, as well as plenty of quirky details. Visitors can eat at a six-person table that used to serve as the bedroom platform where Beard himself slept. Portraits of the iconic culinary legend grace the four stories of the institute and mirrors can be found in odd spots, such as the dining room restroom (converted from the original library), which promotes full celebration with wall-to-wall mirrors. Set casually amongst the lush, enclosed garden in the greenhouse dining room is Beard’s old shower, an ode to both his grand sense of humor, as well as a reminder that the ordinary can and should coexist with greatness.
As guests enter the building, they walk through the kitchen, a purposeful way to connect with their meal and watch the chef in action. From there they head to the cocktail area and backyard before being summoned upstairs for dinner.
“My favorite libation was the Pecan Champagne cocktail made by mixologist Scott Baker and my favorite small bite was the fried duck liver with a homemade pickle on a buttermilk biscuit,” Forster recalled. Dehydrated Apples with Apple Caviar and Black Walnut-Herb Whipped Cream and Fig Champagne Cocktails were among other offerings.
Upstairs, mouthwatering courses followed, such as Shrimp Croquette with Grits and Corn, Seafood, and Tasso Ham Cream, and Coffee-marinated Beef Tenderloin with Root Vegetable Mash, Shaved Brussels Sprouts, and Artisanal Feta Cheese Sauce. Cherry Clafoutis with Chardonnay–Pawpaw Ice Cream and Candied Violets was the perfect ending to the meal.
Nelson’s food speaks volumes about his expertise, but a peek into his background only asserts what the diner’s palate has already determined. After college, he attended the Culinary School of the Rockies in Boulder, Colorado, and spent time with James Beard Award winner Chef Hugo Matheson of The Kitchen. Nelson then moved to France where he studied at Le Marmiton Cooking School and Universite du Vin in Sousse la Rousse. Nelson honed his culinary skills under the watch of numerous distinguished chefs in the region, developing a love and respect for creating dishes featuring locally grown, seasonal ingredients, a practice he is proud to still carry on today.
The James Beard House is located at 167 W 12th St, New York, NY 10011. To browse events and visiting-chef dinner schedules, visit www.jamesbeard.org or call (212) 675-4984.