PCS Blog

James Beard: The Original Portland Foodie

Posted by Kinsley Suer | 26 January 2013

“The greatest thing about Northwest eating and cooking is the fact that the raw materials in Northwest are probably among the greatest you find anywhere in the country.” James Beard
An only child, James Andrew Beard was born on May 5, 1903, in Portland. By various accounts, James was an unusually robust baby, weighing as much as 14 pounds! (Of course, as we now know he would later would grow beyond his wide, six-foot-plus frame with his larger-than-life personality.) His mother Elizabeth ran a boarding house and a catering business; His father worked at Portland's Customs House.
Interestingly, Beard would never be trained professionally as a cook. But his mother was passionate about food, and about using only the finest, freshest ingredients available. She would pass this passion – and what she knew about cooking – on to her son. His father, who had travelled by covered wagon from Iowa to Oregon, taught him campfire cooking.
As a child, Beard summers with his family at the beach at Gearhart, Oregon. His days were filled with fishing, gathering shellfish, picking wild berries, and cooking meals with what he collected.
Although his travels took him around the world and he eventually settled in New York City, Beard continued to maintain his fondness for foods grown and caught in the Pacific Northwest. In 1955 he established The James Beard Cooking School, with locations in New York City and…Seaside, Oregon. He would teach cooking at these schools and elsewhere throughout the next 30 years. When he passed away in 1985, his ashes were scattered in the ocean off the coast of Gearhart.
To learn more about James Beard's early life in Portland, check out "A Cuisine of Our Own," an episode from OPB's' Oregon Experience.

Portland may be James Beard’s hometown, but there’s still no James Beard Boulevard, or park, or sculpture here commemorating that fact, much like his contemporary Mark Rothko (subject of last season's Red). Even the James Beard House, where the James Beard Foundation makes its home, is in New York City, where Beard lived for much of his adult life. So, in a way, I Love to Eat is a homecoming of sorts. Welcome back to Portland, Mr. Beard!
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