John Curtas is …

Plus Ca Change, Plus C’est La Meme Chose

In the beginning there was James Beard* and there was curry and that was it. – Nora Ephron

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Are you one of those who think America’s food revolution started in the 1980s…or later?

If you read David Chang’s “Lucky Peach” you might have the impression it started a decade ago.

Or, have you ever wondered if Martha Stewart and Rachel Ray are the first copycat hacks, or exactly when food writing became big enough to foster its own feuds?

Speaking of which, have you ever questioned whether backbiting food critics are a recent invention?

And who among us hasn’t pondered just when “…Paula Peck(?) broke the rules in puff paste?”

If these burning questions, or anything about the true origins of America’s love of better cooking and eating are of interest to you, or if you just want a fascinating and funny read about the writers who made it all happen (in all of their bitchy, preening, small-bore glory), then click here to read Nora Ephron’s very first piece for New York magazine, published on September 30, 1968.

Read it and weep you whippersnappers, and remember: everything old is new again, and the more things change, the more they stay the same.

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* In the article, Beard is described as a “genial, large, round man,” while in the last issue of Lucky Peach he is described by a writer (who is, no doubt under 40, and even more certainly, never met him) as an “ill-tempered gay man.”  All ELV knows is that right up until his death, on January 21, 1985 (when he was the most prominent food writer/personality in America), Beard had a listed number in the Manhattan phone book, and would take the call of any fan, foodie or cook who had a comment or question for him. Try that with Martha Stewart, Tony Bourdain or Rachel Ray sometime. We regret never having called the big guy.

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6 Responses to Plus Ca Change, Plus C’est La Meme Chose

  • A treasured part of my cookbook collection is a 1st edition of Beard’s iconic and encyclopedic 1949 Fireside Cook Book, found in an antique mall here in Vegas years ago.

    Legendary doesn’t even begin to describe this man’s impact on American fine cuisine. He will be remembered long after the tiresome likes of Ramsey, Ray, Bourdain, et al, are gone…

  • James Beard, in all his wrinkled glory, flashed me at the Stanford Court Hotel in San Francisco, circa 1976. I was bringing him room service, and thank God, he didn’t ask me to “keep the tip”.

  • Happy Bastille Day! Vive La France, Joel Robuchon & team, Le Cordon Bleu (pre 1984), Foie Gras, Champagne and my French genetics.

    I took cooking classes from Mr. Beard (in Los Angeles, late 1960′s) as a very young cooking student, pre my serious culinary education @Le Cordon Bleu, Paris 1972-1975.

    Jim was charming, jovial, not pretentious at all. He casually lectured and we cooked very simple dishes under his supervision. Kind of like cooking with Santa Claus (sans beard-no pun intended). Pleasant memories. Sante!

  • Thanks Max.

    Bastille Day will never be the same. How can we possibly make that image go away.

  • Beard’s savory pie crust recipe, with hard-cooked egg yolks, is the only one that should ever be used for a chicken pot pie. Larry Forgione made sure that Beard’s strawberry shortcake recipe would be passed down intact, saying “There is no better dessert.” I make it once a year, at least, and am eating some right now. It uses hard-cooked egg yolks as well.

  • @ VivaLV, I also have a first edition of the 1949 Fireside Cookbook. My Grandmother, who lived on a ranch in Eastern Oregon, ordered it through a department store in Portland. Along with first editions of Fannie Farmer’s Boston Cooking School Cookbook reaching back to the late 19th century, the Fireside Cookbook is one of the cherished books in my collection.

    One day, if I happen to be in a particularly charitable mood, I may donate the Fireside Cookbook to put on display at the Beard house in New York. They need more memories of Beard’s early days.

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