Wednesday, October 15, 2008

James Beard for One

Recently, The James Beard Foundation asked me to appear on a panel about Jim that will be coming up later this year. It should be interesting especially for me who did so much work with him. A lot of other good people should be on the panel and around. For instance, John Ferrone who was a fabulous editor and worked with him on several books will be in the audience.
When I say, "James Beard for One," It is not only because he was a true original, nor because there was so much of him that it seemed to fill all the space in the room, but also because he was an extremely intelligent man always ready to experiment right up to the end of his life when he was interested in what the young chefs and cooks were doing.
He was always interested in new equipment. If it hadn't been for working on the Cooks' Catalogue and later on new recipes for classes, I would probably not have discovered the invaluable food processor or the microwave oven out which with much initial hesitation I made a heady start on my book writing career,
The manufacturer, Sharp, offered to send him aa microwave and he told them that in that case they would have to send me one as well. Neither one of us could make anything with it. Mine ended up on the floor.
It was onl com[etition with my daughter that got me moving. I had lugged the heavy machine up two flights of stairs to her medical school apartment thinking that at least she wouldn't starve since she could defrost. That show what I thought the machine was good for. She stopped by and found me bringing a pot of water to the boil with a fist full of water and lemon shells as I was trimming some artichokes. She looked at me with that slight sneer that only one's children are entitled to and said: "I make one of those in six minutes in the microwave." I though I couldn't be that old and that stupid and I went out the next day and bought a new microwave. I made the artichoke and it was the best i had ever made. the color wasn't a nasty brown and it wasn't dripping with water. I was having company for dinner and thought i would try may new trick. Unfortunately, I didn't have a clue of how to get from one artichoke to six. So, the fun began.
I told my editor that I thought that there might be a small book in microwave cooking. Hundreds of pages later she--appalled--received my manuscript. They were so dubious about Microwave gourmet that they only printed 5,000 copies. They were out long before Christmas and people were constantly calling me to see if I could get them a copy just as they used to call me for unobtainable restaurant tables.
It is still in print. I owe James for that one.
I owe him as much for being a constant mentor and supporter. Of course, it didn't begin that way. The first time i met him I was taken by Burt Wolf who had conceived of the Cook's Catalogue. He was planning on hiring me as the new editor. I didn't know that the last editor had been Jose Wilson, one of Jim's long-time writing assistants. We seemed to be getting along okay until we started talking about lining pate molds with fat. I said that I used the clean leaf lard aroung the kidney. He exploded; said that it was impossible and added that he couldn't work with this woman and stomped out of the room. I was quaking as I put on my coat to leave when I heard heavy steps--he was a huge man with huge feet and at that time his office was on the ground floor of his brownstone with a bedroom upstairs--coming down. He said to me: "I'm sorry. I've been in a foul mood all day." We became friends. Many years later, I showed him how I rolled out the leaf lard with a rolling pin to make a thin sheet. He was interested.
There are thousands of stories and over time I will tell more.

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