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April 16th, 2003 Steffen Silvis | z-Miss Dish
 

There's a Beard in My Soup

     
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James Beard
GENTLE EATERS,
As Miss Dish tours the distilleries of Kentucky, I have been drafted this week to fill her ample column with my own musings.

Confirmed vegan that I am, I cannot help but find that great gourmand James Beard attractive. His appetites were various and prodigious, and he was a stylish writer: "I believe that if I ever had to practice cannibalism, I might manage if there were enough tarragon." Here's a carnivore I can respect.

Though Beard spent most of his adult life in New York, he was a born and bred Portlander. The size of a modest veal calf at birth in 1903, Beard was the only child of two very interesting but no-longer-in-love parents. His father, John, was a Sinophile who worked at the customs house in the North Park Blocks and filled the Beards' Southeast home with Buddhist bric-a-brac and joss fumes. Beard's mother, Elizabeth, was a formidable cook from England who was renowned in Portland's restaurant world and public market. They could not help but produce a very cunning, Continental child.

The Oregon Historical Society and the Oregon Cultural Heritage Commission ganged up last week to present the first salute to Beard's centenary with two lectures. David Milholland provided a delightful biographical sketch on the "father of American cooking," while Wildwood's wunderkind, Cory Schreiber, situated Beard within the city's culinary history. Both stressed the importance of Portland in Beard's development as both a brilliant chef and writer, a rare combination.

Indeed, Beard's books, both the autobiography and raft of cookbooks, are filled with Proustian memories of his life here. Throughout his work there are marvelous evocations of the old public market on Yamhill Street downtown with its colorful jumble of produce and people (Milholland reminded us that the young Mel Blanc used to loiter about in the market to pick up voices).

It's appropriate, then, that the plan for the new public market (a project close to Miss Dish's heart) tentatively bears Beard's name, and the site, the old post office on Northwest Broadway at Davis Street, is a mere two blocks from Mr. Beard's customs house. There are also plans to place plaques to Beard both here and in Gearhart, on the coast. To raise money for the project, Schreiber will be throwing a James Beard Banquet at Wildwood on Sunday, May 4, with the bill of fare being Beard recipes. Tickets are $125 and can be purchased by calling 285-8279. What better way to honor local history and the joys of cooking?

 
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