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How to Celebrate Pride with JBF

Raise a glass at our upcoming cocktail party

Maggie Borden

June 13, 2018

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James Beard may best be known as a pioneer in food television, a prodigious author of cookbooks, a critical consultant to restaurant legends like the Four Seasons, and a lifelong proponent of the vast potential of American cuisine. But our namesake had another, significant legacy—that of a gay man struggling with the public and private perception of his sexuality during a lifetime when the LGBT civil rights movement grew in voice and scope.

Although he admitted, in an interview with Barbara Kafka in the decade before his death, “by the time I was seven, I knew I was gay” (The James Beard Celebration Cookbook, 1990), James Beard was never publicly out of the closet. According to JBF Award winner John Birdsall, who is currently at work on a new biography of Beard, “He was afraid of being outed in the way we understand that to mean. Close friends knew, of course, and the wider world of New York food knew from gossip, but the first public acknowledgment of Jim's sexuality came via Evan Jones, in Epicurean Delight, in October 1990, nearly six years after James's death.”

Birdsall believes that Beard “became conflicted after Stonewall and the LGBT civil rights movement. He was still very reluctant to come out, though the signals he'd always sent (the codes that many queer people operated under during most of the twentieth century) became louder. But James always appeared at public events with a woman on his arm, and in interviews always punted questions about why he'd never married. Perhaps crucially, James's circle of friends (Judith Jones, Marion Cunningham, John Ferrone, etc.) enforced a public perception of James's non-sexuality, even after he died. They preserved what was thought of as his privacy.”

We are fortunate to now be in a moment in time when we are able as a foundation to honor his role and contributions as a gay man to the fabric of American cuisine. To celebrate Pride Month and our upcoming collaborative cocktail party with Jarry magazine, we're sharing the clip above from James Beard: America's First Foodie.

JBF Award winner Art Smith will be dishing up his famous fried chicken at the "Cheers, Queers" fête, alongside drinks and bites from the Bear-Naked Chef, Boot Camp alum Deborah VanTrece, and more. Read Art Smith's piece on the power of food as "polite protest" in the latest issue of Jarry.

See the full list of the party's participants and get tickets here.

Note: This post has been edited to reflect research and insight from John Birdsall.

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Maggie Borden is associate editor at the James Beard Foundation. Find her on Instagram and Twitter.