Throwback Thursday: Dining with James Beard in His Own WordsKaitlin Hill
July 17, 2014
In a 1955 letter to his friend and frequent correspondent, Helen Evans Brown, James Beard describes a day in the life of a legendary gourmand. He depicts lavish dinner parties, complete with foie gras and Champagne; days spent cooking with friends; an ambitious use of butter; and a simple meal for one. He demonstrates his fondness for food, appreciation of friends, aptitude for entertaining, and his charming wit—all the qualities he was most loved for. Below, his letter, which was printed in our Winter 1997 issue of Beard House magazine:
I had dinner for the Gottliebs, the Sam Aarons, and Jeanne Stahl of Life magazine last night. Bill Veach had brought me a large selection of a wonderful pâté a foie. I had one can of that with drinks, then mushrooms with snails, which everyone adores more than snails in the shell. My lobster àl’Américaine was about the best one I ever made. I used three lobsters for six people. They weighed exactly 13 pounds (just what I weighed when I was born). They were as tender as they could possibly be, and Petrosino gave them to me for 55 cents a pound, just about half what other lobsters are. I did rice with chicken broth and a shade of saffron, a cucumber salad, and toasted protein bread. Then I made chocolate crêpes, with half Mexican chocolate and half semi-sweet, piling one upon the other, for 15 pancakes. Put them in the oven for two minutes and served them in wedges with whipped cream flavored with Cognac and vanilla. We drank Pouilly-Vinzelles and a Corton-Charlemange, and a bottle of Champagne with dessert. And Sam had brought some of the first marc de Champagne ever imported into this country. Everyone rolled out at midnight.
I was sick over the weekend in the country… came back on Tuesday midday, and Bill decided he should come down to take care of me on Tuesday night. Made finnan haddie with a half-pound of butter and almost a half-pint of cream. Made mashed potatoes for the two of us and used over a pound of butter in them. Made asparagus with almost a half-pound of butter, and a coeur à la crème with a pound of cream cheese and heavy cream. I took three tablespoons of mineral oil after it was over. The potatoes were the most elegant I’ve ever tasted. But it was rugged to get through it all. Besides, Bill ate a half-loaf of bread with almost a quarter pound of butter.
Next Tuesday is the day of the big party for Bill—I think there will be 14. Whole foie gras in aspic, terrine of veal, cucumber salad. Then a huge mushroom pie with puff paste, Virginia ham, and the casserole with gizzards. Toasted buttered protein bread again. And the strawberries Martiniquaise. I can’t be bothered with the elaborate menu I planned before. But still it will be a hell of a lot of work.
I’m having dinner alone tonight. Broiling chicken with chopped garlic, chopped parsley, a little basil, and chile powder. Some asparagus, a romaine and tomato salad, and a mango. Not too awful and not fattening, God knows.