Portland, Oregon is known as the foodie capital of America, crawling with farm-to-table restaurants and food carts aplenty. But, before Portland’s secret was discovered by the world, James Beard was cultivating everything that Portland had to offer. Born in 1903, Beard paved the way for culinary arts around the world using local and sustainable Pacific Northwest ingredients.
Now, local Portland filmmaker, Beth Federici, is shining light on Beard’s life and culinary artistry. Her new feature length documentary titled America’s First Foodie: The Incredible Life of James Beard tells the story of Beard and his path to becoming the first foodie in America.
I sat down with Beth for a short Q&A to explore more about James Beard and what we can expect from the film.
Austin Fontenot: What was the inspiration for this film?
Beth Federici: We wanted to create a story through video because most people, especially younger people, get their information from video. The young culinary student will not go out and read books about James Beard. Since there isn’t much film about him, we wanted to tell the story of food through the lenses of him. The food industry is a billion-dollar commodity and I think people should know about the first television chef and how he paved the way for food culture today.
AF: So, you want to share not only Beard’s life, but a sense of food history?
BF: James was the dean of American cookery, the first person to start teaching the home cook about healthy, sustainable food in a time when things were more or less quick and easy. He essentially created a lot of food history.
AF: What is one thing you want people to get out of this film?
BF: I want people to realize that this local, farm-to-table sustainability within our food industry has a long rooted history with a fellow Pacific North Westerner who never wavered from his promotion of American food and American cooking. I hope that people recognize how long it took for this to catch on.
AF: Any last interesting facts about James Beard?
BF: I just want the world to know what an inspiring man he was within the culinary world. He was writing cookbooks at a time when men never did such a thing, he had a newspaper column where he discussed recipes, and he got kicked out of Reed College for being gay! I think there’s so much to learn about him and about the world of cooking with this film.
The NW Film Center will have a screening of America’s First Foodie: The Incredible Life of James Beard on May 5, 2017 at the Whitsell Auditorium. Federici will be there along with local Portland chefs to celebrate the life and legacy of James Beard.
“America’s First Foodie” is a feature length documentary which explores the American food movement of the 20th century through the eyes of one man, James Beard. Beard, dubbed by the New York Times as the “Dean of American Cookery”, was a Portland native who loved and regaled the bounty of the Pacific Northwest a century before it was hip to do so. He spoke of the importance of localism and sustainability long before those terms had entered the vernacular. At a time of “all things French” Beard appreciated what America had to bring to the table. That tradition continues today and is embodied in today’s modern culinary masters. A cookbook author, journalist, television celebrity and teacher, James Beard helped to pioneer and expand the food media industry into the billion-dollar business we see today.
Written by Austin Fontenot, Marketing Intern