Recently I had the pleasure of reading The Man Who Ate Too Much, by John Birdsall, a two-time James Beard Award-winning author and a writer I’ve admired since his early days as a critic. John combined scholarly research with the skills of a novelist to create this nuanced portrait of the famous cookbook author and personality. I wanted to find out about his process and methods of writing a profile about James Beard, especially since profiles are rare in the food world. Here is our interview:
Q. Why did you want to write a profile of James Beard?
A. When I was a chef, back in the late 1980s, I cooked at a restaurant in San Francisco with a focus on regional American cooking. I became familiar with Beard’s 1972 masterpiece, James Beard’s American Cookery. That book has a particular language—the recipes, the sketches, the way it’s designed. It intrigued me.
Later, in 2013, I wrote an essay for Lucky Peach magazine titled “America, Your Food Is So Gay,” about the influence on American cooking of three closeted cookbook authors of the mid- to late-20th century: Richard Olney, Craig Claiborne, and Beard. That piece had a big impact—I won a James Beard Award for it, and many readers, chefs and others, reached out.
Beard lingered in my imagination for a few years. He seemed the most interesting of the three, someone who [Read more…] about Q&A: John Birdsall on Writing a Profile of James Beard