Cooking for the James Beard House

James Beard cookbookFollowing James Beard's death in 1985, a group of his friends and colleagues, led by Julia Child, banded together to find a fitting use for the culinary icon's home, a New York City brownstone. Beard had welcomed students, authors, chefs, and other food  professionals into his home. The kitchen there was a integral part of America's mid-to-late-20th century food scene. 

We all know what happened: The James Beard Foundation was started, and the house was repurposed as a center for the culinary arts. Since 1986, when it was opened, the James Beard House has hosted the world's top chefs, who often prepare special meals for JBF members, food critics, and members of the general public. It's hard to imagine the pressure that a chef would feel stepping into that kitchen, but we do have an idea, thanks to insights that several North Carolina chefs recently shared with The News & Observer.

The news outlet spoke to Chapel Hill, NC chef Teddy Diggs, who had recently returned from cooking a dinner at the Beard House. He looked back at the frantic night in February when he served 86 guests. "We were on the edge, man," he said, recalling the intensity of the evening. "There's nothing like it."

Cooking at the Beard House is an honor. Chefs must  prepare a large-scale meal, usually with several appetizers and five courses with beverage pairings. The diners include some of the culinary world's most distinguished and discriminating professionals. James Beard Award-winning chef Ashley Christiansen has cooked there four times. The owner of Poole's Diner, Death and Taxes and other Raleigh restaurants thinks the experience is "something all cooks want to do at some point. ... I think just being there is so significant and so symbolic."

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