From Publishers Weekly
More a chronicle of the modern American food industry than a portrait of the country's preeminent foodie, this biography, like a banquet without a main course, suffers from the lack of Beard's palpable presence. Born in Portland, Ore., in 1903 to a forceful, independent woman, who was also an accomplished cook, and an indifferent father, Beard was oversized, socially isolated and interested in food from his earliest years. Hoping for a career in drama or opera, he sojourned to London and Paris as a young man before moving to New York City where, often cooking for others to support himself, he met such figures as Bill Rhode, Jeanne Owen and Anne Seranne who would further his cooking career. Freelance food writer Clark traces Beard's rise from the 1940 publication of his first book ( Hors d'Ouevres and Canapes ) through his 22nd in 1983 ( Beard on Pasta ); noted also are Beard's elevation to "dean of American cookery" by the New York Times in 1954 and his later relationships with Julia Child, Craig Claiborne, Barbara Kafka, Peter Kump and other industry greats. Beard's homosexuality and self-absorption are also discussed in this overview, but the absence of such primary sources as letters or reported conversations keep the man himself distant.
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc.
From Kirkus Reviews
``Born fat to a food-obsessed mother,'' as Clark (former editor of The Journal of Gastronomy) puts it, America's preeminent foodie (1903-85) was an overstuffed child whose acting career was foiled by his enormous bulk--and who eventually turned the catering, cooking lessons, and food-writing he was doing just to get by into a career that made him ``a star in the dwarf constellation'' of the New York food world. That scene, Clark notes, was ``a vortex of resentment and fevered competition over what most of the world would regard as paltry spoils''--and Beard's early career had its share of strained and broken partnerships, petty rivalries, and credit-grabbing on all sides. By the end, when Beard was valued more as a food celebrity than for any of his real contributions, his West 12th Street home (now headquarters for the tony James Beard Foundation) housed a bickering mnage of jealous, depressed, withdrawn and/or alcoholic companions and staff--and it often seemed ``a prattling, hysterical ship of fools'' where it was hard to determine who was exploiting whom. Clark views Beard's life in the context of American food and cookbook trends from the 1880's, when Beard's unconventional mother arrived from England; and though these stretches of general background (pages at each stretch) might have been more integrated, they add dimension and perspective. At the same time, Clark keeps close tabs on Beard's intertwined personal and professional lives. Far more forthcoming about Beard's personality, relationships, and gay affairs--and altogether fuller, livelier, and more independent--than Evan Jones's relatively stuffy Epicurean Delight (1990). Clark is also generously appreciative, without fawning, of Beard's real gifts and contributions. (Photos) -- Copyright ©1993, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.