James Andrew Beard (May 5, 1903 - January 21, 1985) was born to Elizabeth and John Beard in Portland, Oregon. John worked at Portland's Customs House, while Elizabeth operated a boarding house. James had an interest in food at an early age. In his memoir he wrote of the 1905 Lewis and Clark Exposition "I was taken to the exposition two or three times. The thing that remained in my mind above all others — I think it marked my life — was watching Triscuits and shredded wheat biscuits being made. Isn't that crazy? At two years old that memory was made. It intrigued the hell out of me."
He also gained an appreciation for Chinese food as a young boy, as the family employed a Chinese helper. During a battle with malaria when he was only three years old, he grew fond of the cuisine while bedridden. This appreciation for Chinese cuisine and culture and the influence of his time spent in France during the 1920's set his course for the chef he would become.
He trained as a singer and actor and lived and worked in France for several years in the 1920's, returning to the U.S. in 1927. Eight years later, he and friend Bill Rhodes opened a catering company in New York City and his life took on a new direction. The catering company was called "Hors d'Oeuvre, Inc." and was pretty successful, capitalizing on the cocktail party business. His first cookbook was born out of that business titled, Hors d'Oeuvre and Canapes.
He began lecturing, teaching and writing books and articles as his business was grinding to a halt due to the war. But in 1946, he got a break and was featured on the NBC television show I Love to Eat. His rise to fame as "The Dean of American Cuisine" had begun.
In 1955, he established The James Beard Cooking School in New York City, where he taught for next 30 or so years. America was hungry for his message of good, fresh, prepared food using wholesome American ingredients. James Beard traveled tirelessly, teaching around the country to get his message out. It was during these years he branded the James Beard name and secured his place in American culinary history.
James Beard, along with Gael Greene, founded Citymeals-on-Wheels in 1981, an organization dedicated to feeding the home-bound elderly in New York City. That organization is still opperating today.
James Beard died in New York City of heart failure at 81 years old. His body was cremated and his ashes were scattered over the beach in Gearhart, Oregon where he spent his childhood years vacationing, fshing and foraging.