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Top Chefs: New and Old

(post, John Dryzga)

Going to the panel discussion on James Beard at the New School in NYC last night, I had some extra time.  As I was heading over to the Barnes and Noble in Union Square, I find myself standing next to someone I am nearly positive is Carla from the current Top Chef season.  She is with someone and they seem to be looking for an address.  Before I am able to say anything, the couple scurry off.  Now, not being able to confirm her identity, I am having second thoughts on whether it was her or not.  Then, not a half a block away, is Hung from Top Chef Season 2.  He seems to be in a hurry, heading in the same direction as the maybe Carla.  It would appear that some type of Top Chef event was afoot last night in downtown NYC.

About a year ago, The New School ramped up it's food studies offerings.  They've offered a few courses in the area for many years, but now they are offering a full meal.  An offshoot of this is a series of panel discussions on food world luminaries.  Last night's subject was the venerable James Beard.  To The New Schools credit, they did assemble a stellar collection of speakers:  Betty Fussell,  Judith Jones, Barbara Kafka, Mitchell Davis from the Beard Foundation, and Dana Pollan from NYU.  The panel was moderated by food historian and prolific author Andrew Smith.  The talk was fascinating.  Betty, Judith and Barbara gave personal accounts of their interactions with Beard.  Mitchell discussed Jim from more of a historical perspective while Dana discussed his quest to find tapes of Beard's TV appearances.  Dana was only able to find four audio only tapes in the Library of Congress.  His discussing what was happening in his mind's eye while listening to the tapes was quite comical.  It appears that the affable Beard turned into a bit of a scene chewing actor the moment the cameras were on.  

It's great that events like these help creating a full person out of someone you may only know by reading cookbooks or seeing on TV.  It is also very interesting to see the impact that Jim Beard had on the people who knew him, his influence, while centered in the kitchen, extended far from it.