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The James Beard House Dinner Experience

(post, John Dryzga)

Every time I cross the threshold of the James Beard House for a dinner, I get zapped with a little spark of excitement. The one thing I have learned after years of going to events there is that you cannot predict what the experience will be like. The only thing you can do is sit back and enjoy the ride. 

A chef being invited to cook at the James Beard House is the culinary world's equivalent of a musician being asked to perform at Carnegie Hall. This is also where fate starts to roll the dice. A chef needs to uproot his operation and move it to NYC for the night. The chef also needs to procure all the food needed to cook for 80 or so people. The chef will often have some intrigueing food stuffs shipped over to NYC to insure that the dinner is special. More than once, this important ingredient goes off on a Big Apple tour of its own, leaving the chef and his staff scrambling to find a replacement. On one unfortunate occasion, the poor chef had to be replaced. A sudden illness laid the chef low and a brief hospital stay was required to set him right.

The biggest roll of the dice for a James Beard dinner is who you will be sharing the table with. Unless your party is big enough to commandeer an entire table, you will be sharing your table with strangers. I have yet to crap out in this regard. I have shared a table with a bachelorette party from Ireland, a Tony Award winner, and a crazy artist. People from the entire spectrum of humanity congregate at the Beard house to break bread. The food(and the wine) offer an easy entree to a conversation that can, and often does, go anywhere. I'm sure James Beard would have it no other way.