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Delights and Prejudices

(article, Caroline Cummins)

For all his books on cooking — and he wrote or contributed to more than three dozen — James Beard was not a writer. He never met a cliché he didn’t adore, and his descriptive powers were limited to “delicious,” “delectable,” and “superb.” (Or, conversely, “unfit for human consumption,” “ruined,” and “odious beyond belief.”) His talent was teaching, both via the aforementioned cookbooks and his cooking school, and his subject was American and European cooking, sans frills.

In 1964, however, Beard published a different sort of book: a memoir, Delights and Prejudices, which contains plenty of both, as well as scores of recipes. He details his childhood in Portland, Oregon, with its beloved summers on the Pacific coast; his youth penny-pinching across Europe; and his adult successes working as a professional cook (notably in the Army during World War II), caterer, and cookbook writer. 

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He is both snobby and egalitarian, praising European cooking traditions above all others while arguing that cooking needn’t be “gourmet” to be good. He is unabashedly idiosyncratic, disdaining chicken livers while worshipping foie gras, turning up his nose at milk while relying heavily on cream in his cooking. But his flights of fancy are reliably grounded in common sense, as when he writes, “The trouble with most male cooks is that they have too many drinks before they get down to the business of cooking.”

Tolerate the prejudices, for there are many delights to be found here.

p(bio). [caroline@culinate.com "Caroline Cummins"] is the managing editor of Culinate.


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