JAMES BEARD by Robert Clark

JAMES BEARD

A Biography

KIRKUS REVIEW

 ``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Street home (now headquarters for the tony James Beard Foundation) housed a bickering mÇnage of jealous, depressed, withdrawn and/or alcoholic companions and staff--and it often seemed ``a prattling, hysterical ship of fools'' where it was hard to determine who was exploiting whom.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)

Pub Date: Dec. 1st, 1993
ISBN: 0-06-016763-7
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1st, 1993




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