by Lance J. Mayhew

James Beard. Photo credit Dan Wynn,
©Elisabeth Wynn and courtesy of
the James Beard Foundation

Oregon is a place full of culinary riches. From the Oregon coast, abounding with mussels, clams, and Dungeness crabs — to the Columbia River, full of salmon, sturgeon, and steelhead — to the lush forests steeped with morel and chanterelle mushrooms — to the orchards blossoming with cherries, pears, and apples, Oregon is the land of plenty. It is from this special place where James Beard, America’s foremost food expert and the “Dean of American Cuisine,” was born and raised. The experiences James Beard had while in Oregon shaped his appreciation for food and the Pacific Northwest.

Visitors to Oregon can still follow Beard’s trail: from the cooking school he ran during summers at Seaside High School, to the site of the 1905 Lewis and Clark Exposition, now occupied by Meriwethers Restaurant, to Huber’s Restaurant, famous then as it is now for roast turkey, to the Original Pancake House, a restaurant Beard once named as one of the top ten in America, many pockets of James Beard’s Oregon are still thriving. While some of the physical places Beard enjoyed still exist and can be explored, the spirit of James Beard lives on in the do-it-yourself ethic of the locals and in the famers markets, restaurants, and general food philosophy of most Oregonians. While the term “foodie” is quite common today, Beard is said to have preferred the word “epicure” to being called a “gourmet,” as, he once stated, “the epicure is a man who likes food, the gourmet is the man who likes talking about food.” Beard reminisced about the quality and quantity of the produce in Oregon and even though he moved to New York City, Oregon continued to play a major role in his life. “I went shopping today and just the size of the fresh vegetables, the rhubarb with its brilliant red stems and its red and green leaves and the magnificent spinach with huge lovely tender leaves and the first little tender peas of the year and tiny new potatoes and exquisite strawberries…” he once marveled about the produce he found on the Oregon coast.

In the years since Beard lived in Oregon, generations of great chefs have chosen to make this special place their home. The best of the best have been nominated for James Beard awards, and the very best of them have been honored with the award. Local cooking schools have continued Beard’s commitment to culinary education, helping to inspire the next generation of great Oregon chefs. No matter what style of cuisine, or the cooking techniques used, Oregon chefs celebrate the richness and diversity of foods available in Oregon and in doing so, they honor James Beard’s legacy with every dish that they produce.

In March of this year, we celebrate James Beard’s legacy in Oregon with the James Beard Foundation’s award nominations here in Portland Oregon. For one evening, every James Beard award nominated and winning chef in Oregon history will be come together to honor James Beard. Come celebrate Beard, the Oregon chefs and a continued commitment to culinary education in Oregon during this event.

Tickets for the James Beard Award nomination gala will be available at www.TicketWeb.com and the event occurs Sunday, March 20, 2011 at the Multnomah Athletic Club in Portland Oregon. Visit www.jamesbeardinoregon.com for more information and to purchase tickets.