James Beard’s 10 Greatest Quotes


James Beard didn’t live in Greenwich Village for nothing. Born in Portland, Oregon, in 1903, his earliest culinary memories included having his mother and the family’s Chinese cook make food for him when he came down with malaria at the age of three. After a stint of living in Paris, he returned stateside to attend Reed College back in Portland, where he was kicked out for engaging in homosexual activity (those who know Reed College today may let out a guffaw).

Nevertheless, his gayness remained an open secret, unknown to most of his millions of admirers, until he came out in his autobiography late in life. Looking over these incredibly clever quotes, which seem to have been written yesterday, we wonder if he wasn’t sent back to the 1950s in a sort of foodie time machine to pave the way for us today.

Of him, the also-queer New York Times food editor and critic Craig Claiborne noted, “Physically he was the connoisseur’s connoisseur. He was a giant panda, Santa Claus and the Jolly Green Giant rolled into one. On him, a lean and slender physique would have looked like very bad casting.” Beard passed away in 1985.

Here, then, are our 10 favorite James Beard quotes.

10. “I believe that if ever I had to practice cannibalism, I might manage if there were enough tarragon around.”

9. “Too few people understand a really good sandwich.”

8. “The kitchen, reasonably enough, was the scene of my first gastronomic adventure. I was on all fours. I crawled into the vegetable bin, settled on a giant onion and ate it, skin and all. It must have marked me for life, for I have never ceased to love the hearty flavor of raw onions.”

7. “Good bread is the most fundamentally satisfying of all foods; and good bread with fresh butter, the greatest of feasts.”

6. “I don’t like gourmet cooking or ‘this’ cooking or ‘that’ cooking. I like good cooking.”

5. “I am still convinced that a good, simple, homemade cookie is preferable to all the store-bought cookies one can find.”

4. “Be simple. Be honest. Don’t overcook and don’t undercook, but it’s better to undercook than overcook.”

3. “The only thing that will make a soufflé fall is if it knows you’re afraid of it.”

2. “I’ve long said that if I were about to be executed and were given a choice of my last meal, it would be bacon and eggs. There are few sights that appeal to me more than the streaks of lean and fat in a good side of bacon, or the lovely round of pinkish meat framed in delicate white fat that is Canadian bacon. Nothing is quite as intoxicating as the smell of bacon frying in the morning, save perhaps the smell of coffee brewing.”

1. “The secret of good cooking is, first, having a love of it. … If you’re convinced that cooking is drudgery, you’re never going to be good at it, and you might as well warm up something frozen.”

Bonus quote …

“There is absolutely no substitute for the best. Good food cannot be made of inferior ingredients masked with high flavor. It is true thrift to use the best ingredients available and to waste nothing.”

Visit the James Beard Foundation.