Recently I had the honor of meeting and interviewing Clare Reichenbach, the new CEO of the James Beard Foundation (JBF). It was my first ever visit to the historic James Beard House, located in New York City. James Beard was “America’s First Foodie” and his legacy continues to impact generations of home cooks and professional chefs around the world.
The pineapple, a symbol of hospitality is a recurrent theme and pattern in the James Beard House, where more than 200 dinners a year are open to both the public and Foundation members.
A pineapple print wallpaper adorns the staircase walls, and a pineapple is embroidered on the fabric of each dining room chair.
James Beard epitomized hospitality and he invited people into his home to share his passion for cooking. Walking into his kitchen, I immediately recalled my kitchen chat with Stephen Bruce, a founder of Serendipity 3 restaurant in New York. In 1954, James Beard had invited Stephen Bruce into his home to teach him how to make an omelet. Bruce recalls having to crack several cartons of eggs to perfect the skill and meet the high standards of James Beard.
Clare Reichenbach now has the joyous responsibility of ensuring that James Beard’s legacy of integrity, culinary education, and his passionate championing of the rich diversity of American food continues. She mentions, “It’s a great privilege to join this organization at this exciting and important time for the professional chef community and food lovers alike.”
Reichenbach is especially proud of the Women’s Leadership Programs that the James Beard Foundation offers to empower women in the industry and help narrow the gender gap. Among the first is the Women in Culinary Leadership program, co-founded in 2012 by Rohini Dey and former JBF president Susan Ungaro. This initiative helps women at the beginning of their culinary careers by pairing them with a chef and / or restaurateur in an intensive nine-month mentorship program. The second is the Women’s Entrepreneurial Leadership program, which began in partnership with Babson College last year, and helps equip women with the financial decision-making tools to advance their careers or scale their business. Applications for both are open now at JamesBeard.org.
With the key ingredients of offering globally-recognized industry awards programs, scholarships for culinary students, chef advocacy training, thought-leader convening, a robust social media community, a “performance space” for visiting chefs that any of us can enjoy at the Beard House and also across the country, the James Beard Foundation will continue to celebrate the delicious legacy of “America’s First Foodie.”
Savor the day!