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January 10, 2013

Cooking where the big boys cook

Ceia chefs serve meal in James Beard House


It seemed as if much of the Henry James-style townhouse — the fireplaces, bookcases, and Americana wallpaper stamped with an ear of corn — was intentionally preserved as Beard’s home, but, like the grandmother’s house that never gets new furniture or fresh paint, much of it now just feels worn, which in fact makes Beard feel that much closer, as if the great man, a little older, were just upstairs adjusting the bow tie on his tux.

And yet for the much younger generation of cooks, for Soucy, Marcoux and Beddoes, the Beard Foundation is about the awards which began in 1991, and which crowned the cooking industry with credibility. As Soucy says, The Beard Award, the Oscars of professional cuisine, made cooking “OK;” The Beard House, Soucy said, his voice still charged with awe when I spoke to him a week later, “is where all the big boys come to play.”

Along with the crested awards — distributed to a variety of professionals, from chefs to cookbook authors to restaurant designers — The Beard House invites restaurants from around the country to prepare dinners in the Beard home, “a performance space for chefs,” Peter Kumpf, who was one of the original conceptualizers of the Beard Foundation, described it. The dinners are open to the public, and reservations can be made through Open Table; you can follow the Beard website, and see which restaurants from around the country will be showing up to cook. This means you can dine at that great little Milwaukee restaurant featured in Food and Wine magazine last month without having to fly to Milwaukee.

The hosted restaurant provides food, beverages, and their traveling expenses; the Beard House provides the kitchen, waitstaff, and linens. Ceia’s night, the waitstaff rippled through the dining rooms, stacked on two floors to accommodate the town house architecture, answering questions about Beard’s mirrored bathroom (yup.), and the odd placement of his shower, one wall of which was once all glass, opening up to his Greenwich Village neighbors. At one point Nancy Batista-Caswell asked one of the Beard House waitstaff, “so, is this your gig?” To which the waiter explained just how good the gig is: “At the end of the day we interact with top American chefs; they’re making the best food, and there are no complaints.”

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