Photo by Lake Austin Spa Resort
When I was very young and dating the son of a famous New York City restaurant consultant, I met James Beard. At the time, my then-boyfriend’s parents hosted a rotating dinner salon of sorts, for foodies, in their downtown loft. As they prepared and hosted meals for the likes of James Beard, Craig Claiborne, Alice Waters and Alfredo Viazzi, I was hanging around the kitchen, chopping vegetables and learning how to cook.
James Beard was a huge man, in form and stature, and I remember that, imposing as he was, he was very kind to me, a young student at the time. Beard was a teacher, a mentor, and a champion of cooking with fresh ingredients, which he bought at the famous--and now sadly defunct--Jefferson Market, just down the street from his West Village home.
After Beard’s death, his townhouse was turned into a “performance space” for visiting chefs. It has become a prestigious place for chefs from around the world to come and cook, with a stated mission “to celebrate, nurture and honor chefs and other leaders making America's food culture more delicious, diverse, and sustainable for everyone.” The James Beard Foundation, a nonprofit, sponsors the prestigious James Beard Awards each year.
Every time I get an invitation to a Beard House dinner, it makes me happy to revisit the home of the great man, who taught Americans how to cook simple, delicious, sustainable American food. An expert baker, he also opened up our palates to what bread was really supposed to taste like, and how to make it ourselves, in his cookbook classic, Beard on Bread.
The Lake Austin Spa Resort recently came to the Beard house to showcase its new “Conscientious Cuisine.” Executive Chef Stephane Beaucamp and Sous Chef Justin Helton, along with their team, blended influences from Beaucamp’s native France with honest and elegant Texas cooking. The leisurely five-course meal included a gorgeous Citrus and White Soy-Infused Jicama Garden Nasturtium Foam, Buckwheat, Baby Candy Stripe Beet, Radish, Beet Blush Salad; handmade Barton Springs Mill-Danko Rye Garganelli, Parmigiano Broth, Broccoli Hemp Seed Crumbs, “Salt & Time” Country Ham; and a perfect 44 Farms Black Angus Bavette Beef (after all, this is Texas!), Watercress Puree, Grelot Onion, Roasted Mushroom, Red Quinoa, Tomato Red Wine Jus.
Left: Executive Chef Stephane Beaucamp in the kitchen at the James Beard House, photo by Rona Berg
Right: Beaucamp's team, photo by Lake Austin Spa Resort
“I really wanted to bring what Austin is all about,” says Beaucamp. Conscientious cuisine, he says, is about “making the right choices, choosing the right suppliers and the right portions, not drowning the food with too many sauces, watching the quality and knowing the provenance of what you are eating, in order to savor it and enjoy it.” Lake Austin Spa works with local purveyors to source meat, produce, coffee, cheese and cocktails--i.e., Austin’s Third Coast Coffee and the woman-owned Austin Cocktails--and features organic gardens on property where herbs and vegetables are grown.
It was a lovely dinner party, something we don’t see often enough anymore, and it made me realize how much I miss the tinkle of glasses, soft laughter and delicious food, shared by old friends and new, in the beauty and comfort of someone’s home.
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