James Beard was the first American foodie, a chef and writer who believed in our country’s cuisine even when there wasn’t yet much to champion. He got behind hors d’oeuvres and the outdoor grill before they were taken seriously in the culinary world.
Beard hosted the first food TV show, 1946’s “I Love to Eat,” from which every single cooking show was born. He founded a legendary cooking school with campuses in New York City and Oregon. And when he died in 1985, he left behind a house in New York City that is now home to a legendary series of dinners that bears his name.
Beard has very few ties to the Triad. No local chef has ever been invited to cook at the Beard House, nor has one ever won a Beard Award.
But now Chef Jay Pierce of Lucky 32 has been included in Beard’s legacy — he’s been invited to cook a Beard dinner, not at the storied New York City house but as part of a satellite program of dinners. Beard’s Celebrity Chef Tour holds events in cities like Honolulu, Chicago, Washington DC, San Diego and Philadelphia.
Pierce will be cooking this weekend at the Palisades Restaurant in Eggleston, Va., a couple hours north of the Triad, with chefs from Boone, Charlotte, Roanoke, Va. and Venice, Calif. It’s not a competition, but it sort of is.
Pierce says he’s going with a little lamb, from Border Springs Farms in Patrick, Va. “I’ll take the loin and roast it in a wood oven,” he says, “serve it with miso-caramel sweet potatoes — I didn’t want to make miso-honey sauce because of Full Metal Jacket — and a little arugula for bitterness. I’m gonna crumble some bleu cheese on the plate, and then I’m gonna smoke the lamb bellies and make like lamb bacon [and] put that on there, too.”
As the first Triad chef to be invited into Beard’s foundation, Pierce is honored.
“I hold those guys in high esteem,” he says. “I read the awards list like it’s the Oscars. They are the Oscars of the food world…. [Chefs] in the Triangle usually get the nod.
“In some ways, it’s great to toil in obscurity,” he continues, “but people in Greensboro have been acknowledging the work we’ve done at Lucky 32 for a long time. But acknowledgement from someone outside of our city, it’s wild.”
He also sees big things for our culinary future. He says he wants the Beard Foundation to hold a dinner at the Printworks Bistro in the Proximity Hotel, owned by the same company that owns Lucky 32.
“That’s the idea,” he says, “to bring it back here.
“Let’s get the food world to take us seriously,” he continues. “Brooklyn has this reputation for farm-to-fork, but there’s no farms there. We’re in the middle of the farms — we ought to be knocking it out of the park. It should be easier [for us] to tell the story of where the food comes from.”
After cooking for the Beard Foundation this weekend, Pierce will be back in the kitchen at Lucky 32. Let’s hope he brings the lamb bacon into play.