Shrines are being set up around the country. James Beard's life-size copper-clad pig fountain is resettled in Tuscaloosa, Ala. The raised director's chair he used during his cooking classes is destined for the shop window of New York caterer Chip Fisher. Several of his turn-of-the-century American cookbooks have been transferred to New Orleans, many others to the shelves of Manhattan chef Larry Forgione. And some of Beard's favorite canes and walking sticks will be used by a sculptor to hike the countryside around New York.
His kitchen, his pantry, his cookbook shelves were dismantled and parceled into 600 lots, then auctioned off last Thursday at William Doyle Galleries in Manhattan. The first two items on the block were Beard's bathroom scales, which he was said to have tipped at 275 pounds. By the time the last item, his gold ID bracelet, had been sold, the gross sales were $272,896. That's about $1,000 per pound of the man himself, and about $50,000 above what the gallery had anticipated. The money, along with the proceeds of the sale of his house, will eventually go to Beard's alma mater, Reed College in his home state of Oregon, but in the meantime will provide lifetime support for Beard's longtime companion Gino Cofacci.
Collectors, curiosity-seekers and food-world friends from at least as far as Atlanta and Seattle formed the biggest crowd the auction house has seen since Gloria Swanson's estate sale. People lined up in the drizzle outside for hours ahead. Beard's cooking students came in droves. And the evening book auction drew not so many knowledgeable collectors as souvenir-hunters: "They came to get Mr. Beard's bookplate," said Doyle public relations director Mary Alice Adams; the auction house had pasted one in every volume it sold. In many cases people bought books still in print, which could have been purchased at any bookstore at a much lower price. Though only about 50 of the volumes were old ones that warranted being sold singly, the 1,500 books sold for $41,500.
It was an emotional sale. Beard's mammoth copper bowl and whisk, with a couple of other accessories, sold for $900. People sighed, clucked, applauded and moaned as his favorite things came up for sale. When a large pewter basin was shown, pastry chef Michel Cousineau muttered, "He used to fill it with ice for champagne." A large Oriental-style serving cabinet sold for only $100; "Oh dear," someone exclaimed. A copper mold evoked, "Oh, that!"
Auctioneer William Doyle milked it; when Beard's Cuisinart came on the block, he declared, "If this isn't a status symbol, I don't know what is." When there were no bids on a bulky upholstered chaise longue he volunteered, "If you can't get it home on the subway, we'll hold it 'til tomorrow." Then it went for $650.
"I feel it's auctioneer's heaven and we're selling out the kitchen," commented cookbook author Nina Simonds.
Beard's knife cart -- with knives -- went for $1,500. "Unbelievable," was heard among the audience. His horn and steel cleaver and chopper were "great for the subway," quipped the auctioneer; they brought $375. When Beard's alabaster mortar and pestle went for $550, one cook scoffed, "I can ship it from France for that price." Three rolling pins for $400 were beyond even such a comparison.
The food professionals knew what to bid on, which items had been Beard's personal favorites and had historic value. An English game dish sold for $425 -- it had been on the cover of a food magazine. Six porcelain soup bowls and spoons went for $600 -- they were known to have been used when Beard served lunch to Julia Child. Among the books, too, those sets inscribed to Beard from Child and from Craig Claiborne brought stellar prices -- $575 for five of Child's, $425 for six of Claiborne's.
Many buyers didn't want their names revealed, or the names of people they were buying for. An interior decorator said that anything belonging to Beard could be resold for three to four times the auction price. Another bidder admitted that she was looking for something the International Association of Cooking Professionals could re-sell in its own auction, but her budget of $250 wasn't allowing her much choice.
Much of Beard's worldly goods consisted of majolica, and the collectors were there in force. Dealers competed to pay $1,500 for four serving dishes the auction house had estimated at $200-$400. A fish platter sold for $2,100, a small honey stand for $1,400, eight Minton sardine plates for $3,500, and prices climbed even higher: $3,500 for a covered game dish; $4,000 for a soup tureen modeled as clusters of corn ears. After the majolica coffers were emptied the crowd thinned out.
Next came the Chinese goods, then more personal items. When the first of Beard's caftans sold -- for $350 -- to a man Beard's size, people came close to cheering. Emotions also ran high over his dining table, which one of his students lost to a bid $100 higher than her limit of $1,400.
The students, the chefs, the souvenir hunters in many cases would buy one thing, then leave. Amid the seasoned dealers, interior decorators and collectors, the students and chefs looked young, and the auctioneer sometimes had to keep them from bidding against themselves or accidentally bidding as they carelessly waved their paddles.
Buyers had personal reasons for their particular purchases. Jane Salzfass Freiman bought a lot of books that included one Richard Olney had presented to Beard when he had demonstrated in Beard's kitchen -- and Freiman had been his assistant. One woman bought a mountain of books "for admirers of Beard." A decorator bought a bunch of baskets because "Christmas is coming." A waiter from Arcadia restaurant was commissioned to spend up to $200 on a collection of Beard's bow ties, which the waiters intended to wear in the restaurant in his honor, but the bow tie collections went for $225 and up. The waiter consoled himself with two Italian cookbooks for $20, which the auctioneer declared "the bargain of the evening," and a group of books that included one with a letter from Alice Waters to Beard.
But there were surprisingly few of the food world superstars, though Forgione was there and spending thousands of dollars. Chef Jonathan Waxman seemed to be just along to watch. Peter Kump, Caroline Stuart and Clayton Triplett, three of Beard's closest associates, were there, but Barbara Kafka, perhaps his closest associate, missed it because of a death in her family. Leo Lerman of Conde' Nast sat in the front row.
There had been much talk of trying to keep Beard's library and other possessions from being scattered, and to set up a tax-exempt foundation to buy his house for a gastronomic center. The American Institute of Wine and Food, Child and Kump had joined in trying to organize the effort, and Seagram's was said to be interested. There was no evidence of this at the auction other than cards being handed out asking for names and addresses of those wanting to keep informed of the project.
At 9:05 it was all over but the wrapping. In the rear of the gallery stood Irene Sax, who had written much of Beard's recent works with him. She hadn't intended to come, but had just finished washing her dishes and lived only two blocks away, so she stopped in. "It was sort of like a last farewell," she said. Beard had no funeral. And because of that, said Sax, "every event is another goodbye." Tabletalk
*Just when people are getting used to raw fish sushi, some gimmicky restaurateurs around the country have started serving raw turkey sushi. Cheaper, for sure, and more readily available it is. Besides, it looks and tastes surprisingly like raw tuna. But safe it is not. When asked about eating raw turkey, Sanford Miller, director of the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition at the Food and Drug Administration, responded vehemently, "I wouldn't eat it." Poultry should always be cooked; he warned, "All poultry runs a serious danger of salmonella contamination."
*Linguistics experts should get to work on this mystery: Children like foods beginning with "p." That's what one hotel banquet department has noted. For a start, there are pizza, pigs-in-blankets, popcorn, pretzels, pancakes, Popsicles, potato skins, peanut butter, pickles and pasta.
*France's chefs are shedding their cloak of chauvinism. Three of the biggest names -- Roger Verge', Paul Bocuse and Gaston Leno tre, who run the French restaurant at Disney World -- are planning a second restaurant in Orlando, Fla., this one not French at all but an hors d'oeuvre and wine bar on the order of Spain's tapas bars. Furthermore, it is to be attached to a disco. BILLY'S COLESLAW (4 to 6 servings)
This is a very rich, creamy and unusual slaw on which James Beard was raised, he said. It appeared in several of his cookbooks through the years. As he wrote in "The New James Beard" (Knopf, 1981), "Billy was a Chinese chef, a pal of my mother's chef, and his coleslaw was superb. He often mixed it with tiny shrimp, crab meat, or bits of lobster, which made it entirely different but equally delicious."
1/2 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons dry mustard
Dash hot pepper sauce
6 tablespoons sugar
1/2 cup wine vinegar
1 cup whipping cream mixed with 2 egg yolks
1 medium cabbage
Heat the oil in a heavy skillet or saute' pan, add the flour, and blend well. Add the salt, mustard, hot pepper sauce, sugar, and vinegar, and stir until thickened. Combine some of the hot oil mixture with the egg-cream mixture, and then pour into the oil mixture. Stir over low heat just until it thickens. Shred the cabbage very thin and combine with the hot dressing. Cool and chill several hours. If the dressing is too thick, mix with a little more cream or with a touch of mayonnaise.