The New York University Division of Libraries has received a $100,000 grant from the Leon Levy Foundation for an oral history project that will help document the transformative impact on American food culture of renowned chef James Beard and his circle.
Fales Library at NYU, the rare books and special collections repository at the university, is home to one of the nation’s largest and most prestigious archives in food studies.
According to Marvin J. Taylor, head of Fales and curator of the Food Studies Collection, New York City was at the center of a post-war food revolution, thanks to a group of chefs and writers based there who were among the first to think about distinctly American food and American taste. They included Beard, whose papers are in the Fales collection; Cecily Brownstone, whose collection of 8,000 cookbooks, 5,000 pamphlets, and personal correspondence with food writers and authors became the cornerstone of the Collection; Clementine Paddleford, Joe Baum, Craig Claiborne, Julia Child, and Pierre Franey. Today they all are gone, but there is a small group of individuals still alive who knew Beard and his circle and the tastemakers who followed them. “It is essential to have a thorough grasp of their ideas and experiences in order to understand the development of food culture today,” Taylor says.
To that end, Fales Library has begun a two-year project of interviews with a selected list of New York chefs, restaurateurs, writers, food critics, and farmers market founders, including Mimi Sheraton, Saul Zabar, Betty Fussell, Lidia Bastianich, and Florent Morellet. Journalist and former food reporter Judith Weinraub, winner of two James Beard awards for journalism, will conduct the interviews this year and next. The resulting tapes and transcripts will be a rich source of material for scholars, educators, and writers and will become part of the Fales Food Studies Collection.