The Thursday night between Christmas and New Year’s, Ceia Kitchen + Bar, the pearl of a restaurant in Newburyport, prepared dinner at the The James Beard Foundation in Greenwich Village, N.Y. The provincial Cinderella, created and owned by Nancy Batista-Caswell, had received the invitation to the ball.
Ceia’s executive chef, Patrick Soucy, and his team, Corey Marcoux and Andrew Beddoes, arrived at The Beard House a half hour early that day, too excited apparently to stay away any longer. The Beard House staff later reported they had not seen the place packed so well in weeks (The Ceia dinner sold out), nor had they seen such an enthusiastic kitchen.
I was there, and am certain Soucy, Marcoux, and Beddoes never stopped smiling; they shifted great pans of butter-poached lobster and walnut-smoked rack of lamb buoyed by joy and the honor of shucking Chatham oysters in the kitchen of the first champion of American regional cuisine and local ingredients. While Julia Child (a great friend of James Beard) was teaching Cambridge wives the how-to’s of coq au vin in the 1970s, Beard was writing cookbooks on the beauty and value of Maine shrimp, three-bean salad, and Election Cake.
For many people James Beard symbolized a shelf of honest cookbooks packed with trustworthy American recipes and intelligent culinary history. For me, being in the James Beard House was tender; my mother had most of his cookbooks, and they all came out for special dinners and holidays. There were so many passages and stories about Beard, his friends, and his entertaining in those books that I heard his clippy, definitive voice as soon as I stepped off the Greenwich Village sidewalk into the narrow, gently lit foyer. I could hear Beard’s words on Prune Whip: “A classic over a long period, related to a souffle. It’s good hot or cold, and is nostalgic, to a point.” Or Baked Alaska: “This has become a signature for elaborate dining in this country and is a dessert that causes ohs and ahs wherever it is presented. I think it is greatly overrated, but it is a part of American life.”