james beard

The Oscars of the Food Industry

It’s no secret that the world currently has an overabundance of celebrity chefs. They put their name on everything from spatulas to dog food. In this day of blogs and YouTube, anyone can aspire to achieve celebrity status and acquire their own show (and a cult following) on the television channel that’s wholly dedicated to food. You could even say that the celebrity chef movement spawned an onslaught of celebrity psychologists, celebrity doctors, and celebrity dog trainers.
But long before reality TVbefore cooking was even a form of entertainmentAmerica was not a place that came to mind when people thought of sophisticated gastronomy. It took pioneers such as Julia Child to bring America to the forefront of gourmet cooking. Although many consider Child to be the first celebrity chef, it was a man named James Beard who hosted the first-ever televised cooking show. 
Many know his name, but few know much about him. Born in 1903, Beard emerged from a culture of microwaved TV dinners, Jell-O molds, and Spam. He was raised in the Pacific Northwest by his self-sufficient English mother, who taught him to cook the seafood and wild berries that they gathered themselves from the Oregon beach.
A fierce student of the theater, he lived abroad for several years to pursue his dream of acting at his mother’s encouragement. After eight years of failing to break into theater or movies, Beard was forced to learn to make money some other way. He started a catering business that later blossomed into a food shop called Hors d’Oeuvre, Inc. He then began what was to be a prolific career writing cookbooks (he would publish over twenty-five of them before his death in 1985). Upon his return from the war in 1945, Beard jumped right back into the culinary world, appearing on NBC in America’s first cooking show. 


“This is Sarasota Unbleached Flour. Let me tell you what unbleached means. It means untouched, unartificial, unfooled with, untampered with, unmessed with, unfiddled with, uncorrected, unperfected,” a stout James Beard matter-of-factly touts to the camera. 
This commercial for Sarasota Flour encapsulates just what made James Beard such an icon. He was one of the first to shake America from its lazy slumber of canned food and baking mixes. Some have described this period as “the death of food.” Companies had discovered the gold mine that was the American housewife and the result was a movement of factory farming, fast food, and processed food that America has yet to fully recover from. Beard railed against the idea that easy is always better. He suggested buying produce when it’s in seasona common sense idea that was revolutionary in a time when “organic” was just thought of as a type of chemical compound. 
As his ideas gained popularity, Beard established the James Beard Cooking School, with locations in New York City and Seaside, Oregon. He spent the remainder of his life writing cookbooks, traveling, and tirelessly teaching others his concepts of good food, ethically prepared with fresh ingredients. He was eventually recognized by the New York Times as the “Dean of American cookery” for his efforts in coalescing American cooking traditions into a national cuisine.
Upon his death, Julia Child urged Peter Kump, a former student of the James Beard Cooking School, to purchase Beard’s Greenwich Village brownstone and continue Beard’s legacy. Although its purpose has expanded over time, the James Beard Foundation’s core principles have remained the same as was originally stated by a press release on the day it opened in 1986: “to provide a center for the culinary arts and to continue to foster the interest James Beard inspired in all aspects of food, its preparation presentation, and of course, enjoyment.”
The foundation now hosts over 250 events annually, featuring bourgeoning chefs from all over the world. It also launched the James Beard Awards, considered to be the food industry’s highest honor and called by Time magazine “the Oscars of the food world.” For more information about James Beard or to see the James Beard Foundation’s calendar of events, visit the foundation’s website at jamesbeard.org. 

Heart & Soul: Meet Canyon Kitchen's New Executive Chef

Chef Ken Naron is no stranger to the kitchen, particularly Lonesome Valley's Canyon Kitchen, located in Sapphire Valley. Having served as Sous Chef, or second in command, for the last two years under Chef Adam Hayes, Chef Ken’s new role as Chef de Cuisine or Executive Chef will breathe fresh life into the traditions emanating from this highly respected farm-to-table restaurant. Patiently working his way up the ranks during nearly twenty years of culinary experience, he has achieved an impressive resumé. And while he looks great on paper through his culinary accomplishments, it is his Louisiana heritage along with his magnetic personality that will bring a fresh heart and soul to Canyon Kitchen’s seasonal debut.
As a kid, if he wasn’t on his skateboard, he was getting the cultural education of living off the land in the bayou. He was unaware at the time that this down-home training would shape him for his culinary path and current role. “Although my passion for cooking was realized later, I was always involved with the gathering process and gained an intense appreciation for the land.” Steeped within his memory are happy times spent hunting, trapping, and fishing with his grandfather. Harvesting from the family garden, they ate seasonally in the days when the term “farm-to-table” was not yet a culinary trend. They ate whatever they caught or grew. It was Ken’s Creole-Irish grandmother who would spend hours creating spontaneous yet traditional dishes from their bounty. He recalls carefully watching her preparations and waiting patiently for her mouthwatering plates to land on the family table. He was always impressed with her ability to pay homage to the land and craft food that radiated passion.
When Ken’s teenage aspirations to be a professional skateboarder fizzled, he soon found his next step as a dishwasher to earn money to buy his first car. What he quickly discovered was a fascination for the restaurant life, particularly in the kitchen. The energy, the creativity, the camaraderie, and enthusiasm drew him in, and he soon found himself working under such notable chefs as Tom Wolfe and James Beard award-winning Chef Gary Danko. As a mentor, Gary Danko wielded a great influence on Ken’s career while he worked at Danko’s Relais & Chateaux restaurant in San Francisco. Ken was encouraged by Danko to pay attention to the finer details. Aside from learning how to best manage a kitchen team, he was taught culinary and kitchen secrets that became a turning point in his path and gave him the tools to become a truly great head chef.
Now taking the helm at Canyon Kitchen, Chef Ken and his team introduced an expanded tasting menu, offering more choices of Canyon Kitchen’s signature menu items and incorporating new twists to past presentations. Gracing the menu is gastronomy influenced by Ken’s Creole roots, as well as Mexican and Asian infusions. Thoughtful and inventive, Ken draws inspiration from around the world and the local land. His vision is clear on striking a balance in his culinary creations by marrying flavorful spices with seasonal ingredients. Canyon Kitchen’s practice of using local ingredients from sustainable suppliers along with fruits and vegetables harvested from their own garden will continue to serve as the basis for Chef Ken’s prix fix menu. New features include pasture-raised Lady Edison pork and farm-raised bison from Carolina Bison. You might find these dishes imbued with essences of fresh chamomile and coriander that are new to the garden this season, while heirloom squash, Seminole pumpkin seeds, arugula, and cauliflower with touches of radish and nasturtium brighten the plates. 
Above and beyond everything else, Chef Ken is all about making his guests happy. “It’s important that the food is flavorful and balanced with every bite,” says Ken. “Our guests can expect an elevated dining experience.” Creative gastronomy guided by Ken’s heart and soul will be the driving force behind his authentic cuisine. If you haven’t managed to visit Canyon Kitchen this season, make sure to make your reservation soon! Not only will you enjoy your experience, you will love getting to know Ken as he meets and greets.  

About Canyon Kitchen

Located in the scenic Lonesome Valley community in Cashiers, North Carolina, Canyon Kitchen is a seasonal restaurant featuring exquisite dishes in a relaxed setting. The nightly prix fixed menus utilize fresh, seasonal ingredients from the restaurant’s own garden and other local food sources, including Sunburst Trout Farms, Brasstown Beef, and Looking Glass Creamery, to name a few. At Canyon Kitchen, guests enjoy the local flavors of North Carolina while looking upon the thousand-foot granite cliffs and lush forests. Situated in a craftsman-style barn, Canyon Kitchen’s interiors include traditional post-and-beam architecture, stacked stone fireplaces and sliding barn doors throughout allowing guests to take advantage of the crisp mountain air. For more information, visit www.lonesomevalley.com.