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Chefs Stage Benefit Dinners Honoring American Cuisine


A series of "All Star Chef" benefit dinners is being held across the United States this year, all part of a 20-city celebration honoring the 20th anniversary of the James Beard Foundation. The foundation is named after the renowned American chef who died in 1985 and is considered by many to be the father of American gastronomy. One of these benefit dinners was held recently at a Washington, D.C. restaurant, and VOA's George Dwyer was there.

It is the culinary equivalent of a major theatrical production just before the actors hit the stage.

"And we are garnishing tonight with a fig jam and a pistachio butter - this is pistachio and laudemio, a really good extra virgin olive oil (with) a little bit of sea salt. And then a roasted fig on top," says Chef Ris LaCoste, who is working with four of America's finest chefs - ably assisted by an expert kitchen staff - to put the finishing touches on a masterpiece of a meal.

Restaurant owner Janet Cam says the event has been organized to celebrate the life's work of the legendary American chef James Beard. "James Beard is perhaps the first person to be noted as focused on food in America…and he really provided I think a guide for Americans in cooking and realizing what good food is," she said.

James Beard showed Americans that it is not difficult to eat well, says wine importer Terry Theise. "We Americans tend to feel that this exists in some lofty aesthetic realm to which we do not have access, because we are just plain folk, but we can eat beautifully and well and simply. All we have to do is care about it and pay a certain kind of attention."

Chef Beard's love of food and its social influence led to the creation of a foundation in his name. The James Beard Foundation promotes the culinary arts through awards programs, scholarships, and "Taste America" events, where Chefs like Bob Kincaid prepare American cuisine.

"It is kind of a mixture of a lot of different cuisines - like the people that are in America, taken from French, German, Italian, and then adding into that local products and things that are grown here and produced here," says Kincaid.

Washington, D.C.'s Vidalia Restaurant played host on this night. And the fact that the event was being held in this city is a sign of changing times, say the experts here.

"Specifically in Washington, I think this event is important because for a long time Washington has been struggling to establish itself as a major-league restaurant city. And for a very long time it was not considered to be one. And I think those days are drawing to a close," says Terry Theise, wine importer.

Yes, and just in time for dessert.