Taste the Achievement: The Legacy of the James Beard Foundation

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By Quincy Jaeger

When September rolls around, that means the return of one of the most fabulous culinary events of the year in Southern Nevada. The Las Vegas Wine & Food Festival returns to the Red Rock resort – expanding to two days this year – for an eagerly anticipated poolside event to benefit the James Beard Foundation, the crown jewel of culinary education and advancement.


The foundation honors the legacy of James Andrew Beard who was considered a trailblazer in haute cuisine, restaurant entrepreneurship and cookbook authorship as well as television and print media. As a chef and educator ahead of his time, he paved the way for Anthony Bourdain, Cat Cora and many others. He is celebrated as “The Dean of American Cookery” and nearly 30 years after his death, his name remains synonymous with fine American cuisine.


The foundation was established in 1986 to showcase the finest culinary masters in the world while creating platforms for upcoming talent through a diverse range of educational programs. The James Beard Foundation boasts a National Food Conference, numerous scholarships for culinary students, publications and the James Beard Awards which are widely considered the Oscars of the food and fine dining industry.


The foundation is also known for the illustrious James Beard House, one of New York’s most unique culinary establishments. Located in the heart of Greenwich Village, the facility hosts guest chefs from across the country to create menus and events showcasing their skills. These special dining experiences are a celebration of the incredible wealth of talent that America has to offer the vast culinary world.


Years ago, when I first graduated from law school, I moved to Las Vegas with the man that would become my husband. The job market was bleak so I took to waiting tables on the Strip to make an income. I was fortunate enough to work in the fabulous and fondly remembered Valentino – which was at the Venetian for 13 years. It was the place where I learned exactly what it meant to work in a James Beard Award winning restaurant. It was the creation of multiple award nominee Piero Selvaggio and helmed by Chef Luciano Pellegrini, winner of the 2004 James Beard Award for Best Chef Southwest


It was at Valentino that I developed a true appreciation and palate for Italian wine. It was there that I fell in love with artisanal mortadella after balking at trying it for years. I will never forget the smell of Bolognese and garlic. I remember tirelessly begging the boys on the line to make their perfect gnocchi cecca for the family meal each night. I recall staring in awe as they made miles of pasta in more colors and shapes that I could count while the pastry chefs sculpted perfect tiramisu and the finest gelato I’d tasted since visiting Venice.


There was a magic that existed in this place that stemmed from passion, precision and the validation of the James Beard Foundation. I recall one evening when Chef Luciano was in the kitchen, working the line to prepare a meal for a table of very special guests. When the meal was over, he set aside a small quail for each of us to taste. He never talked much but this was his way of letting us know that we had done a good job.


I have learned that when a restaurant is recognized by the James Beard Foundation, it’s because it offers something that goes beyond delicious food and precise service. A James Beard recognized restaurant is like a master class in culinary achievement; a harmonious symphony of flavor, passion and education that’s effortlessly conducted by true artists.


The James Beard Foundation continues to grow and inspire. President Susan Ungaro has been working since 2006 to ensure that the foundation makes an impact that goes far beyond the kitchen. She has taken an active role in expanding scholarship programs, increasing online membership enrollment and launching the James Beard Foundation Leadership Awards to recognize those who promote healthy and sustainable food. She also hosts the Taste America traveling food festival


The Las Vegas Food and Wine Festival is the perfect event to honor such an esteemed organization. To learn more about the James Beard Foundation and the Las Vegas Wine & Food Festival go to www.jamesbeard.org. and www.vegaswineandfood.com

James Beard Foundation

James Beard Foundation Award for Excellence

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