Duff Goldman's Distressing First Experience With James Beard Recipes

James Beard (1903-1985) has been called the "dean of American cookery” and "America's first foodie.” Born and educated in Oregon, kicked out of college, and not very successful in his attempts to have a career in theater and movies, Beard started a catering business as a side hustle to augment his income – and before long "finally realized that his future lay in the world of cooking” (per James Beard Foundation). He went on to open a gourmet food shop, write countless newspaper and magazine articles, turn out dozens of cookbooks, and host the first nationally televised cooking show in the United States, NBC's "I Love to Eat” (per American Masters). In his day, he was "the foremost American food authority” (per The New York Times).

Today, Beard is known mainly for the prestigious culinary awards that bear his name, and for being a champion of farmers markets and regional American cooking long before labels like "farm to table” and "New American cuisine” (per PBS). His recipes aren't as widely circulated as they once were, but celebrity baker Duff Goldman (who was not yet TV's "Ace of Cakes”) had a memorable first encounter with a James Beard recipe. It wasn't a piece of cake. Far from it.

James Beard recipe experience left Duff Goldman in turtle shock

At the time, Duff Goldman was a student at the University of Maryland and was working for Baltimore chef Cindy Wolf, who he has credited with giving him his first job in a high-end restaurant and inspiring him to be a pastry chef (per Baltimore magazine). One week the staff was tasked with preparing for a Baltimore-themed dinner and "bringing it up," presumably to the Beard House in New York. On the menu was Maryland terrapin soup – turtle soup (per PBS).

Turtle soup is just like what it sounds like: soup made with chunks of turtle meat. Generally, it contained copious amounts of cream, butter, and sherry (per NPR). In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, it was a culinary sensation in restaurants and private clubs all over the country.

But back to Goldman. The walk-in at Wolf's restaurant was full of live turtles for the soup, the Baltimore bakery owner recalled. "We all like, we were playing with them for a few days and there were these turtles running around. ... And then we had to kill them to make soup with them. Everybody was really upset. Our exec sous was this big nasty old cook. ... He kicked everybody out of the kitchen. ... And he killed the turtles and made the soup. Then we all came back in and everybody was sad. It was a rough day.”