April 18, 2014

Oct 24, 201211:12 AMTable Talk

“I Love to Eat” offers a taste of James Beard’s life

Oct 24, 2012 - 11:12 AM
“I Love to Eat” offers a taste of James Beard’s life

Photo by Danisha Crosby

James Beard may have been a knowledgeable cooking teacher and prodigious author of 26 cookbooks, but he was also a lonely, eccentric man who wished he was Chinese, cooked naked, and favored red pajamas when clothed. 

That’s just a taste from the one-man play about James Beard called “I Love to Eat,” that’s playing at Bethesda’s Round House Theatre until November 4.

I saw it this past Sunday, and thought the performance by Nick Olcott, a local opera and play director, and dead ringer for Beard, was spot-on. (Yannick Cam, owner and chef at Bethesda’s Bistro Provence, was also in the audience that afternoon and gave it a thumbs up, too.)

The play, which takes place in the kitchen of Beard’s Greenwich Village brownstone in the middle of a night in 1984—a year before he died—is really more of an analysis of Beard as a person rather than a cook, although it does include plenty of fuel for foodies.

Interestingly, Olcott always hated to cook, but in preparation for the role, tested many Beard recipes, and learned to enjoy the kitchen.  (He chronicles his adventures in a blog at www.roundhousetheatre.org/blog).  

On stage, he prepares onion sandwiches, a classic Beard hors d’oeuvre.

The recipe made by Olcott was fine-tuned by trying different breads and onions to find a combination that would taste good and be easy for the actor to handle, according to Danisha Crosby, associate producer at Round House.

However, “we play some theatrical tricks with the mayo he makes onstage,” Crosby said. A tiny bit of cornstarch is added to help it thicken quickly.

Here’s the recipe that’s on the James Beard Foundation’s website, adapted from the one that appeared in “Beard on Food,” published in 1974. I’ve edited it a bit for clarity.

Onion Sandwiches

(Makes 12)

  • Loaf of brioche or challah
  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • 6 to 8 small white onions, peeled and sliced thinly
  • 1 bunch parsley, chopped finely
  • Salt to taste

Cut brioche or challah into thin slices, remove crusts and cut into 24 rounds with a biscuit cutter. Spread half the rounds of bread with mayonnaise, top with slices of onion, and salt well. Top with the remaining rounds, and press them together firmly. Roll the edges in mayonnaise and then chopped parsley. Chill in the refrigerator several hours before serving.

Round House Theatre, 4545 East-West Highway, Bethesda, 240-644-1100, www.roundhousetheatre.org 

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Welcome to Table Talk, the blog version of the column in Bethesda Magazine. Be one of the first to find out about new restaurants and food shops, and join in the lively discussion about first bites, snipes and recommendations.

Before becoming Food Editor of Bethesda Magazine, Carole Sugarman was an award-winning food reporter for The Washington Post for 20 years. She has also written for national food magazines and a food policy newsletter, as well as judged cookbook and cooking contests. She lives in Chevy Chase where she eats PB&J for lunch when she’s not working.

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