It’s akin to winning an Oscar in the culinary world, and University of Southern Mississippi associate professor of history Andrew Haley lays claim to one for his latest book on how the middle class secured their place at the dinner table, so to speak, with the “upper ten.”
Haley accepted the James Beard Foundation Award for Turning the Tables: Restaurants and the Rise of the Middle Class, 1880-1920 Friday, May 4 at the 2012 James Beard Foundation Book, Broadcast & Journalism Awards Dinner at Gotham Hall in New York City. Turning the Tables won in the Reference and Scholarship category.
The event was co-hosted by James Beard Award–winning celebrity chef and Food Network Iron Chef Michael Symon and four-time James Beard Award–winning CBS News Correspondent Martha Teichner.
In the 19th century, fine dining establishments in major cities primarily served expensive French cuisine to the elite, leaving the middle class with little more than greasy spoon-style eateries as dining options. But by the 20th century, even the best restaurants began offering ethnic and American foods to middle-class urbanites, expanding their customer base. Haley’s Turning the Tables tells the story of the invention of the middle-class restaurant.
“It’s an honor I was not expecting,” Haley said. "You write a scholarly book expecting a handful of academics will read it, but Turning the Tables has found a much larger audience. Winning the James Beard Award is very exciting. It is evidence of the enthusiasm that people have for culinary history."
Founded in 1986, the James Beard Foundation state mission is the celebration, preservation, and nurturing of America’s culinary heritage and diversity in order to elevate the appreciation of our culinary excellence. A cookbook author and teacher with an encyclopedic knowledge about food, James Beard, who died in 1985, was a champion of American cuisine. He helped educate and mentor generations of professional chefs and food enthusiasts.
“This is absolutely fantastic! We’re very proud of Andrew,” said Dr. Phyllis Jestice, chair of the Southern Miss Department of History. “I never even imagined that a historian could get a leading culinary award.”
The Beard Foundation continues in the same spirit by administering a number of diverse programs that include educational initiatives, food industry awards, scholarships to culinary schools, and publications, and by maintaining the historic James Beard House in New York City’s Greenwich Village as a “performance space” for visiting chefs. For more information on the foundation, visit www.jamesbeard.org