The New York Times reports that the James Beard Foundation, the non-profit organization founded by Julia Child and others after Beard's death nearly 20 years ago, appears to be in deep trouble. The Foundation, which owns the Beard House on West 12th Street, cannot account for hundreds of thousands of dollars it took in, and generally appears to be so poorly managed that they will be hard pressed to maintain their non-profit status once Eliot Spitzer gets through with them.
The Beard Foundation maintains its non-profit status by purportedly supporting the development of promising young culinary professionals (chefs and writers), in part through a scholarship program. It seems that today, however, the Foundation has become more concerned with its schedule of extravagant dinners, in which chefs from around the country are invited to flex their muscles for the pleasure of a well-heeled collection of diners paying around $100 a plate.
Some of the Times's figures are intriguing. For example, last year the foundation took in $4.7 million in revenues, 81% of which came from its foundation dinners. But only $29,000 was spent on the foundation's scholarship program. In 2001, the Foundation took in $4.3 million, of which $3.5 million came from its events. It says it spent $3 million putting on those events, even though all the food, wine, and other supplies for Beard House dinners is donated by the chefs and restaurateurs presenting them. In 2001, the Foundation contributed no money to its scholarship fund; in fact, some of the scholarships granted in the Foundation's name are actually paid for by the schools at which the recipient is enrolled (the Culinary Institute of America being a prominent example).
Gothamist loves a lavish meal as well as the next person, and we've always salivated over Beard House menus. But the Beard Foundation looks more and more like a government-subsidized boondoggle for its members, employees, and guests than a public-minded organization fulfilling a philanthropic purpose. And if they can't account for the disbursement of their revenues, it's hard to see how they can justify not paying taxes on them.
Over at EGullet they're pounding the drums for the demise or radical restructuring of the Foundation, which seems to be silently resented in the restaurant industry as exercising a level of influence not befitting its limited contributions to the culinary world. If, as it seems, the Foundation has mismanaged and squandered James Beard's legacy, Gothamist would have to agree, even if it means an end to our vicarious delight at reading about Beard House events.
Read the Times Article.
The Food Section notes the scandal.