Author John Birdsall on James Beard’s ‘tortured life’ as a gay chef

John Birdsall is an award-winning food writer who grew up in the Bay Area and now resides in Tucson.

With his new book, Tucson resident and award-winning food writer John Birdsall captures the duality of the late James Beard, one of the first high-profile food personalities in America, whose struggles as a closeted gay man influenced ideas about home cooking.

Over the course of five-plus years, Birdsall set out to write “The Man Who Ate Too Much: The Life of James Beard,” the definitive biography of a man who would brisk at being called a chef. Digging past Beard’s sanitized public image, Birdsall’s research portrays a complicated, and often lonely figure who helped shape American culinary culture.

Before moving to Tucson in 2020, Birdsall grew up in the Bay Area and cooked professionally for nearly two decades, starting with an apprenticeship at Greens Restaurant in 1983. He later transitioned into becoming a full-time writer and contributed to the San Francisco Sentinel, an LGBTQ weekly.