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James Barber, 1923-2007
December 3, 2007 12:43 PM   Subscribe

The Urban Peastant dies at 84. I don't know if the show ever got any play in the U.S. but here in Canada I learned to cook as a student from James Barber's show, The Urban Peasant, and from his books. They remain some of my all time favorites.

On screen and in his books he seems like a wonderfully personable and gentle man who loved food and cooking, especially when it had some cayenne and liquor/wine/beer in it. His books and show were wonderfully entertaining, informative and always left you with a smile and wanting to cook something.

Apparently he died reading a cookbook at the table with a pot of soup simmering on the stove. I think I would like to go that way.

We'll miss you James.
posted by Bovine Love (38 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

 
Now, if only I could proofread.
posted by Bovine Love at 12:47 PM on December 3, 2007


RIP Urban Peasant. I have a pot of soup on the stove in your honour.
posted by LN at 12:47 PM on December 3, 2007


*Pours 1.82 litres of 'bewze' on the curb, puts onion in it*
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 12:50 PM on December 3, 2007


My favourite comment from a thread about another TV chef here:
James Barber, aka the Urban Peasant, is a fucking freak. Once, on TV, he made what my circle now refers to as "The End-Stage Alcoholic Father Birthday Cake" - layers of Eggo waffles and Cool-Whip, with a happy-face made of jelly beans.

He also loves stirring things with a chef's knife in his non-stick cookware. Argh.
posted by stonerose at 10:38 PM on July 10 [+] [!]
posted by Space Coyote at 12:55 PM on December 3, 2007


Awww. Damn.

Before landing in the kitchen, Barber would explore different careers: sailor, physicist, actor, musician, choreographer, salesman, miner and fisherman.

One of a kind.
posted by maudlin at 12:57 PM on December 3, 2007


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posted by sevenyearlurk at 1:00 PM on December 3, 2007


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posted by chunking express at 1:10 PM on December 3, 2007


RIP. We should all be so lucky to live (and die) as he did.

He taught me to cook, there's no other way to say it.

Beacuse it's cold and snowy where I am tonight, I'll offer up one of my favourite comfort soups (his recipe) in memoriam:

Leek and potato soup:
2 largeish potatos
2 leeks
1/2 c light cream
2T butter
1/2 t nutmeg
1 t pepper
1 t salt

Trim and finely slice the leeks. Fry in butter in a 4 L pot for a few minutes. Peel and slice potatos into mouth-size chunks. Add to pot, with nutmeg, salt and pepper (notional amounts only---Barber never used a measuring spoon). Fill with water to cover. Simmer 30 minutes. Remove from heat, stir in cream, adjust salt.

Serves 2 (dinner) to 4 (starter) with toasted bread.
posted by bonehead at 1:12 PM on December 3, 2007 [2 favorites]


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posted by dipping_sauce at 1:31 PM on December 3, 2007


He seems a nice and talented guy but can anyone tell me why you would raise miniature donkeys and what you do with them once you have them?
posted by Postroad at 1:36 PM on December 3, 2007


He had a good run, which is why I feel okay about saying that the Vancouver Island (not "urban" and absolutely not "peasant") accent is the most annoying one on earth.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 1:40 PM on December 3, 2007


Vancouver Island residents have a specific accent?
posted by Keith Talent at 1:42 PM on December 3, 2007


"Most things need a little bit of salt."

Man, that guy was great.

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posted by Dasein at 1:51 PM on December 3, 2007


His was the only cooking show that I ever watched, and I learned to cook from him. Knowing that I watched the show, a relative gave me two of his books, little things with funny drawings. Still use them.

My friends consider me a good cook, but I know the truth--I'm just very competent in contrast to most people, thanks in large part to watching the Urban Peasant.

Also, ethnomethodologist, his accent was akin to the surprisingly common Vancouver (or generally just BC) accent that I also deplore, but I wonder if it had anything to do with his having been born in England.
posted by Ricky_gr10 at 2:13 PM on December 3, 2007


Oh, HIS accent is irritating. His accent was English ex-pat removed from the UK and dwelling in Canada for decades. It's prevalent on the Island because of the large number of (aged) emigrants living there.
posted by Keith Talent at 2:30 PM on December 3, 2007


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posted by zennoshinjou at 2:32 PM on December 3, 2007


He had a good run, which is why I feel okay about saying that the Vancouver Island (not "urban" and absolutely not "peasant") accent is the most annoying one on earth.

Whatever accent he had, it certainly wasn't a Vancouver Island accent, as he sure as hell didn't sound like anyone I knew from three decades living in Victoria.

In any case:

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posted by ten pounds of inedita at 2:49 PM on December 3, 2007


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I LOVED him -- I think the show was on PBS in Cleveland for a while when I was younger and I watched him religiously for some time. We'll be having a lovely bean soup and cornbread tonight, and I'll bust open a bottle in his honor, too.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 2:53 PM on December 3, 2007


His corned beef hash was awesome. My father used to make it for us when we were teenagers...

And

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posted by jokeefe at 3:17 PM on December 3, 2007


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He was great. I loved the spirit of his cooking.

(half a teaspoon of nutmeg? That's a whole fuck of a lot of nutmeg. A dash is usually more than enough in any dish.)
posted by fleetmouse at 3:22 PM on December 3, 2007


I hope whoever found him had a taste of the soup.
posted by scalefree at 3:38 PM on December 3, 2007 [1 favorite]


And he's NOT the Frugal Gourmet dude who allegedly sexually harassed a whole bunch of guys, some of whom worked on his cooking show. Many, including me, have confused the two.
posted by chococat at 3:42 PM on December 3, 2007


Oh man. Nobody had a bigger influence on the way I cook today than James Barber. I saw his TV show a fair bit, I saw him live at Expo 86, and I still refer to his Urban Peasant cookbook. It was through him that I came to understand that cooking was not about slavishly following recipes to the letter, but instead could be improvisational, flexible, and fun. Thanks James!!!
posted by jeffj at 3:43 PM on December 3, 2007


Nutmeg is the spice of the gods. It goes well with eggs, dairy, tourtiere, spinach and other greens, and butternut squash. You'd be surprised how much you can slip inside a compatible recipe. (Well, maybe not a half teaspoon, but still ...)
posted by maudlin at 3:43 PM on December 3, 2007


I've never seen any of his shows (although I'd love to- especially the End-Stage Alcoholic Father Birthday Cake episode!), but I ordered one of his books after reading this comment from five fresh fish. Terrific stuff. And I'm sorry to hear he's gone.

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posted by maryh at 4:36 PM on December 3, 2007


Pears braised with fresh rosemary sprigs.

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posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 5:30 PM on December 3, 2007


When I dice onions, which I do a lot, because they're in almost everything I cook, I do it the way he used to. So I guess he lives on.

(That would be lengthwise in quarters, THEN peel. Works great.)
posted by Trochanter at 5:48 PM on December 3, 2007


Loved Barber - he was my first exposure to the wonders of televised cooking. And such a great, warm personality.
posted by jbickers at 6:11 PM on December 3, 2007


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posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 6:23 PM on December 3, 2007


Had NO IDEA he was that old. To quote the theme song,

I get hungry when I think of you
posted by evilcolonel at 7:54 PM on December 3, 2007


. (here's to his 'just a bit of salt' or 'add a bit of lemon).

Like all great chefs his love of the subject matter was delightful. He will be missed, and it's great to read how many others grew up watching him.
posted by rmm at 8:19 PM on December 3, 2007


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posted by timeistight at 8:40 PM on December 3, 2007


James Barber and his show were the television equivalent of rainy day comfort food. I still can't cook and never learned much from him, but just watching him cook was so relaxing. I especially loved how, at the end of every show, he'd start setting the table in the living room of the apartment set (or maybe a real apartment?) where he shot the show. It was as though you were actually his dinner guest who'd arrived half an hour early, and he'd just been chatting to you like an old friend while he finished cooking the meal you'd come to share. Brilliant.
posted by chrominance at 9:11 PM on December 3, 2007


best cooking show ever.
posted by blacklite at 11:25 PM on December 3, 2007


I loved his show, I loved that he never measured anything, and how he stirred with whatever he happened to have in his hand at the time. chrominance's description is spot-on. He will be missed.
posted by biscotti at 6:12 AM on December 4, 2007


Nutmeg is the spice of the gods. It goes well with eggs, dairy, tourtiere, spinach and other greens, and butternut squash. You'd be surprised how much you can slip inside a compatible recipe. (Well, maybe not a half teaspoon, but still ...)

A half-teaspoon is not that much! (I'm talking standardized measurements, not using, say, a spoon that might actually be used for tea!)

With that much cream/dairy, I don't think you'd find it overpowering.

Speaking of, as a major nutmeg fan, I implore all of you to buy the actual nutmegs and a grater -- it makes a major difference.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 2:53 PM on December 4, 2007


Best thing about James, IMO, is that he taught one how to be freed from the tyranny of recipes. Except for baking, measures are less useful than gut feel and inspiration, IMO.

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posted by five fresh fish at 5:09 PM on December 4, 2007


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posted by Mitheral at 8:49 PM on December 6, 2007


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