A New Blog, A New Book, and a Taste of Things to Come
[Note: This was the post that kicked off the original Toqueland when it first launched in December 2009.]
Welcome, fellow observers of chefs and kitchen culture, to the first post of a new, chef-focused blog, Toqueland.
Launching a blog feels more momentous than it actually is–how much impact will a blog ultimately have on the world, really? (Well, Drudge Report almost brought down a president, but that’s another story.)
Nonetheless, putting together a blog feels like a big deal. Slapping this thing together, I kept thinking of that iconic moment when MTV went, as they like to say, “on the air for the last time…”
But I’m getting ahead of myself. For those of you who don’t recognize my name, I’ve spent the better part of the last decade collaborating on cookbooks and other projects with some of our finest chefs (Alfred Portale, Laurent Tourondel, Michelle Bernstein, and David Waltuck, among many others). This week, my first solo, reported book makes its debut: It’s called Knives at Dawn, and it’s the exclusive, behind-the-scenes story of the team that competed for the United States at the 2009 Bocuse d’Or, commonly referred to as The Olympics of Food, and also the subject of a recent Top Chef episode.
What I hope to accomplish with this blog is to bring whatever insights I’ve amassed over years of collaborating on cookbooks and other food-related projects to bear in looking at chefs, both up-and-coming and established, and that’s also what I’ve tried to do in Knives: in addition to recounting the story of how the Bocuse d’Or USA (2009 vintage) came together, the book offers intimate looks at chefs and cooks, from Daniel Boulud and Thomas Keller to freshly minted French Laundry chef de cuisine Timothy Hollingsworth (who headed up Team USA) and his commis, Adina Guest, also from The French Laundry. Knives at Dawn also offers some rare footage of Keller’s mentor Roland Henin, who coached the US Team, and a non-chef who played a major role, Jerome Bocuse, son of the event’s founder, French legend Paul Bocuse.
But the meat of the book is the in-depth tracking of how the food Team USA presented came together–from Hollingsworth’s first ideas to the ones that ultimately made the cut–and then how the team rehearsed and refined their ability to cook those dishes under pressure. Along the way, they receive feedback from chefs including Daniel Boulud, Thomas Keller, and Hollingsworth’s predecessor, 2007 US candidate Gavin Kaysen, and those interatctions are presented in great detail. For a writer who’s spent a lot of time in a lot of kitchens, it was among the most fascinating cooking and thinking I’ve ever been privvy to, and I can only hope it’s just as comeplling on the page.
Along the road to the Bocuse d’Or, there are some diversions, most of them during the two weeks the team spent in Lyon, adjusting to jet lag in the days before the competition: like the impromptu dinner at Restaurant Paul Bocuse on America’s Inauguration Day, and the first meal the team enjoyed on French soil, at the home of Daniel Boulud’s parents, which also happens to be the site of the original Cafe Boulud, the homestead where Boulud himself grew up.
Of course, the book culiminates with the competition itself. I’m guessing that if you’re reading this, you already know the outcome, but I don’t want to kick things off with a spoiler, so I’ll leave it there. Suffice it to say there are as many ups and downs possible during a five-hour contest as there are in an entire career.
I’ll be back soon with an interview with one of the applicants to the 2010 Bocuse d’Or USA competition, and follow that up in a day or two with a profile of one of my favorite chefs in New York City, who happens to ply his trade in Brooklyn. From there … well, we’ll see where things take us.
So, thanks for visiting Toqueland. I hope you enjoy it, and look forward to welcoming you back again soon.