Chefs, Drugs, and Rock & Roll: How Food Lovers, Free Spirits, Misfits, and Wanderers Created a New American Profession
KNIVES AT DAWN: America’s Quest for Culinary Glory at the Bocuse d’Or, the World’s Most Prestigious Cooking Competition (2009)
To write this book, I trailed the American team as they trained, then headed off to battle, in the Bocuse d’Or. As things turned out, the team was from The French Laundry, and I found myself immersed in the worlds of Thomas Keller and, back home in NYC, Bocuse d’Or USA president Daniel Boulud, not to mention the subculture of culinary competition. As anybody reading this blog probably knows, there was no Hollywood ending, but watching two of our most important chefs (and industry businessmen) do their thing was a life-changing experience for me, as was observing the creative process of Timothy Hollingsworth, who went on to become the chef de cuisine of The French Laundry. This is not to mention glimpses of Cafe Boulud’s Gavin Kaysen, Keller’s mentor Roland Henin, and the team’s commis, Adina Guest, the head-down, all-business kid with the lightning-fast hands.
TO THE BONE (2013)
(in collaboration with Paul Liebrandt)
How do chefs evolve? When does the influence of masters become assimilated and mutate into one’s own personal style? And where do dishes come from? These questions and others are explored in this kitchen narrative that traces Paul Liebrandt’s story from earliest childhood to present day, chronicling along the way his professional and technical development. Liebrandt’s too young for the book to be deemed a memoir, and there aren’t enough recipes to qualify it as a cookbook; we refer to it as a “literary tasting menu,” one that’s illustrated with breathtaking food and kitchen photographs by the incomparable Evan Sung.
DON’T TRY THIS AT HOME: Culinary Catastrophes from the World’s Greatest Chefs (2005)
(co-edited with Kimberly Witherspoon)
Kitchen disaster stories from forty famous toques, and one of the best times of my professional life. Twelve of the chefs penned their own stories, including Tony Bourdain, Gabrielle Hamilton, and Fergus Henderson; one of the best-written tales came from Norman Van Aken, which reminded me that the chef dreamed of becoming a writer before choosing the kitchen life. The rest were penned by yours truly, giving me a chance to collaborate oh so briefly with the likes of Daniel Boulud, Mario Batali, Eric Ripert, Heston Blumenthal, Geoffrey Zakarian, and Wylie Dufresne. I’ll forever be grateful for the low points and, in most cases, heroic recoveries, these and other toques shared with me and Kim Witherspoon (who conceived the project), especially Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger: Can’t believe you shared that story, ladies!
WHITE HOUSE CHEF: Eleven Years, Two Presidents, One Kitchen (2007)
(in collaboration with Walter Scheib)
Days after leaving his job as chef of the White House, Walter Scheib—sent my way by a fellow food scribe—looked me up and asked me if he could buy me a cup of coffee. So began one of the great friendships I’ve made in the chef world. Walter’s not a glamour-seeking guy—one might easily mistake his straight-arrow demeanor for evidence of a military background—but he’s whip smart and intensely motivated. All of this was put to great use modernizing the food program and kitchen at the White House, a process described in painstaking detail in the book, along with recipes for everything from family meals to state dinners. There are also respectful but revealing profiles of the two presidents (Bill Clinton and George W. Bush) Walter served, and especially of Hillary Clinton, who hired him for the job way back in 1994.
DIRTY DISHES: A Restaurateur’s Story of Passion, Pain, and Pasta (2008)
(in collaboration with Pino Luongo)
With just two restaurants to his name today, younger diners might not know the name, let alone the legacy, of Pino Luongo. For a time in the 1980s, Pino presided over an empire that included Le Madri, Coco Pazzo, and Mad 61 in Manhattan, as well as Sappore di Mare in East Hampton. Few are the impresarios who can point to such a quartet at any one time in their careers. Yes, it recounts the rise and near-total fall of an industry mogul, but for me the greater attractions are the glimpse at a restaurateur’s heart and the description of how new concepts are born and realized.
BREAKING BACK: How I Lost Everything and Won Back My Life (2007)
(in collaboration with James Blake)
Not a food book, but the fulfillment of a lifelong goal of writing about tennis. That I got to do so with one of the nicest guys on the men’s Tour, who took a chance on an unproven sportswriter to tell his tale of injury, loss, and revival, is something for which I’ll be forever thankful. As if all that weren’t enough, the book became a New York Times bestseller and helped land me a writing gig at TENNIS magazine.
HAROLD DIETERLE’S KITCHEN NOTEBOOK (2014)
From their line-cook days, most chefs keep a notebook in which they record everything from go-to recipes to ideas for new dishes. In this cookbook, Harold Dieterle, chef-owner of New York City’s Perilla, Kin Shop, and The Marrow (and first-ever champion of Bravo’s Top Chef) shares 100 of his favorite dishes along with notebook-type information that describes how to use a component of those dishes in other contexts. This will be a fun, high-energy book that combines photographs of the dishes with hand-drawn illustrations that give a unique look to the notebook entries.
MICHAEL WHITE’S CLASSICO E MODERNO (2013)
Two books in one, literally. That’s the only way we could devise to adequately capture both sides of chef Michael White’s culinary personality on the page. Half of this book is devoted to recipes, historical notes, and such for about 125 classics of Italian cuisine of the sort you might find at the chef’s living love letter to Emiglia-Romagna, Osteria Morini; the other half shares roughly the same number of recipes for interpretative, modern Italian cuisine of the type found at his restaurants Ai Fiori and Marea. Along the way, we share notes and stories from Michael’s seven-plus years spent cooking and living in Italy early in his career, and, of course, kitchen secrets and advice.
ALFRED PORTALE’S GOTHAM BAR AND GRILL (1997)
The book that started it all for me (my presence is detectable only via a “text by” credit on the copyright page) was also a milestone for Alfred Portale, who took his sweet time getting around to producing his first cookbook in 1997. While his contemporaries couldn’t wait to publish in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Alfred waited until his restaurant had achieved legend status, he had a deep repertoire to call on, and knew exactly the book he wanted to write, which says as much about the cautious, perfectionist chef as the recipes inside. The book received the IACP/Julia Child Award for Best Chef or Restaurant Cookbook and was nominated for the James Beard Foundation Award for Best General Cookbook. Restaurant cookbooks aren’t as popular today as they once were, but I dare say that just about any cook willing to invest the time (and money) could succeed with the recipes in this tome: Alfred’s a great teacher and his instructional prowess is evident on every page. His food is also, dish for dish, as flat-out delicious as anybody’s in the country.
ALFRED PORTALE’S TWELVE SEASONS COOKBOOK (2000)
We’re all overstuffed with seasonal cookbooks these days, but before the concept was worn out, Alfred and I decided to drill down into it with a month-by-month experiment that spoke to the small beats that define the year, at least as it’s experienced in the northeast. The book grew out of a shared observation that Alfred, like many chefs, has a true and deep connection to the constantly changing roster of peak ingredients and shifts in the weather that mark the moments in the year. Anybody who’s dined regularly at Gotham over the years knows this was a concept that came straight from the heart.
ALFRED PORTALE’S SIMPLE PLEASURES: Home Cooking from the Gotham Bar and Grill’s Acclaimed Chef (2004)
You might be surprised to know how simply chefs eat in their off hours. Multicourse marathons aren’t what you want after a night on the line, or even necessarily on an evening off. That’s the time to hit sushi and tapas bars, pizza joints, and bistros. This predilection was the inspiration for this book of relatively uncomplicated dishes that nevertheless bear the stamp of the chef who created them.
CHANTERELLE: The Story and Recipes of A Restaurant Classic (2008)
(in collaboration with David Waltuck)
Of all the books I’ve worked on, this might be the one that I’m most grateful exists. It allowed me the opportunity to meet and become great friends with two people I’d admired from afar, and to help document one of the great New York City restaurants, which, as fate would have it, closed just a year after the book was published. The introduction, which recounts the story of David Waltuck and of his personal and professional relationship with wife/partner Karen, is a love story… about David and Karen, David and food, the two of them with New York City and the city’s affection for them. It was an honor to be a part of it.
CUISINE À LATINA: Fresh Tastes and a World of Flavors from Michy’s Miami Kitchen (2008)
(in collaboration with Michelle Bernstein)
It’s not the book we set out to write—what the Hollywood types call “studio interference” saw to that—but Michelle Bernstein’s impeccable taste and personal style still shine through in this recipe collection. Don’t be fooled by the title: Michelle’s about much more than “Latin” flavor and what goes on in her kitchen will pleasantly surprise anybody who thinks of her only as a “Miami” chef.
GO FISH : Fresh Ideas for American Seafood (2004)
(in collaboration with Laurent Tourondel)
For me, the best part of this book was the worst part for Laurent: We wrote it during the year he was out of work following the sudden closure of the Upper East Side jewel box Cello. Working sessions were held in his East Harlem loft, usually after he had finished testing a batch of recipes all by his lonesome. Munching his work product, we’d sit at his desk and write up the instructions and headnotes. One day, he showed me a mock up of a restaurant menu with the header BLT: Bistro Laurent Tourondel. “What do you think?” he asked. “Don’t love it,” I said, scrunching up my face and brushing aside a soon-to-be successful collection of eateries. Shows what I know.
INSPIRED BY INGREDIENTS: Market Menus and Family Favorites from a Three-Star Chef (2004)
(in collaboration with Bill Telepan)
Bill Telepan, who I first met when he was sous chef to Alfred Portale at Gotham Bar and Grill, lived the farm-to-table ethos before it had a name. This book, which includes photo essays recounting our visit to area farms, and menus that pull Bill’s recipes together, is a heartfelt paean to the farmers he reveres and the recipes are among the most make-able you’ll find from a chef of his caliber.
NIGHTLY SPECIALS: 125 Recipes for Spontaneous, Creative Cooking at Home (2004)
(in collaboration with Michael Lomonaco)
For years, Michael and I had tried to devise a concept that would provide the proper structure for conveying his belief in spontaneous cooking as an outlet for creative expression. The chef, who is also a talented actor and musician, long had a passion for this direction, but it took us a while to hit on the idea of “nightly specials” as the appropriate bridge between the factors that act on restaurant cooks (e.g., what’s left over, something discovered at the market that day, etc.) and those that apply to home cooks. If you’re looking for a book to help you expand your aptitude for extemporaneous cooking, this might be the one.
THE RED CAT COOKBOOK: 125 Recipes from New York City’s Favorite Neighborhood Restaurant (2006)
(in collaboration with Jimmy Bradley)
Do you know The Red Cat? If not, you should get there, enjoy a baked fontina at the bar (or at the table, now that you know to ask), tuck into Jimmy Bradley’s signature blend of New England fish house grub and rustic Italian cuisine, and enjoy the laid back vibe and rock and roll soundtrack. If you want to see just how much the place reflects the story and soul of one man, read the book.
WELCOME TO MY KITCHEN: A New York Chef Shares His Robust Recipes and Secret Techniques (2002)
(in collaboration with Tom Valenti)
Tom Valenti has long been known in food circles as a chef with a unique gift for coaxing maximum flavor out of just about anything, and this book shares some of his go-to methods and ingredients, especially his unabashed love of white vinegar and bacon, which flow through his cooking the way John Williams’ music caresses Steven Spielberg’s oeuvre. Tom is a rare chef among his peers in that he didn’t go to cooking school, which resulted in a wonderfully open-minded approach to even classic recipes. This book shares all that, plus killer recipes for his justly famous braised lamb shank (a big deal when it debuted at Alison on Dominick Street in the 1980s), gravlax on a chickpea pancake with caviar and mustard oil, and other signature dishes.
TOM VALENTI’S SOUPS, STEWS, AND ONE-POT MEALS: 125 Home Recipes from the Chef-Owner of New York City’s Ouest and ‘Cesca (2003)
Having cashed in most of Tom’s restaurant repertoire in his first book, we sold this one and then met once a week to improvise in the kitchen and see how much flavor we could cram into low-maintenance recipes. The product of our labor: Mushroom, Barley, and Sage Soup; Lentil and Garlic Sausage Stew; Moroccan-braised Lamb Shanks, and dozens of others. Bonus feature: Our open-minded editors allowed us to give Tom’s irreverent sense of humor (I’ve long regarded him as the George Carlin of New York toques) voice on the page.
YOU DON’T HAVE TO BE DIABETIC TO LOVE THIS COOKBOOK 250 Amazing Dishes for People With Diabetes and Their Families and Friends (2009)
(in collaboration with Tom Valenti)
Workman Publishing, seeking a celebrity chef with diabetes to pen a cookbook, approached Tom, who brought me in for our third collaboration. It wasn’t easy to cook with the carb meter running full time, but we both savored the challenge and are especially proud that we didn’t use any of the imitation products marketed to the people with diabetes. There is nothing but real food in the recipes and the result, we think, can be cooked and enjoyed by anybody.
BATTERSBY: Extraordinary Food from an Ordinary Kitchen (2015)
(in collaboration with Walker Stern and Joseph Ogrodnek)
At Brooklyn’s Battersby restaurant, chef-owners Walker Stern and Joseph Ogrodnek serve up sophisticated, intensely flavorful food that impresses, all the more so because the chefs are able to turn it out from a cramped, three-man foxhole of a kitchen. In this cookbook, the chefs share the tricks that enable them to prepare and produce some of the best food in the borough from one of its most meager kitchens; home cooks get to apply their recipes and solutions to their own kitchens.
SIMPLY TUSCAN: Recipes for a Well-Lived Life (2000)
(in collaboration with Pino Luongo)
LA MIA CUCNIA TOSCANA: A Tuscan Cooks in America (2003)
(in collaboration with Pino Luongo and Marta Pulini)
Modern Italian restaurant recipes with notes on their classical antecedents; most memorable for me was the energetic, enthusiastic partnership of Pino’s on-again-off-again menu collaborator, Marta Pulini.
ARTISANAL COOKING: A Chef Shares His Passion for Handcrafting Great Meals at Home (2005)
(in collaboration with Terrance Brennan)
Terrance has some of the most well-calibrated taste buds you’ll ever encounter and they led to some pretty specific recipes, right down to the amount of salt and number of grinds of pepper in each one. (No “season to taste” for this chef.) With recipes from both Picholine and Artisanal restaurants, plus a few he developed for the book, it’s sort of a greatest hits compilation, offering plenty for home cooks of all skill levels, plus—of course—notes on cheese. With pitch perfect photographs by the great Christopher Hirsheimer.
THE NEW AMERICAN STEAKHOUSE COOKBOOK: It’s Not Just Meat and Potatoes Anymore (2005)
(in collaboration with David Walzog)
A wealth of steak and grilling wisdom from David Walzog, who at the time was Executive Chef to the Glazier Group, including its restaurants Strip House (now the property of Steve Hansen) and Michael Jordan’s The Steakhouse NYC.
DA SILVANO COOKBOOK: Simple Secrets from New York’s Favorite Italian Restaurant (2001)
(in collaboration with Silvano Marchetto)
CHEF ON A SHOESTRING: More Than 120 Inexpensive Recipes for Great Meals from America’s Best Known Chefs (2001)
A collection of recipes from the popular cooking segment on CBS’s Saturday morning show. The show’s producers had done most of the work before I happened on the scene as the humble project manager and recipe editor.