Buvette, the book, debuts today, April 22, 2014.
Featured
April 22, 2014

The Buvette Chef and Author on Her New Cookbook, Loving Vague Recipes, and Why Intentions Matter

BON VOYAGE - Boulud Sud' Executive Chef Travis Swikard
Featured
April 11, 2014

Boulud Sud’s Executive Chef Travis Swikard on His New Dinner Series, Working with Daniel, and Moving Up the Kitchen Food Chain

ENZO AND ELVIS - My Lost Morning with Charlie Trotter
Featured
April 4, 2014

My Lost Morning with Charlie Trotter

B 6745
Featured
April 1, 2014

Gramercy Tavern was Born at the Food & Wine Magazine Classic at Aspen. Tom Colicchio Remembers.

NYT-Magazine-Food-Issue-Flynn-McGarry
Featured
March 31, 2014

Five Thoughts about The New York Times Magazine Food and Drink Issue

THE BOSS - In a Chef-Centric Age, Restaurateur Drew Nieporent Has Stayed as Famous as His Toques
Featured
March 27, 2014

In A Chef-Centric Age, Restaurateur Drew Nieporent Has Stayed as Famous as His Toques

  • Buvette, the book, debuts today, April 22, 2014.
  • BON VOYAGE - Boulud Sud' Executive Chef Travis Swikard
  • ENZO AND ELVIS - My Lost Morning with Charlie Trotter
  • B 6745
  • NYT-Magazine-Food-Issue-Flynn-McGarry
  • THE BOSS - In a Chef-Centric Age, Restaurateur Drew Nieporent Has Stayed as Famous as His Toques

Toqueland Wire

    Our Newest Chef-Scribe on Dual Disciplines, When to Break Out the Second Person, and Maintaining Relationships

    Sous Chef Author Michael Gibney

    Sous Chef Author Michael Gibney

    “The kitchen is best in the morning.  All the stainless glimmers.  Steel pots and pans sit neatly in their places, split evenly between stations.  Smallwares are filed away in bains-marie and bus tubs, stacked on Metro racks in families — pepper mills with pepper mills, ring molds with ring molds, and so forth.  Columns of buffed white china run the length of the pass on shelves beneath the shiny tabletop.  The floors are mopped and dry, the black carpet runners are swept and washed and realigned at right angles.  Most of the equipment is turned off, most significantly the intake hoods.  Without the clamor of the hoods, quietude swathes the place.” *

    So begins Sous Chef, the debut book from Michael Gibney.  Subtitled “24 Hours on the Line,” this memoir turns a day in the life of a New York City toque into the stuff of high drama and introspection, and not incidentally packs an awful lot of detail about the kitchen life into its 240 pages.  It also successfully walks the second-person highwire, using that unusual format to great effect.

    In my humble opinion, the book catapults Gibney instantly into the very small club of chefs who are as adept at the keyboard as they are on the line.  (Unsurprisingly, he has devoted time to both pursuits, cooking at such restaurants as Tavern on the Green and Governor, and graduating Columbia University’s MFA writing program.) It’s an exceptional, commanding piece of work and I can’t recommend it highly enough, especially to readers who enjoy what’s on offer here at Toqueland.  Its official publication date is tomorrow, Tuesday, March 25, but you can hop online right now and order it up, and I suggest you do just that.

    I should mention that I’m not saying any of this to hook up a buddy.  When I began reading the book, I hadn’t yet met Michael.  We did, however, have a chance encounter at an after-hours Christmas party in December, when I was mid-read.  And, after our interview for this site, I jumped at the invitation to dialogue with him publicly at The Strand on April 14.

    In the meantime, here’s part 1 of our recent interview, with part 2 to follow later this week:

    TOQUELAND:  Which came first for you as an ambition:  Writing or cooking?

    GIBNEY: I don’t think either of them really came first for me; they’re both things that I happened into.  I’ve always been interested in creative things.  I went to school for painting. I was originally involved in theater, set design.  I’ve just been allured by all the different sort of creative disciplines.  And I’ve enjoyed reading my whole life.  When I was 16 I had to get a job and I got a job at a restaurant and started doing that, and I took to it.  I enjoyed it.  But I still had other things in mind. I suppose they’ve always existed simultaneously for me.

    They’re both things that I appreciate for similar reasons, and things that suit me well, particularly the cooking because I think the lifestyle and the work ethic and the attitude and the respect that go into cooking are marvelous.  And then writing because it’s a chance for you to collect your thoughts about things, share them with people more readily.

    TOQUELAND: A lot of people who end up cooking professionally didn’t really take well to school. I’m always a little surprised when a chef is a great writer because at some level – this is an over‑generalization — there seems to be an incompatibility between the two lifestyles and disciplines. When you were growing up, what kind of student were you?

    GIBNEY:  I think I was a good student. I got good grades.  I was in the National Honor Society.

    But I understand what you’re saying because there are in the cooking community loads of people who couldn’t spell but they were really good at creating this one thing and that was where their intelligence resided. Strangely, in cooking there are also kids who have only a high school degree, some who don’t even have a high school degree, who are still incredibly intelligent in a particular way; not just intelligent in a cooking way, but intelligent in a way that you would expect that they had gotten a rock star degree somewhere.

    People go this route because they don’t necessarily excel in other areas. They get bored or don’t have interest in other areas of study, but I think in order to be a great chef, you have to have this thirst for knowledge and this ability to learn a lot of stuff.

    TOQUELAND:  Not just food.

    GIBNEY:  Yeah, not just food.  Or, even if it is just food, within that category there are so many subcategories like science and history and physical kinesthetic ability and technique.  So you need to have a level of learning to be a good chef.

    Writing Sous Chef

    TOQUELAND:  Tell me how this book came to be. Did you write the book on spec (i.e., without a publishing contract)?

    GIBNEY:  I finished the book then got an agent, having written the book.

    TOQUELAND: How long did that take and what your schedule was like? Expand

    Published in Interviews, Talking Shop

    The Newly Crowned Three-Star Chef on Learning to Love the Camera, the Hazards of Labels, and Asking the Right Questions

    anita_headshot

    Anita Lo (photo courtesy Annisa restaurant)

    Anita Lo, who’s been presiding over her own restaurant, Annisa, since 2000, studied French Literature before turning toward the professional kitchen and cooking at such landmark New York City restaurants as Bouley and Chanterelle.  As readers probably know, she recently received three stars from The New York Times for the first time in her career.  Over the past few years, Anita has also published a cookbook, Cooking Without Borders, and appeared on two of television’s most popular culinary competition shows:  Iron Chef (on which she defeated Mario Batali) and Top Chef Masters.  We recently caught up with Anita at her home in the West Village, where she was rehabbing from knee surgery, and discussed a variety of topics:

    TOQUELAND: Can I ask about the knee? Is it work‑related?

    LO: I think just being a chef is hard on the body.  Everyone’s body is different but my knee didn’t take very well to it.

    TOQUELAND:  Had it been a longstanding thing?

    LO:  It had been degenerating for many years.  I think just standing on your feet all that time and running up and down stairs carrying heavy things is not good.

    TOQUELAND:  Do you think that’s an aspect of the kitchen life that people who get into the business young don’t appreciate until they’re in it?

    LO:  Oh, yeah.  Absolutely.  I mean, that article in the Times with Mark Peel? Ouch. But anyone you talk to that’s my age and that’s been in the business as long as I have, has injuries.

    TOQUELAND:  Is this something nobody tells young cooks? It seems like something that doesn’t come up. I guess when you’re young you don’t think you’re ever going to have problems like that, no matter what you do.

    LO: No, you don’t. Even if someone tells you.  It’s hard because someone has to lift it, but if it’s something heavy, I’m like, “Get help.  Two people should do that.”

    The Intersection of Entertainment and Promotion

    TOQUELAND: What was the experience of your book, Cooking Without Borders (written with Charlotte Druckman), like?  Was it something you thought a lot about doing throughout your career?

    LO: I had been wanting to do that book for decades.

    TOQUELAND:  That very book?

    LO:  Actually, the original concept was going to be a little more academic.  I wanted it to be a book about American cuisine and multiculturalism.  Of course, no one would buy that.

    TOQUELAND:  Did you try to sell that book?

    LO:  I tried to sell that to an agent and I couldn’t even get an agent.  And then I had an agent and we were trying to sell it to a writer.  At this point it had gotten a little more watered down, but the writer said, “Why don’t you write something on Asian street food?”  I was, like, “Are you listening to me at all? You’ve got to be kidding me.  There’s no way I’m going to write something like that. You just missed everything I was trying to say about multiculturalism and identity and what it means to me.  You’re part of the problem.”

    TOQUELAND:  So eventually this mutated into ‑‑

    LO:  A cookbook.  I think I got my message across, at least in the intro.  At the end of the day writing a cookbook, for me, was about having a promotional tool for the restaurant.  Everything’s about the restaurant.

    9781584798927

    Lo’s first cookbook debuted in 2011.

    TOQUELAND: This dovetails with something else. I’ve only met you a few times, and I hope this doesn’t seem like an odd question to ask, but do you consider yourself shy?

    LO:  I’m absolutely shy.

    TOQUELAND: You strike me as a little bit shy, which I don’t think is a bad thing.  You’re not a show-boater.  You don’t have a shtick.  And yet you’ve done television a few times.

    LO:  It’s part of the job.

    TOQUELAND: Is it an unnatural thing for you? Expand

    Published in Interviews

    A Visit to the Legendary The Chef’s Garden in Huron, Ohio

    Lee Jones talks shop with Chef Skyler Golden in the offices of the Chef's Garden

    Lee Jones talks shop with visiting chef Skyler Golden in the offices of The Chef’s Garden

    HURON, OHIO – Bob Jones, Jr., whose family owns and operates the legendary The Chef’s Garden in Huron, Ohio, turns to me from the front seat of his dust-encrusted truck.

    “When we have visitors—especially writers like you—we worry about what they are going to think about our packing facility.”

    It’s a frigid, windy day in mid January, and Jones is about to escort me and visiting chef Skyler Golden of the Driskill Grill in Austin, Texas, into a newish packing and shipping facility that just went live in November.

    The comment inspires some anticipation, and also apprehension. I am there as a guest of the Joneses, who flew me out for a tour and put me up at the guest quarters of their nearby Culinary Vegetable Institute, a multipurpose venue with an open professional kitchen, library, adaptable event space, and more intimate dining room. (It also hosts special programs such as a coming benefit for the Bocuse d’Or USA this Saturday night, March 15.)  There were no conditions on my reporting, nor was I asked to show the family or their team this piece before posting it. Still, the prospect of an unpleasant obligation loomed before me.  I have enough complexes being a New Yorker in the heartland, the last thing I want to be considered is a backstabber.

    I needn’t have worried, and neither did Bobby. The shipping facility, surprisingly, turns out to be my favorite part of the tour, and Skyler’s as well, and for the same reason: It was the least expected.  In the winter, produce is harvested daily from a network of greenhouses, according to what’s been ordered on the day, funneled to this facility, and then boxed up by each department.  The boxes are gathered on racks based on delivery method—truck, FedEx, and so on—each of which carries its own hard deadline.  An average of about 175 orders of varying sizes ship out to destinations all over the world every day, with new orders flowing in right behind them by email, phone, and fax, and the orchestration of the groups that make it all happen is comparable, it seems to me, to that required to run, say, a small regional airport.

    Orders start to gather at the packing and shipping facility.

    Orders start to gather at the packing and shipping facility.

    Indeed the thing that most impressed me about The Chef’s Garden during my whirlwind visit is the thing about which the Joneses are most self-conscious:  The technology required to power their operation.  Ironically, what most impresses me is the breathtaking devotion to cleanliness, safety, and quality, evidenced as much at this facility as it is in the greenhouses:  feet are stomped in a sanitizing agent before one enters the facility,  substandard specimens are tossed into gargantuan bins, greens are bathed in a sanitizing liquid then dried before being packed up, and each individual crop is assigned a bar code that allow any food safety issues to be tracked to the source (thankfully, The Chef’s Garden has never had to do that).

    Bar codes that track crops from the soil to the customer.

    Bar codes that track crops from the soil to the customer.

    Great attention is also paid to the packing itself, as staff members fuss over the contents of each box like florists.  Their coats bear badges that say WOW TEAM.  Is it an anagram?  “It’s a reminder of the reaction we want from the chefs when they open the box,” says Bob.  “We want it to be like Christmas morning for them.  We want them to say ‘Wow.’”

    THE FIRST TIME BOB, JR’S BROTHER, LEE JONES, BROUGHT zucchini blossoms to an Ohio farmer’s market in 1983, he did it surreptitiously. He didn’t want his competitors to see him peddling such dainty little curiosities.  His family, hit by a one-two punch of high interest rates and a hailstorm, had lost just about everything that year, and were rebuilding.  They’d suffered enough humiliation at auction; they didn’t need to be seen selling “flowers” in an industry defined by conventional commercial crops such as cabbage, sweet corn, peppers, and eggplant.

    But Lee had recently met a chef who had trained in Europe, and had been making the rounds at the farmer’s market, asking farmer after farmer if they could get her the same delicate blossoms she’d come to know and love in Italy. She’d been laughed away at every turn.  Even the Joneses—Lee, his father Bob, and brother Bob, Jr—thought she was “crazy.” But Lee decided to give it a whirl.

    The chef was overjoyed, and mentioned to another chef that she had met a farmer who was willing to entertain custom orders. The national network of chefs taken for granted today hadn’t coalesced just yet, but there were chefs out there, many of them, who had staged in Europe and were desperate for farmers who could produce ingredients of the caliber they’d become accustomed to overseas, as well as more and more specialty items that they sought out to add dynamism to their plates.

    The Joneses began accommodating more and more special requests for items such as baby carrots, baby beets, breakfast radishes, even edible flowers, until they reached a crossroads.  “The chefs were two percent of our business and eighty percent of our aggravation,” says Lee Jones today, repeating a story he’s told so often that it’s honed to a well-crafted monologue.  The family decided they had to either jettison the toques or else shift their focus entirely to chefs.  They went with the chefs and, in the late 1980s, Farmer Jones Farm became The Chef’s Garden, and before long some of the most influential chefs of the day—Charlie Trotter, Jean-Louis Palladin, Jean-Georges Vongerichten, and Thomas Keller—were customers.  Framed snapshots of the Jones family with these and other luminaries, past and present, line the walls at key buildings at both the office and the Culinary Vegetable Institute. Expand

    Published in Dispatches

    The Chef Discusses American Food Pioneers, the Perils of Celebrity, and the Camaraderie of Chefs

    Jonathan Waxman, Yosemite National Park, January 2013. (© 2014 Table 12 Productions, Inc.)

    Jonathan Waxman, Yosemite National Park, January 2013. (© 2014 Table 12 Productions, Inc.)

    In case you missed it over on Eater, Part 2 of my interview with Jonathan Waxman–the first in a series of conversations with iconic New York City food personalities–was posted earlier today.  In it, Waxman discusses the changing nature of the relationship between chefs and the media, how he “got street cred without earning it,” and reveals an unlikely  guardian angel from his early days in Manhattan.  (In part 1 of the interview, Waxman discussed the history of Barbuto restaurant on the occasion of its Tenth Anniversary.) Please click over and have a look.

    - Andrew

    February 11, 2014

    Milestones: Beard Papa

    On the Occasion of Barbuto’s Tenth Anniversary, a Few Thoughts about Jonathan Waxman

    [Note: This is the first in a series of symbiotic pieces I'll be posting with Eater as I round the homestretch on my forthcoming book about the American chefs and restaurants of the 70s and 80s, due out from Dan Halpern's Ecco Press in 2015. Periodically, Eater will feature an interview between me and a seminal figure from the era under the banner Kitchen Time Machine (click over to Eater to read my interview with Jonathan Waxman), and Toqueland will feature a complementary sister post. If you're visiting for the first time, please consider signing up for a (free) email subscription to Toqueland, following us on Twitter, and/or “liking” us on Facebook. - A.F.]

    Tom Colicchio, Jonathan Waxman, and Mark Vetri at the first of three nights celebrating Barbuto's 10th Anniversary.  Monday, February 10, 2014.

    Tom Colicchio, Jonathan Waxman, and Marc Vetri at the first of three nights celebrating Barbuto’s 10th Anniversary. Monday, February 10, 2014.  (© 2014 Table 12 Productions, Inc.)

    NEW YORK, NY — The first time I met Jonathan Waxman was at Washington Park, his long departed restaurant on lower Fifth Avenue.  I was working on a cookbook with Gotham Bar and Grill’s Alfred Portale and, as was customary for us, we’d grab a bite somewhere near Gotham after we finished the evening’s interviewing.

    As soon as we were seated, Jonathan approached our table and visited with Alfred for a minute. Amidst the bustle of the dining room, he exhibited a singular, chill demeanor befitting his California roots. He seemed to be operating on his own rhythm rather than that of the room, and the city, around him, a stark contrast to the wound-up personalities that usually materialized at the table when we were out in Manhattan.

    “You in for dinner,” Jonathan asked.  “Or –”

    Alfred was expert at cutting off the possibility of an unwanted feast, always a possibility for a chef of his stature.  “We’re just looking for a bite.”

    “A snack?” said Jonathan.

    “Exactly.”

    Jonathan swept up our menus with an impish smile that I knew meant a mere snack was out of the question, then moseyed away.  Minutes later came two identical plates bearing reddish rectangles of rib-eye steak, sauteed escarole, and golden roasted potato coins.

    Two things struck me about that evening.  First, of course, was the food.  It was as simple as can be, but I can still picture, smell, and taste it today.  Simplicity has always been a hallmark of Jonathan’s style, but of course it’s harder to attain than most people realize, which is why his chicken, a version of which was first introduced at Michael’s restaurant in Santa Monica (that’s a young Jonathan in the upper left corner of the black and white picture in the margin of this webpage) remains a standout more than thirty years later.

    The other thing that lodged in my memory was the image of Jonathan mingling along the bar, hugging and kissing more than a dozen patrons.

    “What’s up with all the people at the bar?” I asked Alfred.

    “That’s Jonathan,” he said.  “Those are friends of his.”

    All of them?”

    “Yes,” said Alfred.  “He stays in touch with people.  It’s admirable.”

    Jonathan’s latest restaurant, Barbuto, turns ten today.  When it first opened, nobody quite knew what to make of it.  Jonathan had wandered a bit after his wildly successful runs at Michael’s and Jams in the 1980s, then emerged with this place, the name of which means “beard” in Italian, a nod to the style of food and to the fact that Waxman and his business partner, Fabrizio Ferri, both sport facial hair. It seemed like a bit of a career afterthought at the time: it didn’t quite make sense that Waxman was cooking Italian, and the location was in the way West Village, across the street from Tortilla Flats.  (All of this is discussed in my recent interview with him.)  But it built slowly over time, and has developed a loyal following, including a number of chefs and industry figures, both local and long distance. On various evenings there I’ve sighted everybody from Ruth Reichl to LA’s John Shook, of Animal and Son of a Gun. (Of course, Jonathan’s 2010 stint on Top Chef Masters didn’t hurt the cause.) Expand

    February 3, 2014

    Food for Thought

    For Chefs on the Road, Every Meal Means Something More

    Tasting everything at State Bird Provisions.

    Tasting everything at State Bird Provisions. (photo by Jennifer Olsen, courtesy Chefs Feed)

    SAN FRANCISCO, CA — A meal is never just a meal for chefs on the road.  Every trip is a mission to try places they’ve read about, or that are owned by friends and acquaintances; explore movements; and seek inspiration.  Those factors drive every dining decision, from where to eat breakfast or grab a slice of pizza to what table to book for Saturday night dinner.  Meals aren’t just nourishment; they are research and development.

    It’s the same for the writers who cover them.  A few days away from home is an opportunity to actually taste all those Twitter teases and, of course, to meet the chefs behind them.

    We are in California, New York chefs Jimmy Bradley (of The Red Cat and The Harrison), Harold Dieterle (of Perilla, Kin Shop, and The Marrow), and I.  We have just returned from a few days of cooking demonstrations at Chefs’ Holidays at The Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite National Park, and now we are in San Francisco for the weekend.

    Here’s how a typical food-obsessed day, a Saturday, goes:  Harold and I dive in early. We are staying at the Hotel Vitale, on the Embarcadero.  By 8:30am, we’re crossing the street, glorying in our surroundings: the Bay Bridge over our shoulders, the Ferry Building across the street, and the cerulean sky overhead. Our destination, the bi-weekly Farmers Market that wraps around the Ferry Building is already throbbing.  We walk the stalls: citrus, herbs, aromatics, and just about anything else a cook might desire are piled high on tables or artfully displayed in baskets and bins.

    “Back East, it’s apples and onions,” Harold says, evoking the tundra we left behind last weekend.

    “Squash,” I add. “And gourds.”

    In the small-world department, we bump into NOPA’s chef and co-owner Laurence Jossell who was up at the Ahwahnee with us just a few days ago.  Laurence has a rolling cart in tow. He’s calling one of his restaurant kitchens to tell them he’s got grapes. Harold and I both taste one from the crate, sweet and juicy.

    IMG_3759

    East Meets West: Harold Dieterle and Laurence Jossel talk shop at the Ferry Building Farmers Market.

    We buzz through the Ferry Building, our eyes catching on a display of mushrooms, their colors as diverse as a box of Crayolas; I’m especially drawn to the pink oyster ‘shrooms, which I’ve never seen before.  We also ogle a nearby selection of the filled Italian doughnuts bomboloni. Completing our lap, we decide it’s time for breakfast: Harold scores a porchetta and greens sandwich from Roli Roti, I get a breakfast sausage sandwich from 4505 Meats and an order of Gamja fries from Namu Street Food–crispy fries topped with kimchee, kewpie mayo, and a graffiti of additional condiments.  We take a bench alongside the bay and chow down, then its New Orleans-style iced coffees from the least jammed of the three Blue Bottle Coffee stations, and a dip back inside the Ferry Building for one of those bomboloni.

    Another small-world moment:   A woman walks by.  She looks familiar.  I think it’s Sue Conley from Cowgirl Creamery.  We’ve never met, but I’ve been brushing up for an interview we have scheduled for Monday, so recognize her from her photo. Her red tote, Fromagerie, stenciled up the side, is a dead giveaway.  I introduce myself.  “What are you doing today?” she asks. I gesture around the market. Food is what I’m doing.  That’s it.  It seems a bit ridiculous to be so one-track in a city as robust as San Francisco, but there you go.

    We connect with Jimmy and take a walk. Even the conversation is food-centric: He’s been reading California Dish, Jeremiah Tower’s no-holds-barred account of his years atop the food world.  Jimmy mentions to Harold that there’s a technique described in the book where Tower debones and trusses a duck before roasting it. There’s nothing unique about the cooking technique, but he’s intrigued by the butchery.

    “I want to try it,” says Jimmy.”

    “For the Red Cat?” asks Harold.

    “No, I just want to learn how to do it.”

    I mention the pink oyster mushrooms from the market but Jimmy waves me off: “Ah, the pink pleurotes,” he says.”  They look beautiful, but then you cook them and they turn grey, like all other mushrooms.” Expand

    Published in Dispatches

    Falling in Love with the State I’m Supposed to Hate

    Golden Gate Bridge © Rich Niewiroski Jr. via Wikimedia Commons

    BROOKLYN, NY — To be a New Yorker means many things, and one of them is to despise California. That predisposition comes with the territory. It’s not enough to love our concrete canyons, clogged sidewalks, and cutthroat pace–one must also disdain the sunny, happy way of life on the other side of the republic. I mean, the nerve of those people to thrive on all fronts without having to endure the obstacles and obscenities that hurtle our way like a never-ending meteor shower.

    Well, as longtime readers know, I’ve been researching a book about the American chefs of the 70s and 80s. Much of the interviewing has happened right here in my home base of New York City, but my attentions have been equally allocated to The Golden State. And, after several recent visits, this New Yorker has a confession to make: I love California.

    It shouldn’t come as a shock. I was caught at a vulnerable moment. This month begins my 29th year in the Big Apple. It’s a fun and rewarding existence, but I’d still characterize myself as a striver. The inconveniences and the unkindness of strangers wear on me in ways they never used to. In 2009, we moved to Brooklyn for a spacious duplex and access to an above-average public school, and with twin kids in their tenth year, and all that entails, life can be Sisyphean.

    And so, my seduction by the West Coast has been swift.

    It began with the people. California interviews have been unexpectedly warm and social affairs.  Before I know it, drinks have been poured, or meals are being shared, sometimes cooked by the chef-interviewee’s own hand. Extra time, follow-ups, and other support have been excitedly offered. Appointments that were booked with assistants end with the revealing of private cell phone numbers and email addresses.  More than a few people, strangers at the outset, have hugged me tightly as we said goodbye. (Of course, many of the same things happen in New York City, but I’ve known people here for 20 years.)

    Joachim Splichal, following an interview at his home.

    Patina Restaurant Group’s Joachim Splichal, following an interview at his home.

    The tone was set over an October lunch in Los Angeles with restaurateur Marvin Zeidler, outside at his Brentwood Cafe.  Not only did Marvin make the time to sit down, but he generously provided a list of contact information for key historical figures he thought I should meet. Over two weeks split between Southern and Northern California, and two subsequent visits in November and December, more than 40 chefs and restaurateurs followed suit.  Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger invited me to raid their vault of press clippings and photographs;  Mark Franz of Farallon and Waterbar encored a decadent lunch with a sit down at his home that lasted for hours;Valentino‘s Piero Selvaggio arrived at our second sit-down with a stack of books and magazines he thought might help me, personal keepsakes that he’d amassed  over the years. “Keep them,” he said, shoving the mountain of paper my way. Joachim Splichal, John Sedlar, Nancy Silverton, Ken Frank, Cindy Pawlcyn and many others–none of whom I’d met before– extended and/or shared of themselves in ways that I will expand on in a coming post of highlights from the research trail.

    "Keep them." Piero Selvaggio, outside his Valentino restaurant.

    “Keep them.” Piero Selvaggio, outside his Valentino restaurant.

    It hasn’t just been the toques. Random characters, as if engaged in a Truman Show-worthy conspiracy, continued to woo me Westward. Chief among these was the hirsute barista at Blue Bottle Coffee in San Francisco’s Mint Plaza who suggested their New Orleans blend to me. (It’s made with chicory, and a little sugar, and was engineered to be served over ice.)  I sipped it, nodded my approval, and stayed in line to pay. He turned to the next customer, then back toward me: “You know what, man?” he said. “It’s on me today.”

    “What did I do to deserve this?” I asked.

    “I just feel like it,” he shrugged, then smiled brightly and added, “Cheers!”

    To put it mildly, things like that do not happen in New York City. Expand

    Sam Hazen’s Prized La Côte Basque Souvenir

    Just interviewed Sam Hazen of Veritas restaurant for my forthcoming oral history about the American chefs of the 1970s and 80s.  I’ve known Sam since he took over the kitchen at Cascabel restaurant (in the space that is now Osteria Morini) in the mid 1990s, and have flitted in and out of touch with him over the years.

    It was a fun interview: Sam attended the Culinary Institute of America in the early 1980s, and went on to cook at La Côte Basque and the Quilted Giraffe, among other New York restaurants.  When I first walked into Vertias to meet him, he surprised me with a bag of keepsakes from his line-cook days, just for fun. The highlight was this jacket, which Jean-Jacques Rachou (one of the first French chefs to welcome young American cooks into his kitchen in those transitional days), gifted his brigade for Christmas 1983.  When the old gang reunited in 1995 for the shuttering of the restaurant’s original location (it reopened in a nearby home a few months later), Sam asked a number of them to sign the jacket–an all-star line-up that included Rachou himself (“JJ Rachou,” right under the restaurant’s name), Charlie Palmer (just under Sam’s embroidered name), Rick Moonen (under Charlie), and Waldy Malouf (lower right corner).

    Sam Hazen's La Côte Basque jacket

     

    Sam’s fondness for Rachou and La Côte Basque was plain.  He worked there for five years, an almost unimaginable length of time by today’s standards.  When I remarked on how emotional he seemed when discussing those days, he whipped out his cellphone and showed me that La Côte Basque’s phone number was still in his directory, even though the restaurant has been gone for about a decade.

    “You can’t erase that one,” I said, thinking of my own policy of not deleting the phone numbers of the deceased.

    “No, that one stays forever,” he said.

    We didn’t get through all we had to talk about today and Sam promised to bring some more “fun stuff” to our follow-up interview.  I can’t wait.

    - Andrew

    A New Book Deal and What it Says About Chefs and Restaurants with Literary Aspirations

    Chefs Joe Ogrodnek (left) and Walker Stern, in Battersby's Open Kitchen

    I’m delighted to announce that Grand Central Publishing (specifically the imprint Grand Central Life & Style) has picked up the proposal I recently wrote with Battersby chefs Joseph Ogrodnek and Walker Stern.  The book, BATTERSBY: Extraordinary Food from an Ordinary Kitchen, will be published in 2015. (For some backstory on the project, check out this recent piece about a day and night in the Battersby kitchen.)

    Here’s the official Grand Central announcement:

    “Karen Murgolo, VP, Editorial Director of Grand Central Life & Style, has acquired world rights, with Amanda Englander also editing, to the first cookbook by Joe Ogrodnek and Walker Stern (chefs and co-owners of Battersby, the beloved restaurant in Brooklyn’s Cobble Hill neighborhood). Set for publication in 2015 and won in auction, BATTERSBY: Extraordinary Food from an Ordinary Kitchen (written in collaboration with Andrew Friedman) promises to help readers prepare and serve sophisticated, satisfying food, with advice on what to prepare ahead and then how to finish later, a boon for those of us with limited time and space. Represented by David Black of the David Black Agency.”

    (In the small-world department, Grand Central also picked up the other collaboration I’m working on, Harold Dieterle’s Kitchen Notebook.)

    Collaborating on this proposal, and taking it to market, crystallized a few recent evolutions in the process of conceiving and selling books based on chefs and their restaurant work, so I thought I’d share a few impressions along with this news:

    1.  With few exceptions, it can’t be just a restaurant cookbook.  When I first started writing with and about chefs, selling a restaurant cookbook was a layup.  A toque armed with two or more New York Times stars could more or less put forth a proposal for the So-and-So Restaurant Cookbook, load up the resulting tome with photographs of signature dishes (prepared to the restaurant’s exacting standards, with ring molds, countless sub-recipes, and a litany of expensive and hard-to-procure ingredients), and find publishing success.  No longer.  With very few exceptions, chefs who want to write cookbooks need to identify and focus on what I call “the bridge” – an aspect of what they do in their restaurants that ties into what people do at home, and to be willing to strip down and/or simplify their restaurant repertoire in the process.  In the case of Battersby, the book’s focus will be how to cook and serve sophisticated food that isn’t overly complicated and which can largely be prepared in advance, then finished and served with a modicum of time and effort.  The concept grew organically out of how the restaurant functions; the open kitchen is famously cramped, with room for just three cooks, so the guys have had to develop a repertoire of dishes that fit that description. Although the book is titled after the restaurant, it is most definitely not a restaurant cookbook.  The truth is that we couldn’t come up with a different title that summed up the concept and also fit the personalities of the two young, Brooklyn-based chefs in the author seat; in this case the subtitle “Extraordinary Food from an Ordinary Kitchen” (which Joe devised during a meeting with our agent), is as important as the title itself.

    2.  Do proposals need to be visual?  I’m phrasing this one as a question because the jury’s still out, but recent events have caused me to wonder.  When I first started writing for a living, I was stunned to learn that book proposals, even for lavish, coffee-table-scaled books, were presented as simple Word documents, with no photography or graphics whatsoever; they looked so dry and lifeless that I took to calling them “business plans without the numbers.” Recently, though, some friends have had success with art-directed proposals that give a real sense of what the book they have in mind will look and feel like.  We decided to do the same thing with the Battersby proposal, enlisting the help of a talented and exceedingly generous friend to come up with a proposal that brought the words to life with graphics and photography.  How much did this matter in the end?  We’ll never know.  But at a time when selling books is harder and harder, you want to do everything you can to set yourself up for success and when our agent took this thing to market, we definitely felt like we were putting our best foot forward.  Personally, while I could see selling a non-fiction book the old-fashioned way, I can’t see going out with a non-art-directed cookbook proposal again.

    3.  Chefs and photographers. Photographically speaking, the day of the dog-and-pony show is over.  Once upon a time, when a chef (or chefs) sold a cookbook project to a publisher, one of the first ensuing steps was to enlist a photographer, usually by calling in a handful of photographers, who came to meet us with their “books” – outsized portfolios that they walked you through as they discussed how they saw your project.  Today, more often than not, chefs have preexisting relationships with photographers for the simple reason that they spend more time with photographers than they used to .. . where a photo session was once a rare and special thing, chefs are now regularly shot for blogs and food sites, and hire their photographers directly for their own websites and other special projects.  Where a book’s editor and I used to recommend photographers to the chefs, on the last several projects I’ve been involved with, the chefs have come to the table with photographers in mind:  both Paul Liebrandt and Michael White had a relationship with Evan Sung and brought him on board for their books, and Harold Dieterle told me early on he wanted to enlist Daniel Krieger.  The Battersby boys were no different: they were so committed to using Finnish shutterbug Tuukka Koski that we actually put his name in our proposal . .. that was a first for me, but surely not the last time I’ll do it.  As with these other developments, I suspect that the exceptions are fast becoming the norm.

    - Andrew

    Published in Battersby

    Remembering Roger Ebert and Jane Kleinman

    [Regular Toqueland readers will have to forgive me – this post has nothing to do with chefs or restaurants – but I wanted to share these thoughts.]

    Jane Kleinman

    I learned of the death of two people who had a tremendous impact on my life last week: One you’ve heard of and one you probably haven’t.  One I knew personally and one I never met.  Both helped me understand myself a little better when I was a teenager and then, unexpectedly, taught me something about death and dying as an adult.

    The one you probably never heard of was my high school drama teacher Jane Kleinman.  I have no recollection of when I first met her; when I think back at that time in my life, it just seems that she was always there. As a student at Ransom-Everglades school in South Florida, I took her drama classes and acted in her productions, rehearsing on weekday afternoons and performing on Friday and Saturday nights:  Carnival, Our Town, Guys and Dolls – if you were an adolescent thespian, you can probably guess some of the others.  When I directed our senior class play David and Lisa, she flattered me by playing a small role herself.

    Jane’s classroom wasn’t a typical one.  It was a wide, desk-less space and I remember hanging out there before homeroom and during down times between classes. Rehearsals for her plays were the social highlight of my adolescence, along with weekend set-construction sessions, road trips to state acting competitions, post-performance gatherings at the local Swenson’s, and the wrap parties that followed the end of each run.

    Jane was also my first connection to the greater artistic world.  She had studied with some up-and-coming actors of the time, such as Jim Puig, a local talent who had gone on to Broadway success in Rum and Coke, and Steven Bauer, who played Al Pacino’s aide de camp in Scarface, and who was married at the time to Melanie Griffith.  This was the early 1980s and our school was a tony private academy on Biscayne Bay, but it was also situated in Coconut Grove, which retained much of its ramshackle 1970s hippie charm — after school, a bunch of us regularly strolled into the Grove, past palm trees and pink, Spanish-style houses to sit at breezy outdoor cafes and on weekends we’d go to the Grove Cinema and participate in midnight showings of the Rocky Horror Picture Show. Against that backdrop, Jane helped guide my creative awakening, along with the brilliant English teacher Dan Bowden; the big-hearted Beau Siegel, a raspy-voiced New Yorker and art instructor; and another teacher – I’ll leave her nameless here – whom a bunch of us called by the nickname we overheard an adult friend call her one day,  “Doobie,” until she told us we had to stop before we got her fired.  (We didn’t know what it meant!)

    Jane was not a slim or glamorous woman, but she had a beautiful face and a heavenly voice. One year, at the school talent show, she stood on a bare platform illuminated by a harsh spotlight and somewhere between Jenna Robinson’s rendition of “Nothing” (the song about Mr. Karp) from A Chorus Line and Jeremy Haft’s monologue from Feiffer’s People, sang “Send In the Clowns.”  Thirty years later, I can still hear the wistful, Patsy Cline-worthy ghost of a laugh she inserted between “Don’t bother” and “they’re here.” Most of us had never heard her sing before and we were spellbound, as though discovering she possessed some kind of superpower that she’d been hiding from us.

    My most indelible memory of Jane – Ms. Kleinman to me in those days – is the warm-up exercise she engaged us in before each play we put on.  The cast would gather in a circle backstage and hold hands.  We closed our eyes and she’d talk about “the heartbeat,” a pulse that united us and which would ensure that we were in synch on stage.  As she spoke, she squeezed the hand of the person to her left and told that person to pass it on to the next one, and to keep it going until the heartbeat came back around, over and over again.

    And there we stood, eyes closed, waiting for the squeeze on our right hand, then squeezing the hand of the person to our left.  She’d talk us into a trance, describing how we were a unit, how our hearts  beat together, and as she did, she’d direct us to pass the heartbeat along a little faster, and the pulse would make its way around the circle, coming back around almost as soon as it left us. When it seemed to be moving as swiftly as an electron, she’d quietly say, “Break a leg,” and we’d all let go of our hands and open our eyes, a little dizzy from the experience, and go to our respective ready positions for lights up. Expand

    Published in Ruminations, Slice of Life
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