Announcing a New Book that Will Revisit the Golden Age of the 1970s and 1980s
[updated March 2014]
Alright, enough with all the ghostwriter talk: A few days ago, after some interest that came straight out of the blue, I closed a deal to write my next nonfiction book: a dream project I’ve been working on sporadically for a few years but which I can now announce will be published by one of the top impresarios in the business. I’m still pinching myself.
The as-yet-untitled book will be an oral history of the coming of age of American chefs, American restaurants, and modern American restaurant cuisine in the 1970s and 1980s. It will be published by Dan Halpern’s Ecco, an imprint of HarperCollins. Ecco is also home to Mario Batali and April Bloomfield, Zak Pelaccio and Andrew Carmellini, not to mention Tony Bourdain, both as an author and as overlord of his own imprint, Tony Bourdain Books. Ecco also boasts a stable of non-culinary literary luminaries that’s simply mind-blowing. Where better to publish this book than this house? Did I mention that I was still pinching myself?
Of course, other books have touched on this subject and time period, but this one will be its own animal. It will focus only on the 1970s and 1980s, will be told (almost exclusively) in the voices of the chefs, restaurateurs, critics, and other principal characters, and it has a thesis all its own: that the same societal forces that produced punk rock and independent film, pop art and the sexual revolution, also drew a band of game changers into the kitchen, where they broke the rules and redefined what we eat and how we eat it.
In other words, the focus will be more on the people than on the food, although the food is obviously central to the story. Fortunately, one of the many remarkable things about that time was how very young the players were. With a few exceptions, the major characters are still with us today, and are still vital forces in the industry. While there are dozens of interviews yet to be conducted, one thing I hope to capture is the incredible energy, spontaneity, purity, and utter lack of materialism that defined the chefs of that era, none of whom got into cooking with an eye toward book deals, television shows, product lines, or commercial pitchman gigs. All of those things were, to put it mildly, beyond imagining to a young man or woman sticking a toe in the water of professional cookery thirty or forty years ago. The chefs of the 1970s and 1980s got into the business for one reason and one reason only: to cook. Imagine that.