Elements_book_shot
Some people are already buying this book, Serious Eats is GIVING it away, this book that’s intensely important to me—and I have scarcely written about it.  It is time.  I’m just beginning to promote it, and will be traveling for the next five weeks, schedule below.  I intend to promote it heavily—I’m going to make Hillary and Barack look like slackers.  I am seriously stumping for this and preaching the gospel of salvation through cooking.  Seriously.  Learning to cook can save your life, or at least change it in many excellent ways.

An early, favorable review by Mark Knoblauch in Booklist describes the book: “This indispensable compendium of cooking information for both professional and amateur cooks constitutes a precise, unpretentious, unencumbered culinary handbook.”

I call it an opinionated glossary of cook’s terms, everything you need to know in the kitchen about how to cook, everything that chefs know from having worked in kitchens for decades that I think everyone should know, and eight brief essays on some of the big fundamentals of cooking.

How the book came about.  My wife Donna and I were driving back from the Greenbrier food writing symposium two and a half years ago and were talking about what I should write next (I’d just published House: A Memoir).  She said, “You should write the ten most important things you know about cooking.”  A few days later, with that in the back of my thoughts, I was thumbing through Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style, and a bell went off in my head: I can do this for the kitchen!  And that’s the model I used.

But the goal was considerably more modest.  I set out simply to write down definitions and opinions of everything that chefs know as a matter of course but that home cooks ought to know.  Everything, in fact, that I’d needed to know when I entered culinary school.  Terms like nappé, mise en place, what “salted water” means, why does everybody mean something different when they say “blanch.”  But it also made me think a lot about the finer points of cooking, and these wound up as essays: stock, sauce, salt, egg, heat, tools, books, and the elusive “finesse.”  I love this book, and so far everyone except Publisher’s Weekly does too.  (The PW review, which you can read on the amazon page and B&N page for the book, was awkwardly critical—perhaps a reflection of the anti-French sentiment that’s au courant?)

Who I hope buys this book.  Every home cook who cares about getting better and every soul who is in or about to attend culinary school.  I want all the young cooks who never went to culinary school and have always been nagged by the not-knowing-what-they-missed (probably not as much as they imagine) to buy it.  I want every chef to buy it for his or her line cooks.  And maybe most of all, beginners—I can’t imagine a better starting reference for cooking terms to go along with other food  books.  I want every professional cook to buy it for the people who cook for them when they’re not at work. In short I want everyone who cares about cooking to buy this book.

My friend, Eric Ripert, chef and co-owner of Le Bernardin told me he sat down with this book and read it for three hours.  This is what he had to say: "The combination of size makes The Elements of Cooking simply the best reference book and educational tool available for anyone interested in the basics of the culinary arts."  (Know what he said privately when he called?  "Wish I’d thought of this.") Thank you, Eric!

And one of the country’s very best cooks, Paul Kahan, chef of Blackbird and Avec in Chicago, offered this very cool observation: "More than a culinary dictionary, The Elements of Cooking is the essential codebook for young cooks and culinary students who want to learn the secret language of the kitchen."

Secret language of the kitchen—I love that.

Here are a couple other links:

A recent podcast phone interview, about 10 minutes, with Tampa Tribune writer Jeff Houck, discussing blogs, Next Iron Chef, the nature of reality cooking, what happens in cooking school, The Elements of Cooking, what tools do you really need in the kitchen, Bourdain and other food stuff.  Jeff did a nice interview, he should be on NPR. Here’s his story in the Trib.

A review of the book is in this Kirkus cooking special section (link is to the html version—click link at top for the pdf), but the whole thing is on food books coming out this season and is excellent.

The tour.  Please come out and see me and I’ll post updates on a new web design that should be in place this week.  In cities where I’m doing demos I don’t have general public signings scheduled (St. Louis, Atlanta, Nashville, as well as Seattle), but I can try to some drop-by signings if anyone wants (please suggest a good independent bookstore in the area):

11/8 St. Louis, 2 hour talk and demo*
11/9 Atlanta, 2 hour talk and demo*
11/10  Portland, OR, Wordstock, panel on food writing, ironically with the two women mentioned randomly in the last item on this post
11/11  San Francisco, Book Passage
11/12-13 Seattle, dinner at Serafina, talk at Arts Institute of Seattle
11/15 Nashville, 2 hour talk and demo*
11/16 Cleveland, 2 hour talk and demo*
11/17  Cleveland Heights, signing at Borders
11/18 Shaker Heights, Shaker Heights Library (big local author book fare, excellent)
11/20 Cincinnati, Joseph Beth
11/28 Hyde Park, NY, Culinary Institute of America
11/29 New York City, Degustibus Demo at Macy’s
12/3  New York City, Barnes and Noble, joint event with Bourdain and his new book, God help me.
12/4-6  Vancouver, event schedule to come.

*These are demos at Viking stores, click here then click the location you’re interested in and scroll down to the calendar and the date you want.

I hope to get my new site up soon, as well as this: a second blog for Elements of Cooking, specifically to discuss fundamental issues of cooking.

UPDATE, ANSWERS TO COMMENTS, 11/5, 9 PM: First, thanks for all your incredibly good wishes and pleas to visit more than the cities mentioned. Hoping they’ll extend tour.  Badger, I DO define dice and mince and the distinction.  Tom F, Viking demos will be talk and cooking, refined home cooking, fun stuff but techniques that teach about the way food behaves. I definitely need to how to cure your own bacon demo–yes, that’s where it will start.  How does book compare to larousse?  good question–this book is different from larousse and food lovers companion in that it is about COOKING terms, not about food, not about food history.  Everything a COOK needs to know.  Whether you’re eleven or eighty-three.  question about still needing iodide–we don’t–check your mcgee!  criminal, i’m trying to arrange a stop by signing at elliot bay on monday early eve.  and jordon, grant finishes radiation this week I believe and tumor virtually gone, docs enormously hopeful. if surgery is necessary, i’m told it will be minor.

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131 Wonderful responses to “The Elements of Cooking”

  • Josh

    I looked far and wide today for the book, but every book store in town said they had copies, but were lost in the store or just couldn’t find them. Found Bourdain’s new book, though. My town sucks!

  • RitaC

    one more request: Come to Tucson. I’d even give you a foodie tour. People always think Phoenix when they think of AZ dining, but let me tell you, Tucson wins hands down with everything from upscale (chilled avocado soup with a fresh tomato and carmeat) to taquerias. Ever have a Sonoran hot dog?
    let me know when you’re coming….

  • Kali

    I just ordered your book (in spite of my disagreement with you over foie gras and veal. I really hope that you and Bourdain rethink your ideas about it someday….)

    Anyway, looking forward to getting book, but why don’t you have any L.A. visits scheduled on your book tour? So. California’s a good book (and foodie) market! You (and Bourdain….hmmm, and Colbert, too, for that matter) conspicuously leave out a major city like this! Why, I wonder? So. California is a great place, especially in winter!

  • Frances

    I’m officially warning you away from Gloucester, VA. Nothing to see here. I’m not kidding. Well, we do have a nice little book seller in the Village. But I doubt they could offer you any perks. The only limo in town comes as a package deal – limo, tan, and nails.

  • Warren Hampton

    Are you coming to Philly, I just ordered your book along with Polycn’s (your book as well).

    I can’t wait to start making some real sausage! Woohoo!

  • Vincent

    No Dallas stop Mikey? Really?

    In the land of ridiculously grand and overpriced bookstores I would have thought this would be a stop for sure. The hair-do alone would pack them in.

    We appreciate all your writings sincerely.

  • Shelley

    Darcie sounds a bit stalker-y, Ruhlman.* Watch your back if you go to Charleston. (Just kidding.)

    I’m surprised there aren’t more of us begging you to visit Houston! We are consistently voted the most “overweight” city because of all the great restaurants here.** Okay… that, and because we have too much heat, unbearable humidity, no sidewalks and we drive everywhere. Get here in December and you’ll think it’s springtime in Cleveland, but with traffic.

    *I can’t call you Michael because that is my ex’s name. Ruhlman is a term of endearment.

    **Studies say that Houstonians eat out almost four nights per week. Other studies say that 69.3% of all statistics are made up.

  • claudia

    hi michael, claudia from nashville at cook eat FRET. i gotcha covered here with newspapers and book signings! let’s tawk…

  • Claudia

    Excuse the repeat – I accidentally posted this on the wrong board:

    Not that you need another NYC book-signing, but Melanie Dunea, who produced My Last Supper and shot the book jacket for Nasty Bits, had HER book signing a week or so ago in the Time Warner Building – where they have Williams-Sonoma, Per Se, Masa AND a Borders, as you know. But I’m thinking your desperate and despondent fans in LA, Pheonix, etc., must have some similar kind of venue. God help us, even Bourdain is doing Mall of America! (Though he has not sunk so far as The Mall at Short Hills!)

    Michael, does your PR/publisher plot out the pit stops for you, and do they base it solely on the book-buying market? I’m still kind of surprised that both you and Bourdain are bypassing LA this time around. (I’m not complaining, personally, since you two have NYC covered – but I am wondering.)

  • french tart

    dammit. someone decent finally comes to atlanta and i can’t go. phooey.

    if you do end up finding a place to do a book signing, please let us know, cos i’m totally there.

  • oy

    Boy Ruhlman, what a clever idea for a book. I liked it better when it was Mark Bittman’s book.

  • ECK

    So glad you are making it to Wordstock! As someone else suggested, you should hit up Powells! Hope to see you this weekend in Portland.

  • Christie

    Another shoutout for Houston! I live within an hour’s drive from there, but if you come to Houston I’ll drag my lazy *ss into town and fight the lovely traffic just to see you.

    BUT BETTER YET…

    Go to Galveston Island’s Midsummer Books at 2309 Mechanic Street in the historic Strand district. A really charming bookstore with a fantastic staff! Go there on the weekend when all the tourists (that includes Houstonians) are in town.

  • Appetit

    Hey Ruhlman,
    We would love it if you came up to Montreal. I have been a huge fan of yours since I was in cooking school. 8 years later I am still excited whenever I hear a new Ruhlman book is out. We own an indepepndant cookbook store here and acually just had Tony Bourdain out for a huge event that consisted of 600 people, Martin Picard, some Rabbit Lasagna, and too much beer.
    So if you can fit it in, let us know. It would be an honour for us to have you come to our shop.

  • Mykl

    Hey Mike. Just saw Bourdain speak and he only charged 13 bucks!!! What’s up with the 70 price tag?!! What are you Rolling Stones? lol. BTW he said nice things about you and how he dressed up like you at one of these events. Man maybe it’s the quitting smoking or the baby girl, but he was exhausted. Still he was cool enough to hang out for hours afterwards to sign books.

    Anyways, I got your book and as usual it’s a great reference guide and yes, for its size, it’s bar none.

    Good thing Bill Buford didn’t think of it first huh? To hell with him!

    Also FYI (like you’ll even read this) went to Primo’s in Rockland and met Melissa Kelly totally based on your book. We were in Portland and drove an hour north just because… Had an excellent meal and ended up hanging out with the garde manger after service and ended up crashing at his place. lol.

    Alright – keep on writing and frankly, next to Bourdain, I envy you almost as much. lol.

  • DM

    You’re going to be in Cincinnati and not stopping in Columbus on the way? What would it take to get you to do a reading here?

  • anna

    I am so excited to see you AND Kathleen Flinn on the panel in Portland! I LOVED her book. (Other readers, if you haven’t picked it up, it’s “The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry” about her experiences at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris – it’s great. She has a blog, too, if you google it you can read about her book tour, which is quite entertaining.)

    Michael, I’ve been a fan of yours for a long time. I just got Elements and the 10th Muse at the bookstore. Very excited to read both… my sister is going to see you in Cincinnati!

  • RachaelAnne

    I live in Nashville, and I would be thrilled if you visited a bookstore while you’re here for the Viking demo. My favorite independent bookstore is Davis-Kidd Booksellers, which regularly hosts well attended book signings. It’s in the Green Hills area of Nashville. The main phone number is 615 385 2645.

  • Martha

    an update for you–Paul Kahan is no longer at Avec or Blackbird.

    See the post from Blackbird: http://www.blackbirdrestaurant.com/gettoknowourflock.php
    Mike Sheerin
    As Blackbird’s first Chef de Cuisine, Mike Sheerin steps up to the stoves of one of Chicago’s most beloved and respected restaurants. To watch his easy manner and quiet confidence, though, you wouldn’t know that this 30-year-old has taken on such a responsibility and is now being closely watch by a curious culinary community. Sheerin’s cuisine is a delicate departure from that of Executive Chef Paul Kahan, and yet he seems to carry on Kahan’s uncanny ability to make quietly revolutionary food.
    Recently, Sheerin shook up the menu with disarmingly pedestrian ingredients, such as garnishing parsnip soup with puffed rice (simply fried in oil and seasoned), as well head-turning preparations, such as his delicious bacon caramel and smoked grapes with venison, and a crisply bitter radicchio sauce with pike. His fried shallot broth, served with lamb and butternut squash panisse riff on traditional preparations in a most modern way.
    Sheerin comes to Blackbird from Kahan’s friend Wylie Dufresne and WD-50, where he worked as sous chef for 3 1/2 years. Prior to working at WD-50, Sheerin worked at Lutece, Atlas and Jean Georges in New York. In his hometown of Chicago, he worked at Everest.
    Sheerin has a Bachelor of Culinary Arts from Grand Rapids Community College.

  • Martha

    an update for you–Paul Kahan is no longer at Avec or Blackbird.

    See the post from Blackbird: http://www.blackbirdrestaurant.com/gettoknowourflock.php
    Mike Sheerin
    As Blackbird’s first Chef de Cuisine, Mike Sheerin steps up to the stoves of one of Chicago’s most beloved and respected restaurants. To watch his easy manner and quiet confidence, though, you wouldn’t know that this 30-year-old has taken on such a responsibility and is now being closely watch by a curious culinary community. Sheerin’s cuisine is a delicate departure from that of Executive Chef Paul Kahan, and yet he seems to carry on Kahan’s uncanny ability to make quietly revolutionary food.
    Recently, Sheerin shook up the menu with disarmingly pedestrian ingredients, such as garnishing parsnip soup with puffed rice (simply fried in oil and seasoned), as well head-turning preparations, such as his delicious bacon caramel and smoked grapes with venison, and a crisply bitter radicchio sauce with pike. His fried shallot broth, served with lamb and butternut squash panisse riff on traditional preparations in a most modern way.
    Sheerin comes to Blackbird from Kahan’s friend Wylie Dufresne and WD-50, where he worked as sous chef for 3 1/2 years. Prior to working at WD-50, Sheerin worked at Lutece, Atlas and Jean Georges in New York. In his hometown of Chicago, he worked at Everest.
    Sheerin has a Bachelor of Culinary Arts from Grand Rapids Community College.

  • sailorgrrl07

    Ok, well the report from the Palo Alto Borders on University Avenue. This is hilarious, their computer says they have 8 copies, received 11/7, but no one knows where they are. Perfect! :-(

  • jackie rifkin

    Hi, my friend is going to see you at the Chataqua Institute in August. She said that you were in Phoenix recently I cant find a reference to that. Could you please comment. I’m buying her all your books and she’s looking forward to meeting you!

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    Culinary education courses are almost same in all universities and cooking schools but some cooking programs are specifically designed for traditional cooking cuisines and recopies locally popular to particular area or nation where culinary educational institute is established. So degree in traditional culinary is also an interesting, forthcoming and emerging career making decision. Rest of the things like baking pastry, kitchen management, wine preparation, food presentation and knife skills are also some added courses with your specialization. Hotel and restaurant management is a kind of managerial degree courses where students learn to manage whole activities in a hotel and events. http://www.culinaryschoolsprograms.com/culinary/Cooking-Culinary-Education/index.html

  • club penguin cheats

    I tried to go out and buy this book but my sister wouldn’t let me because both she and my girlfriend had already bought it for me as a birthday present, which isn’t for two weeks. I guess I’ll just have to suck it up and wait.