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”

  • WandaSue

    My copy arrived yesterday and it is sitting next to me. I’ve been passionate about real food since childhood and finally gave up on my ‘dream’ to go to culinary school and just went ahead and did it, even though it will be my third career change. Now, my challenge will be to find terms I don’t know so I can increase my knowledge base. Reference books are invaluable.

  • bob

    Spent the afternoon trying to get coverage for the 10th in Portland. I can’t believe I’m gonna miss this. Give a shout out if you’re looking for dinner plans. My wife and I would love to take you out Saturday night in Pdx.

  • dagwood

    I for one can’t wait to get my hands on the book. We’d love to see you at JWU in Providence!!!

  • stephanie

    Any chance you might add a stop in Boston? The Borders on Washington Ave in Downtown Crossing would be my choice for a venue :)

  • Elmer

    Just bought tickets to the Atlanta talk and demo. If you want a guide for the better dive bars in town afterwards, I’ll be happy to be tour guide.

  • TomF

    Hey:

    I’m going to be in Atlanta and thinking seriously about springing for the class. Tell me about it, please, to help me make a decision?

    I am also going to get this book for my son, who is cooking middle at the City Grocery here in Oxford, MS.

  • TomF

    Hey:

    I’m going to be in Atlanta and thinking seriously about springing for the class. Tell me about it, please, to help me make a decision?

    I am also going to get this book for my son, who is cooking middle at the City Grocery here in Oxford, MS.

  • Shannon

    I made chicken noodle soup from scratch tonight for dinner. I wish I read your Amazon excerpt on salt before I made it ;) I basically did what you said not to do. But, I’m sure it will taste fine tomorrow.

  • Jason B.

    Powells is a great bookstore in Portland. I think they are used to having authors come in. Can’t wait for the book!

  • JoP in Omaha

    fiat lux wrote:

    “JoP: Bravo! The next step is to start a food blog, and then your conversion to the “dark side” will be complete”

    LOL. I’ve actually thought about it, but the ‘net doesn’t need another food blog, does it? I’ve also thought about writing a book one day for people who are too intimidated by cooking to even give it a try–like I was for so many years. And for people who rely on community cookbooks because it’s the only thing they know. I haven’t found the type of cookbook that I want, so after I figure out this cooking thing, I should write the book I wished I had, right? In the meantime, I’ve settled for a personal cooking diary. I have a log of everything I’ve cooked since February with notes of what worked, what went wrong.

    Some say I’m obsessed; I say I’ve finally found my passion.

  • lkw

    Don’t forget Denver – how about the Tattered Cover Bookstore -
    or Boulder – the Boulder Bookstore?

    Come on out west, Ruhlman!

  • Kansas City rube

    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.

    Thank you so much for writing this, Ruhlman. This is the book I’ve been waiting for.

  • fiat lux

    @JoP: Bravo! The next step is to start a food blog, and then your conversion to the “dark side” will be complete :-p

  • JoP in Omaha

    Wow, I love your passion for this book. The forthcoming blog will be awesome.

    Should you find a way to add Omaha to your tour schedule, I’m quite sure I can set you up in an indie bookstore that I frequent and which loves to host author appearances.

    Michael, above you said: “Learning to cook can save your life, or at least change it in many excellent ways.” You’re absolutely correct. I read your 3 books on chefdom nearly a year ago, in Dec., Jan. They all intrigued me, but it was the section about French Laundry that really changed things for me. While reading about Thomas Keller, I had an epiphany. With good ingredients and knowledge of some techniques, it’s possible for a home cook to turn out meals that are relatively simple to prepare and packed with flavor. In February, I started on my culinary journey, first tackling cooking green beans, about which I emailed you questions (to which you responded patiently and kindly).

    My life has changed significantly since then. Gone are the frozen entrees I’ve eaten for 20 years because I didn’t know an alternative. Gone are my community cookbooks, that I cooked from now and then, but the results always disappointed me. They’ve been replaced with books on technique and chef / restaurant cookbooks. Every weekend, I make a soup (the star by far being the blueberry soup from French Laundry cookbook) and some sort of entree that addresses some technique I want to learn. After several tries, for example, I’m beginning to understand braising, and I turned out a successful pot roast yesterday. And during the week, I’m likely to be in the kitchen preparing a simple entree, like fish or pasta with a simple topping. I spend each day at work counting the hours until I can get home and into my kitchen. I spend weekday evenings going through books planning my weekend cooking projecs. I read labels and choose products that are most “pure.” I’ve experienced joy upon turning out a successful dish, and the failures don’t discourage me, because there are lessons in them about what to do differently next time. I watch shows like Iron Chef in a new way and have learned from them. For example, I now know the big, sort of round thing in the produce section is celery root.

    So, as I wrote to you in February, yes, you have changed my life. I will never return to Banquet frozen meals or that community favorite easy-cheesy-hashbrowns. Never. Instead, you’ll find me in the kitchen surrounded by fresh ingredients and pots and pans, giving it a go. And if I could, I’d be enrolling in cooking school so I could get to where I want to be faster than doing it on my own.

    Many heartfelt thanks go out to you. I know “Elements” will be a success.

  • Badger

    Well, I’m sold, and I haven’t even clicked on any of the links yet. I love that you modeled it after The Elements of Style (I still have and use my old copy from journalism school, not that you can tell by my writing).

    I’m a home cook with an 11 year old sous chef (my son) who asks me all the time what the difference is between, say, simmering and boiling, or mincing and dicing, or whatever. This will be a great reference for both of us as our skills improve!

  • Ian B

    Michael, I’m really pleased you be spending a couple of days in Vancouver. The culinary scenes here, in the Okanagan Valley and on Vancouver Island, are very exciting. The public have really got behind the local growers and chefs and they have responded with some of the most interesting cuisine anywhere. It’s foodie heaven.

    I’m sure your itinerary is set but, should you have time, check out the charcuiterie at Oyama Sausage, the artisanal bread at Terra Breads and the excellent bagels at Seigel’s. These are all in the Granville Island Public Market.

    The restaurant scene is particularily vibrant. West, C and Chambar are favourites of mine. UrbanDiner.ca and vanmag.com are good sites for surveying the scene.

    I hope you enjoy your time here. I preordered my copy of ‘Essentials’ and will pick it up at one of your events.

    Ian B.
    New Westminster

  • bob

    It’s great that you’re swinging thru Portland. Went to Powells last nite in hopes of picking up the book. nonluck, but finally got Pork & Sons. See ya next week!

  • fiat lux

    Skawt & I have already ordered our copy & will be picking it up at Book Passages on the 11th. We’re looking forward to it.

  • The P/A

    Why not make a stop in Pittsburgh on your way home?

    Joseph-Best has a shop in the South Side Works (near the Hot Metal Bridge).

    Caliban Bookshop, in Oakland, is a very small but well-populated venue (near CMU, Pitt and the Carnegie museums)that could work, too.

  • Adele

    Michael,

    If you want to put Chicago on your list (and I hope you do), how about 57th Street Books, in Hyde Park, near the University of Chicago. It’s a high class independent. I’m about to order Elements, but I’d certainly make the trek to Hyde Park for a signature.

  • De'Enna N Andrews

    You’re going to The Culinary 5 days before I start. Guess i’ll be seeing you at Macy’s.