The best things in life happen when you get carried away. I went into a cooking school to write about what it means to be a chef, and instead I became a cook, got a job line cooking, lucked into one of the great restaurants of the world to work with the chef on his book, and I kept on writing about food. I got carried away, and it’s made all the difference.
The facts are these: Born 1963 in Cleveland, graduated Duke in 1985 with a BA in literature, worked at The New York Times as a copyboy where I managed to slip some stories into most sections of the paper, departed after fewer than two years to pursue a desultory life of writing, travel and odd jobs, returning to Cleveland with my wife, Donna, a newspaper and magazine photographer, in 1991. Found work at a local magazine covering arts and cultural scene and here began writing about chefs and cooking.
My first book, Boys Themselves (1996), revealed life at an all-boy day school that was defiantly all-boys at a time when anything all-boys was considered toxic and anything all-girls was great for girls.
A committed cook since fourth grade, I proposed to the Culinary Institute of America, the oldest and most influential professional cooking school in the country, that I be allowed into its kitchen classrooms in order to write a narrative of how the school trains professional chefs. The school agreed, and I wrote The Making of a Chef (1997), rereleased in 2009 in a new paperback edition.
I became so fascinated by the work of the professional cook and the culture of the restaurant kitchen that I continued to pursue the work and wrote a book about chefs and cooking, The Soul of a Chef (2000). I co-wrote The French Laundry Cookbook (1999) with Thomas Keller at the same time, and he and I subsequently wrote a food column for the Los Angeles Times for two years.
In February 1999, I moved with my family to Martha’s Vineyard to research and report on life at a yard making plank-on-frame boats for the book Wooden Boats: In Pursuit of the Perfect Craft at an American Boatyard (2001). In October 2000, I began work at the Cleveland Clinic’s Children’s Hospital for the book Walk on Water (2003). I wrote it concurrently with A Return to Cooking (2002), with Eric Ripert, chef-owner of Le Bernardin, the Manhattan four-star restaurant.
Other books include House: A Memoir, about the purchase and renovation of a 1901 house in Cleveland and an exploration of the nature of home in our vagabond culture, and The Reach of a Chef: Professional Cooks in the Age of Celebrity. Other cookbooks include Bouchon, written with Keller and the others from the French Laundry Cookbook team, about French comfort food, and Under Pressure, the first American cookbook to explore the possibilities of sous vide cooking. I was a contributor to the Alinea, Grant Achatz’s tour de force on the new new cuisine. I wrote Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking and Curing–a thinly veiled love song to the pig, to animal fat and salt, sausages, confits, pates, terrines–with my friend, the Michigan chef Brian Polcyn.
I have been on several television shows, “Cooking Under Fire” on PBS, and, on the Food Network, I was a judge on the “Next Iron Chef,” appear occasionally as a judge on “Iron Chef America,” and have been a featured guest on the Travel Channel’s “Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations,” Las Vegas and Cleveland episodes.
In 2007 I published The Elements of Cooking: Translating the Craft for Every Kitchen, “an indispensable compendium of cooking information for both professional and amateur cooks constitutes a precise, unpretentious, unencumbered culinary handbook” (Booklist). I realized one day leaving a food writers symposium that I’d spent so much time in kitchen and so much time with the country’s best chefs that I had a huge amount of knowledge about cooking, information that would be valuable to anyone who cared about cooking, from professional chefs to committed home cooks. Needing a structure for all this information I turned to one of my favorite books about the craft of writing, Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style. The book contains essays on the fundamentals of cooking and a deeply opinionated glossary of important cooking terms we all need to know.
My most recent book is Ratio: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking, a book devoted to understanding the relationships between our most basic ingredients and how those relationships form the backbone of the craft of cooking.
This fall two new cookbooks I’ve had a hand in will be published: Thomas Keller: At Home with Ad Hoc, the fourth from this team, and Symon Says: Live to Cook, a cookbook from my friend, fellow Clevelander, Michael Symon, chef-restaurateur (Lola/Lolita) and an Iron Chef Food on Network’s “Iron Chef America.” Donna and I continue to live in Cleveland Heights with our two kids, writing, shooting and cooking.