When I interviewed author Michael Ruhlman by phone yesterday from his home in Cleveland, I joked at the beginning about it being the Year of the Ruhlman.
As the saying goes, it's funny because it's true.
Ruhlman has a book coming out in November called “The Elements of Cooking; Translating the Chef’s Art for Every Kitchen.” It's the cooking equivalent to Strunk and White's writing bible, "The Elements of Style." He's also one of the judges on the current Food Network series “The Next Iron Chef.” (The network put out a press release this week that the first broadcast snagged 3.3 million sets of eyeballs.)
His trilogy of books “The Soul of a Chef,” “The Making of a Chef” and “The Reach of a Chef” are considered by many to be definitive works on how cooks are trained in modern kitchens and how the explosion in culinary celebrity is affecting the food culture. He co-authored “The French Laundry Cookbook” with chef Thomas Keller and “A Return To Cooking” with chef Eric Ripert of Le Bernadin. He also wrote a great book on charcuterie that blew me away a couple years back.
To give you some sense of the circles in which Ruhlman runs, dig this story from last week in the Chicago Tribune (the table shot photo is worth a visit alone):
The center of the gastronomical universe was, for several hours Friday afternoon, seated at two tables at Rick Bayless' Topolobampo.
Lunching at the James Beard-award winning restaurant were chefs Ferran Adrià (far right) of Spain's El Bulli, regarded as the world's best restaurant by Restaurant magazine, and Heston Blumenthal of England's The Fat Duck, considered the world's second best restaurant from that same list. Also at this table were food writer Michael Ruhlman, Trotter's chef de cuisine Mattias Merges, and Adrià's brother and pastry chef, Albert.
Adrià and Blumenthal are two of six chefs arriving in town for, what is possibly, the most spectacular gathering of culinary gods modern gastronomy has ever seen, cooking in celebration of Trotter's 20th anniversary in Chicago Sunday night. The other chefs preparing the $5,000-a-head meal are Daniel Boulud, Tetsuya Wakuda, Pierre Herme and Thomas Keller.
Rick Bayless and executive chef Brian Enyart prepared a special five-course mole tasting, which began around 2:30 p.m. Friday and lasted for several hours. They had only heard about the chefs arriving at 9:30 that morning, and quickly pulled together the menu. 'As far as a cook to cook thing, this is probably the biggest table I've ever served," said Enyart.
Said Topolobampo manager Alan Bochi: "It's like having the Beatles in the dining room."
If that isn't enough to ring your bell, you also might have seen him on Anthony Bourdain’s Travel Channel series “No Reservations,” including an episode this season in which he gives Bourdain an eccentric culinary tour of Cleveland with comic book writer Harvey Pekar. (The next airing is at 10 p.m. on Oct. 22.)
On top of that, he operates a food blog that's one of my favorites. It's intimate and full of passion and the comments on each post invariably contain great amounts of sturm and drang among the visitors. The blog is how I found Ruhlman's work a couple years ago after Bourdain began posting Molotov cocktail rants and observations. (Note to self: Befriend cranky former heroin addict/Ramones aficionado/author with culinary travel TV show, then ask him guest blog on The Stew.) Their joint venture, the Golden Clog award, is destined to go down in blogosphere lore.
Anyway, we had a nice chat yesterday about what it's like being in the belly of the Food Network beast (my words, not his), why chefs use such convoluted verbiage to describe their cooking and what the nature of his relationship with Tony Bourdain really is. His answer is worth waiting for.
* Cross-posted at The Stew.