Author Andrew Friedman on Chefs, Drugs, and Rock & Roll [1/2]

No writer has spent more time working and hanging out with great chefs than Andrew Friedman. So when I heard that his long-awaited book chronicling chef culture in the US—Chefs, Drugs, and Rock & Roll—had finally been published, how could I not invite him on Special Sauce?

Friedman has collaborated with outstanding chefs on more than two dozen cookbooks, and he’s not even as old as me. What intrigues him about this world? “Chefs are like snowflakes. I mean, no two are alike. The way people come to this profession, the way they develop…their style, their palate, their knowledge base, their skill set; I like the sort of peripatetic nature of it. You kind of assemble your own curriculum as you go from job to job, and often that means going all over the country, or all over the world.”   How does he decide whom to work with? “The most important thing for me… is a point of view. I tell people, I cannot manufacture a point of view… If somebody’s just coming to me with a collection of recipes, I can’t help them. I mean, I could write the book, but I don’t want to write that book. I’ve done too many books. It’ll seem phoned in. I need something that’s gonna engage me.”   If you’re at all interested in chefs or the culture that’s grown up around them, part one of my interview with Andrew Friedman will definitely engage you. Next week, he and I talk about Chefs, Drugs, and Rock & Roll, his new deep dive of a book. Great title, don’t you think?


Ed Levine: Welcome to Special Sauce, Serious Eats’ podcast about food and life. Every week on Special Sauce we talk to some of the leading lights of American culture, food folks and non-food folks alike. Chefs are like snowflakes, I mean no two are alike. The way people come to this profession, the way they develop their style, their palate, their knowledge base, their skillset, I like this sort of peripatetic nature of it. You kind of assemble your own curriculum as you go from job to job and often that means going all over the country or all over the world. This week we are privileged have author Andrew Friedman. His new book, “Chefs, Drugs and Rock & Roll,” chronicles the development of the chef culture in America from the late 60’s to the present. To say Andrew is prolific would be a gross understatement. He has co-authored more than two dozen chef cookbooks and memoirs. Not only that, he’s a tennis freak who collaborated on the New York Times-best-selling memoir “Breaking Back” with tennis star James Blake. Oh yeah, he somehow finds the time to post on his blog, Toqueland, and interviews chefs on his podcast, Andrew Talks to Chefs. Welcome to Special Sauce, Andrew Friedman. It’s so good to have you, man.

Andrew Friedman: Thank you man. I’m exhausted just listening to all that.

EL: Yeah. Well you know it is impressive-

AF: How did I even find time to come here?

EL: I know. How did you find time to come here? Well there so many things-

AF: It’s ’cause of you. It’s for you Ed Levine.

EL: Well there’s so many things I wanna talk to you about.

AF: Okay.

EL: The book is extraordinary-

AF: Thank you.

EL: In its depth-

AF: Thank you.

EL: And breadth and the way you try to weave a narrative and quite successfully I might add. That’s not a very easy narrative to weave, but we’re not gonna get to that book quite yet.

AF: Okay.

EL: First, you’re gonna tell me about life at the Friedman table growing up.

AF: The Friedman … there was no … well there was a Friedman table in one of the Friedman households.

EL: Okay.

AF: So my parents were divorced when I was four or five. I still remember the night my dad left. This is actually a funny food story. My parents had been fighting a lot, I do remember that and my dad said, “Kids, I’m leaving or I’m going …” I didn’t know what he meant. I didn’t know he meant he was moving out.

EL: Right.

AF: And at the time, McDonald’s had some kinda Neapolitan ice cream cone, like a vanilla, chocolate, strawberry cone. This would’ve been very early 70’s and I said, “All right. Well before you go, can you take us for one of those McDonald’s cones.”, and we put robes on over our pajamas. He took us to McDonald’s, we had the cone, he brought us home and he left.

EL: Wow. That’s totally insane.

AF: That’s a true story. I haven’t even thought of that in years. So anyway, in my house, I lived with my mom primarily and she was a single working mom. Had no time or energy when she came home from a fairly demanding job and as often as not, it was … she’d drop a bag of Wendy’s-

EL: Really?

AF: Food on the table. Yeah, yeah. I mean there was no culture of the table in that home. My dad remarried. My dad has since passed away. My stepmother, her name is Anna Maria. She was originally from Cuba and a really good home cook and they had that table culture. So until I outgrew it when I was a teenager, the divorce settlement was my dad had me Wednesday nights and overnight on Saturday, and Saturday night we sat at the table and we had dinner.

EL: Wow.

AF: The phone was not answered and that’s what it was and it was very often Cuban food, garlicky shrimp and arroz con pollo and that was my sort of other life.

EL: That’s a pretty tumultuous childhood you’re talking about.

AF: Yeah.

EL: It must’ve been … It must’ve offered a level of comfort, those Saturday night meals.

AF: It’s something that I really loved and it’s something that I sort of crave and if I’m really honest, we don’t have it as much as I’d like in my own home. We have 13-year-old twins. Yeah, we live in the burbs now. My wife’s schedule and mine are both very erratic ’cause of our work. She has a big corporate job in SoHo and I took an office in the city because I couldn’t stand being in the suburbs all day, even though I’m writing. So it’s hard. It’s hard. We don’t have it on a nightly basis. We have it maybe once or twice a week where we actually have a proper dinner or where if I’m really honest, Caitlyn and I have the energy to actually enjoy cooking a real proper meal.

EL: Yeah.

AF: As opposed to something that can be thrown together quickly.

EL: So how did you get interested in food?

AF: It was through restaurants.

EL: Okay.

AF: I’ve always loved restaurants.

EL: Me too. I can remember every restaurant-

AF: Yeah.

EL: That my parents took us to.

AF: Yeah.

EL: Which was mostly the Chinese restaurant that we went to on Sundays-

AF: Right.

EL: China Jade.

AF: Okay.

EL: But Ricky’s and Cairo’s for Italian food.

AF: Yeah.

EL: This was in Long Island.

AF: Yeah.

EL: And I can remember every restaurant.

AF: Yeah.

EL: And even what I ordered.

AF: Uh-huh (affirmative).

EL: Yeah, which is crazy ’cause I’m not young, so that was a long time ago.

AF: Well, I didn’t know anything about food honestly and to this point, I always say this, I always say I’m a chef writer and not a food writer, even though I’ve done all these cookbooks. I never worked in restaurants, when I was a busboy at Mexico Lindo Mexican restaurant in Coral Gables. That’s the extent of my hospitality experience.

EL: Wow.

AF: But I always loved like a well-run restaurant, a restaurant that kinda hummed, that had the right energy-

EL: And you felt … Even as a kid, you felt that energy and you-

AF: Yeah, although I didn’t … I ended up doing what I do now as an … it was an accident-

EL: Right.

AF: But I always did enjoy that. Then I was in the film business, I worked for two film producers. That was my childhood dream.

EL: This was out of college?

AF: Right out of college. In fact, in college I interned for Universal Pictures and I interned for the late director Sydney Pollack’s company.

EL: Wow.

AF: Yeah. And then right out of school, I got a job working for a pretty successful independent producer and spent several years with him and his partner, and even there, there was a culture of restaurants. I remember they would sometimes take me to the Russian Tea Room back in the day for lunch and things like that.

EL: Did you see Sydney Pollack or Woody Allen there?

AF: No, I never-

EL: You must’ve.

AF: No, I never did.

EL: All right.

AF: I never did. I don’t know that I saw anybody super famous there, but I mean I met a lot of people who would come through the office and it was fun. It was exciting but as at … When I was in college in New York, I came to college in New York and I used to very often … It’s a little embarrassing now but I used to go to the movies all the time over near Bloomingdale’s, like the Cinema 123-

EL: Sure.

AF: And the Beekman, all those theaters.

EL: In the 70’s and 80’s those were the theaters.

AF: They were big deal theaters and at the … after the movies, I would very often go to Serendipity-

EL: Sure.

AF: With friends of mine for a frozen hot chocolate. It used to be a crush at the door and I was directing college theater, and one night after a show, I was with this woman I was friends with and a friend of hers. My friend Kim and this woman Julia and I get in a cab to go down to Serendipity … I actually thought Serendipity was cool. I mean that’s the state of my life back then, but I … We got in a cab to go down there after one of the performances and Julia says to me, “I understand you fancy yourself Mr. New York.” And I said, “I do.” And she said, “Well I just want you to know that I’m Ms. New York.” She was from like Framingham, Massachusetts, I was from Florida. I said, “Okay. We’ll see.” So we get to Serendipity, Saturday night, totally packed and we get to the podium and just by virtue of my having left my name there so many times, the hostess says, “Mr. Friedman, we haven’t seen you in weeks. Where have you been?”

EL: And you go-

AF: And I-

EL: Goal.

AF: And I turn to Julia and she says, “Touche.” But I loved that feeling of being recognized in a restaurant in New York City. As a kid from Miami, when Miami … The Miami I grew up in is not the Miami of today.

EL: Right.

AF: That’s just … I felt that was the coolest thing and then I got out of the film business. I decided I was gonna try to write prose and I didn’t know what to do to make a living and I literally just thought well I could write copy I guess. I didn’t really even know what that meant and through the New York Times I got a job with what was at the time the top restaurant PR firm in New York City. A guy named David Kratz-

EL: Oh, I remember David Kratz-

AF: Sure.

EL: You even referenced him in the book.

AF: I interviewed him in the book.

EL: Yeah.

AF: Well David was the top-

EL: Yeah.

AF: Restaurant PR guy for years and I went to work for David, and all of a sudden I was repping Alfred Portale at the Gotham Bar and Grill-

EL: One of seminal restaurants in New York.

AF: Yeah.

EL: That you wrote about a lot in the book.

AF: Yeah. I repped him. I represented a 24-year-old Marcus Samuelsson the minute he was appointed at Aquavit. I represented Rocco DiSpirito actually one restaurant before he got really famous at Union Pacific. Restaurant Associates was my client. So all of a sudden I was … You know we worked really hard in that office and then we’d go to these restaurants for dinner and as a pack. It was great time. I mean we had a … It was … I never liked doing PR but I started to fall in love with being behind the curtain of restaurants and these chefs became … they became … Most of my friends are not writers, most of my friends are chefs.

EL: Right.

AF: So that’s how it all started and then Alfred Portale had taken his sweet time getting around to writing a cookbook and because of the rapport we had, he asked me to write the Gotham Bar and Grill cookbook, which ended up doing … The reviews were great. We won the Julia Child Cookbook Award. We were up for the Beard Award for best general cookbook and I thought this isn’t the kinda writer I ever wanted to be, but at least maybe it’s a way to be a working writer. Quit my job and-

EL: Working writers are … It’s really a good thing to find out how to be a working writer.

AF: It’s hard. It took years to calibrate it, to figure out okay, okay … I was also doing some freelance work and you think okay, they’re gonna pay me X. Well you don’t realize it might take five months for that-

EL: Yes, yes.

AF: $400.00 check to roll in. You know?

EL: Tell me about that?

AF: Yeah. yeah.

EL: I lived that life before Serious Eats.

AF: Yeah.

EL: It was the cash flow crunch life.

AF: Yeah. So I learned how to deal with the staggered income and it’s 20 years later now and I’m very lucky to have been doing it all that time.

EL: So let’s talk about your first foray into writing this cookbook.

AF: Sure.

EL: What was the process like? First of all, were you interested just because it was a job, because you liked Alfred, you were friends with him, you thought he had something to say? Like what was the impetus behind that?

AF: So the true story and I’ll tell this as fast as I can. Alfred had met a bunch of literary agents and didn’t like any of them and David Kratz, the guy who had this agency had been an attorney … David was really smart and David’s feeling was outside of brain surgery, rocket science, whatever, basically if you were smart, you could figure out how to do anything. So Alfred asked David if he would just agent his book and David said, “Yeah.” So one day David comes over and drops the existing book proposal on my desk and says, “I’m not happy with this proposal. I don’t need to say who wrote it. I want you to rewrite it.” And I took it home and I literally Ed, I swear to God, I did not own a single cookbook at this time.

EL: Did you own how to write a book proposal?

AF: Nothing. But I mean the proposal was written.

EL: Right.

AF: I just felt like I was-

EL: You were flying blind.

AF: I just thought well I could … Yeah. I know how to make this into something I’d wanna read. So I did that and we sold the book to Doubleday and then I said to Alfred, “Look, I would really be honored to see this through, but I’m not gonna campaign for this. You’re my client, it’s a conflict. I’m just saying it once.” And he said, “Thank you very much.” And then he hired another writer.

EL: Wow.

AF: And then like a year later, like eight weeks shy of the deadline, he asked me to come by the Gotham one day and he said, “Look, the book’s not what I want. It’s due in eight weeks. Do you think you could punch it up?”

EL: Punch it up.

AF: This is really dating myself, because they didn’t just email me a file, he handed me the manuscript and I lugged it home to my apartment on 8th Street, and I came back and I said, “Look, I don’t have any cookbooks but I think we need to start from scratch, not the recipes.” I mean honestly, I wouldn’t know how to write recipes ’cause I had chef clients and once in a while, we’d have to give a recipe to New York Times or … And so we proceeded to re-interview for all the chapter intros, all the head notes or the intros to the individual recipes. It was fun. I mean I would work a full day at work and then maybe three nights a week, I’d walk … The Gotham was on my way home.

EL: Right.

AF: I worked on-

EL: -on 12th Street.

AF: Yeah. I lived on 8th Street and our office was on 20th Street.

EL: So it was a very circumscribed world.

AF: It was awesome. I was in my late 20’s, I had the energy to do this. I would work a full day, I would go to the restaurant. We would interview and then we’d go out and that was the first time I’d really seen the way a chef at that level gets treated in a restaurant. I jokingly say like, “Why, Mr. Portale.” It was like a seduction. I was just completely swept up in this whole thing. So David, the guy who owned the agency said to me, “It’s fine with me if you do this, but you cannot do it on company time.” So there were many days where I would work a full day, go interview Alfred, come back … not go home, come back to the office, write all night and then across the street was the original Equinox. The very first Equinox was right across the street, I was a member there. I would go at eight o’clock to Equinox, shower, shave. They had all the accoutrement there, what I call the amenities.

EL: Right.

AF: Shower, shave, blow my hair dry, put the same suit back on, go get a ham and egg sandwich and a nice coffee and work a full day.

EL: Wow.

AF: I mean that was … That’s how I got that book done. It was crazy but it was great. I was 28, 29, whatever. I mean it was … I look back on that time really fondly.

EL: Yeah.I had things like that when I was in the music business and you do what you could for money and then you’d … I’d end up hanging out with jazz musicians-

AF: Yeah.

EL: And then doing whatever I was doing and people would say, “Wow. It sounds exhausting.” And mostly what I remember was how great it felt.

AF: Oh, yeah. It’s exhilarating.

EL: It’s so exhilarating-

AF: Yeah.

EL: And I remember I used to manage this great jazz band called the Heath Brothers.

AF: Uh-huh.

EL: And Percy Heath, who was the bassist for the Modern Jazz Quartet, at Jimmy Heath’s retirement concert he came up to me and he said, “Do you regret all the time you spent with us?” And I said, “Regret it? It was one of the highlights of my life.”

AF: Yeah. Totally.

EL: I treasured those moments.

AF: Totally. Totally. And I have to say, I didn’t know this is what I was gonna end up doing for a living. I just wanted to do a good job. I mean honestly, who would’ve seen that coming? And it’s weird, something switched in my brain and I … it actually serves me very poorly now, but I used to do really well under pressure. You know?

EL: Yeah.

AF: I was kinda known as a guy, if you had a cookbook in need of a rescue, call me.

EL: But what’s interesting about it is you entered the world through what you’re telling me as a cookbook doctoring job.

AF: Basically yeah, although I would say that with the exception of the recipes I rewrote the book.

EL: Right. And who tested those recipes? Had they already been tested?

AF: Well I’m not … Yeah. It was the other writer. I don’t really need to mention-

EL: Got it. Yeah, yeah.

AF: Who that was.

EL: No I’m just saying-

AF: But-

EL: There was another … the other person.

AF: Oh yeah, yeah, yeah and I would’ve been incapable of doing that.

EL: Yeah.

AF: I didn’t have the qualifications. Most people come to food writing, as you know, they come to it from cooking.

EL: Right.

AF: Not as writers-

EL: Right.

AF: And I didn’t.

EL: Yeah.

AF: So when I quit my day job to do this full time, the first thing I did was went to what is now the ICC, but used to be the FCI, the French Culinary Institute, and I’d signed up for a program. So at least I would have a base cooking knowledge.

EL: And so do you now test your own recipes or did it just give you a broader perspective on what you were writing about?

AF: I sometimes did it myself. I sometimes did … Like I did three cookbooks with Tom Valenti, a chef here in New York, we tested together. So I often tested with people. My strong preference now is I will pay for half of a recipe tester to not test.

EL: Got it.

AF: I hate recipe testing.

EL: Got it.

AF: Yeah.

EL: Okay. That’s interesting.

AF: Yeah.

EL: So you’re all of sudden thrown into this chef world.

AF: Yeah.

EL: You’ve written one cookbook. What intrigued you about the world of chefs in general? Like what drew you to it?

AF: You know it’s funny. I … Once in a while, I’ll meet somebody new and they’ll gradually realize I have all these chefs in my life and they’ll be confused by that. And this is kind of a dated reference, but I’ll say look at this way. I’m Richie Cunningham and they’re all Arthur Fonzarelli. We shouldn’t-

EL: That’s a Happy Days reference. He’s showing his age.

AF: Right. We shouldn’t be friends but it works.

EL: Right.

AF: You know I … I just find these guys fascinating. I think these men and women are totally fascinating. I find … First of all, from a subject matter point of view … So I also write about tennis. Okay. Most tennis players’ biographies at some point become the same, which is they’re at an academy, they’re hitting thousands of balls a day, they start flying around to tournaments and that’s your life.

EL: Right.

AF: Chefs are like snowflakes. They’re … and I don’t mean it in the unfortunate political way-

EL: Right.

AF: People mean that. I mean no two are alike. The way people come to this profession, the way they develop their voice as I like to call it, their style, their palate, their knowledge base, their skillset, I like this sort of peripatetic nature of it. You kind of assemble your own curriculum as you go from job to job and often that means going all over the country or all over the world. I also … You know a lot of these, not all of them, but a lot of people … the word “misfit” is in the subtitle of my book. You know a lot of these people are people who kinda don’t fit in anywhere else in the world and the kitchen sort of saved them and I am someone who’s … I have a fairly conservative personality. I’m a very careful person and I find the sort of rough around the edges quality, the sort of unfiltered quality that a lot of these people have, I find it really appealing.

EL: Yeah.

AF: And I’m very often drawn to … There’s a guy and he’s opened the book that I just wrote. His name is Bruce Marger, he’s not very well-known, he’s not particularly well-liked. He’s not a social guy. He’s a brilliant chef and he’s more important than he’s ever been credited for and when I went out to interview him when I was in LA doing my research, I was a little afraid of this guy, and we’ve become really good friends.

EL: Yeah.

AF: My flight got canceled Friday night and I stayed with him and his wife-

EL: This last Friday night-

AF: No-

EL: You were out doing promotion for the book.

AF: For the book I was in LA, the last thing I was gonna do was have dinner with Bruce and his wife. They live not far from the airport and on the way to see him, my flight got canceled ’cause we had a nor’easter back east and they put me up. I spent the weekend at this guy’s house.

EL: Wow.

AF: And I just … I don’t know. Part of me wants to kinda watch out for these people a little bit. I feel I get them. I think they feel like I get them. I think I’m a fairly empathic person.

EL: Yeah.

AF: And I key into these people and I just kinda love them.

EL: Yeah.

AF: I do and they’ve become a huge part of my life.

EL: Yeah.

AF: I mean I don’t how else to … It sounds probably very corny but that’s just how it is.

EL: No, no.

AF: But you know?

EL: I know a fair number of chefs as you know.

AF: Yeah.

EL: Not like you do, but what is fascinating is how they all connect the dots differently.

AF: Yeah.

EL: As you say … You used a snowflake metaphor.

AF: Yeah.

EL: But that’s been interesting to me and the other thing that’s interesting to me and that you get into in the book, which we will get to shortly, is the sort of high-low aspect of chef’s minds, chefs’ thinking and chefs’ background.

AF: Now what do you mean by that?

EL: So a lot of guys like Chris Bianco right, came from a working class background, but he’s a poet. He’s the … I call him the poet laureate of pizza.

AF: Yeah. Right.

EL: And for a long time as you wrote in the book, chefs came from a pretty hardscrabble background.

AF: A lot of them, yeah.

EL: And … But then what happened, is you started having people who had gotten their PhDs in chemistry-

AF: Right.

EL: At Berkeley becoming chefs. So all of a sudden you have this collision of classes-

AF: Yeah.

EL: And collision of cultures and that’s one of the things that I’ve always been intrigued by and what’s drawn me. It’s the same thing that drew me to jazz musicians.

AF: Yeah. I get that. Sure.

EL: Jazz musicians have that same high-low thing. Right?

AF: Yeah.

EL: None of them are rich like rock stars but they had so much accrued wisdom that I just loved hanging out with them.

AF: Yeah. I just love how unfiltered a lot of these people are and the thing you just mentioned is really kind of amazing. That you could have a guy like Jeremiah Tower and who’s mixing with all these like high school dropouts and Jeremiah’s like a Harvard graduate with an architecture degree and grew up with a lot of money, traveling the world. But even felt this sort of … I think people who end up in kitchens very often feel just out of place elsewhere. So that’s interesting to me. The other fascinating … When you just said high-low, I thought you were gonna go somewhere else, which is … There’s this book called “White Heat.” Marco Pierre White before-

EL: Great book.

AF: Now a lot of people listening to this maybe just know him as this TV personality. Marco was I think the youngest person ever to get three Michelin stars.

EL: Yes. And famous for throwing a hotel pan of lasagna I believe at Mario Batali.

AF: Risotto.

EL: Risotto, okay.

AF: Yes, true. Yes, that’s a true story.

EL: Andrew is the only person in the world who could correct me.

AF: I’m sorry. Was that rude?

EL: No, it was awesome.

AF: Well you have the … You can edit it out.

EL: No, no. It’s awesome.

AF: Here, I’ll give you a different answer-

EL: No, no.

AF: Yes, lasagna.

EL: No.

AF: So he wrote this book White Heat years ago and White Heat was revolutionary because there were these beautiful pictures of plated food, like you’d see in restaurant of that caliber. But then there were these like kind of black and white, gritty, dungeonesque sort of kitchen shots right, and Marco smoking a cigarette and it kinda showed what was going on in the kitchen.

EL: Right. The curtain was being pulled back.

AF: Yes, but to me what’s fascinating and when you said high-low, is the dichotomy between what goes on in the kitchen, between how physical the work is, between the stress of a service and very often the circumstances of these people’s lives … Again, you mentioned the example of all these grad students and lawyers and all these people in my book who switched careers. That’s the minority. I mean a lot of people who end up in kitchens, honestly if they weren’t … if they didn’t become cooks, they might have just become like the town pot dealer. I mean literally, I’m not even joking. A lot of these people were the pot dealer at their high school.

EL: Right.

AF: It’s just … That’s not a joke.

EL: Yeah.

AF: That’s just a fact. But the contrast between what goes on in their lives and what goes on behind the door and then the beauty of what comes out on the plate, I think is … that is so fascinating to me.

EL: Yeah.

AF: That the same person who’s working in that circumstance, who very often came up in a very kinda hardscrabble existence, is capable of this … you used the word poet about Bianco, this sort of poetry on the plate.

EL: Yeah.

AF: It’s fascinating.

EL: When you take on an assignment to write a chef’s cookbook what are you looking for. You must be at this point inundated? There’s no shortage of people who want Andrew Friedman to write their book.

AF: Oh, thank you. Thank you.

EL: So what do you look for? What are the sign posts where you go, “Oh, yeah. I wanna do this.”

AF: Well first of all, thanks for the compliment. There’s a lot more competition than there used to be though.

EL: Yeah. Sure.

AF: I have to tell you.

EL: Yeah.

AF: The most important thing for me, I always … And I tell people this straight up if they call me and say, “I wanna do a book,” is a point of view. I tell people I cannot manufacture a point of view. If somebody comes to me and they … There’s this whole debate that’s been going on on my own podcast for the last several … two seasons, whether or not cooking is an art or a craft. I think it’s somewhere between the two to be honest, but putting that aside, I cannot manufacture a point of view. If somebody’s just coming to me with a collection of recipes, I can’t help them. I mean I could write the book, but I don’t wanna write that book. I’ve done too many books. It’ll seem phoned in, I need something that’s gonna engage me. So that’s priority one. Then I really need to feel like there’s a chemistry and I am often amazed where somebody will call me up and they just wanna know how much it costs to hire me. You know? And I always say-

EL: Whoa.

AF: “Dude, we gotta go out to dinner. We gotta go get a cocktail. We have to … We gotta have some time together.” How do you know we’re gonna get along?

EL: Right.

AF: How do you know I’m gonna get you? So there’s that. Those are the two main things and then I do … At this point, my greatest fear … When I started doing this … And again, we don’t need to name names, but I looked at the books out there by chefs and I felt like there was this sort of equivalent of what people called journalese. Like there was very kind of vanilla-

EL: Cookie cutter-ish.

AF: One size fits all collaborative style, which was just you were conveying the information but there was no effort being made to get the personality of the chef on the page. Right?

EL: Yeah.

AF: And to be honest, I ended up seeing that as a business opportunity for myself and now I think that’s much more normal, that people try to do that in chef cookbooks. I told this to a young writer of mine a couple years ago, you probably know her and very sarcastically she said to me, “Oh, you invented voice.” But I have to tell you, I’m sorry, before I … Honestly, go back pre 1997, 1998, it’s the one thing I pat myself on the back about. I don’t feel like chef cookbooks ever sounded like the chef.

EL: Yeah.

AF: I really don’t. I think that was-

EL: Yeah.

AF: So … But what I do now is I do try to sometimes find something new in the way of a subject matter or the chef themselves or … A couple of years ago, I did a book with the guys at Battersby and I really wanted that book. Why? Because they were barely 30. You know?

EL: Right.

AF: And I hadn’t worked with anyone that young in a while. Years ago Michelle Bernstein and I were doing a phone interview and she said … and I never met her at that point. She said, “I love the way you’re interviewing me. Can we talk about maybe doing a book?”, and I knew her by reputation and I was interested, but I was also interested ’cause I’d never ghosted for a woman before.

EL: Yeah.

AF: And I thought that would be interesting. So I do … I live in fear and this is why I brought up this sort of journalese thing. I never wanna be a hack, ever, for any job.

EL: Yeah.

AF: I never-

EL: I always just say I don’t ever wanna be bored.

AF: Yeah. I never wanna phone it in.

EL: Yeah.

AF: And if I’m gonna phone it in … You know years ago … I mean years ago when he was … When he first came to New York … I think I can say this … and was at 11 Madison under Danny Meyer, I had an interview with Daniel Humm. Okay. And I had just done a million cookbooks, I had just done the Chanterelle cookbook and I went and had dinner there and I met with him and I thought he was great. And I remember saying to my agent at the time, I said, “You know what? I’m burnt out right now. I can’t do a book with component recipes from a chef at this level. I just … It’s not gonna be fresh. I need a break. I need to step away.” I need to go write some memoirs or do something with much more simple food and I didn’t pursue the opportunity. I don’t know that he would’ve hired me and he ended up not doing the book for like a decade. But I really try to be sensitive to that ’cause I feel like if someone’s gonna hire you to collaborate, especially if it’s their first book, that is a sacred responsibility. I’ve thought about this a lot writing this book, I just wrote about a lot of chefs who weren’t practicing anymore or who aren’t with us anymore. I think cookbooks are kind of the … a chef’s one real shot at immortality.

EL: Yeah.

AF: And if you are gonna take that on, I think you really owe it to them to pour everything you’ve got into it, to not just take it as a job. And also from a business standpoint, as you know if somebody gets saddled with lousy sales numbers on their first book, there’s very little chance they’ll get to do another book.

EL: Yeah.

AF: So I take-

EL: So you take that responsibility seriously.

AF: I take it hugely seriously and I’ve passed up on … I’ve passed up on … Again, I don’t know if I would’ve been offered them, but I’ve passed up on some big interviews even ’cause I’m like I’m not there right now.

EL: Yeah.

AF: This is not the time for me to do that.

EL: Yeah. I mean would agree with you. I mean I’ve only written two chef cookbooks, Tom Douglas-

AF: Yeah.

EL: In Seattle and Dave Pasternack from Esca and so the voice thing obviously is something that I related to and that’s why I … I wanted to … I wanted to channel Dave Pasternack’s voice-

AF: Yeah, yeah.

EL: And Tom Douglas’ voice.

AF: Yeah.

EL: They had a really unique voice and the third thing that you didn’t mention that was really important to me, was a story. I needed a narrative thread in my head. You know like-

AF: Yeah.

EL: And again, I’ve written two, you’ve written two dozen, but that was really important to me.

AF: Yeah.

EL: And-

AF: That makes sense. Sure.

EL: You know it’s like … First of all again, if I’m gonna keep a reader interested-

AF: Yeah.

EL: I’ve gotta keep myself interested.

AF: You know what’s so funny? I’m a little ADD and I always tell people, if I can … Someone asked like what’s your barometer for pacing and stuff and I always say, “If I can stand to write it, I’m pretty sure someone will be able to read it.”

EL: Right. Exactly.

AF: Yeah.

EL: So … But did you know those two guys really well? Did those-

AF: Yes.

EL: Did those jobs come about out of friendship?

AF: Yes.

EL: They came out of friendship.

AF: Yeah, yeah.

EL: I had hired Tom Douglas when I put together a chef’s consulting team for Northwest Airlines.

AF: Okay.

EL: And I got to know him-

AF: Yeah.

EL: And I adore him-

AF: Yeah.

EL: And he’s one of my close friends today.

AF: Okay. Yeah.

EL: You know?

AF: Great chef.

EL: And Dave Pasternack was another person who I just go to know because he’d come out right, and he’d tell you, “Oh, yeah this fish like … We were in this inlet. It’s not far from Long Beach. It’s the only place you can get these and these fish only eat tiny shrimp that only …” And it’s just what?

AF: Yeah.

EL: And I was like wow, this is amazing. He had this Damon Runyan-esque … you know …

AF: Yeah.

EL: Delivery.

AF: Yeah.

EL: And so I was like wow, this is like … I just wanna channel this guy-

AF: Yeah.

EL: And write his story.

AF: Yeah, yeah. That’s great.

EL: The recipes were almost-

AF: Look at you. You’re all excited about it still.

EL: Yeah, I know.

AF: That’s great.

EL: I do and I love Dave and I still love Tom.

AF: Yeah.

EL: They’re both really … They are friends let’s just say-

AF: Can we just say though for any chefs who are listening to this. You need to find collaborators who are talking the way we’re talking about you.

EL: Yeah.

AF: If you don’t feel that from somebody keep looking.

EL: Yeah. That’s true. I can’t believe this, man. Like we haven’t even gotten to Chefs, Drugs-

AF: That’s all right.

EL: And Rock and Roll. So we’re gonna wrap up part one of the Andrew Friedman chronicles and plow on through to what will be part two. But for now, so long Serious Eaters.