Monday, September 15, 2008

Reading (and Eating) Ruhlman

Many years ago, my best friend Paul gave me a book that would open a new page for me culinarily. It was written by Michael Ruhlman, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) in Hyde Park, New York. Ruhlman wrote a trio of books, each an account of his experiences at the CIA and of the people he met during his two year study. 

With the first book, The Making of a Chef, Ruhlman invites readers inside the CIA, introducing the instructors and students in addition to describing the day to day regimen in the classroom and kitchen. This book inspired me to visit the CIA for a personal exploration of the campus and restaurants. Savoring the innovative menus at the student-run restaurants along the way, I returned two more times for kitchen equipment, supplies, and authentic chef duds.

In Part One of the second book, The Soul of a Chef, Ruhlman explores the Certified Master Chef Exam, in which chefs attempt to earn the title of Certified Master Chef. This is no easy feat. It involves a ten day competitive examination from which few chefs ever emerge victorious. Part Two tells the story of one of Cleveland's most beloved restaurants, Lola, and the equally reputable chef/owner Michael Symon, who is most commonly known as Iron Chef Symon. 

In the third book, The Reach of a Chef, Ruhlman takes the reader into the kitchens and everyday lives of professional chefs, giving his audience an in-depth profile of the phenomena surrounding todays celebrity chefs. Ruhlman's style is clever, humorous and down to earth, making these books a must read for every food lover.

Since reading his books, Ruhlman has become one of my favorite writers not only for his food writing and cookbooks (like The French Laundry Cookbook, Charcuterie and A Return to Cooking, which he co-authored with other chefs), but also for his nonfiction work. My favorite, House: A Memoir, is a charming tale of the author's quest for a house for his family, a story that resonated with me personally. 

Ruhlman's most resent book, The Elements of Cooking, demystifies the professional jargon of the kitchen for the everyday cook. It is a thesaurus for food and cooking terms that also gives definitions of both culinary techniques and ingredients. Helping to answer the quandaries related to the culinary arts, this easy read assists the home chef in obtaining a better understanding of food and cooking.

On August 9, 2008 Michael's father, Richard Morgan Ruhlman (Rip), passed away in Michael's home. On August 11, 2008 Michael fulfilled his commitment to the Chautauqua Institution by appearing in front of 3000 people to give a lecture on sustainable food. Along with him in attendance was his wife Donna, their two children and his mother. Here is a man who, in the troughs of grief, set an example for his children, by teaching them how to be strong and courageous. Rip would be very proud indeed. 

At a book signing later that day, I had the great pleasure to meet Michael. He was very gracious and signed two of my books, one of them House: A Memoir. Although I felt that I was in the presence of greatness, Michael is disarming with his very humble nature. I found that to be endearing. 

Thank you, Michael for the value that you put into your work. It makes the world a much better place. Please know that I share the grief of you and your family, and that I wish you peace.


Holy flame
By any name-
Creator, Terminator,

Receive this praise,
The due of days
Of hobbled terror, healing:

Your muffled light,
Its comrade night
Swept outward, forward, farther 
                                                                    Reynolds Price


Paul R said...

Nice article; one of my favorite books too! Maybe it's time to visit the CIA.

LIVE TO EAT said...

Great,Paul let's do it soon.

Christa Seychew said...

Thank God Buffalo has a new food blog!

It's about time we heard from someone with a commitment to writing and a broad knowledge of both lowbrow and highbrow cuisine.

Buffalonians are hungry for local food blogs, but there just aren't many that are maintained and posted to on a regular basis. I'm looking forward to reading you often!

LIVE TO EAT said...

Thanks, Christa.

You are, in large part, a reason I started this blog. You are an inspiration to many readers, most undoubtedly me.

Rachel said...

Welcome to the blogosphere! So glad you're putting your energy in this direction- can't wait to read more. :)

LIVE TO EAT said...

Thanks for reading, Rachel. Having a writer who I respect read my blog is truly an honor.