A Q&A with Michael Ruhlman on “The Elements of Cooking”

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Of all the things that’ve happened to me since starting my blog, perhaps the most surprising and flattering and ennobling (if that’s the right word) has been the very vocal support I’ve received from one of my food writing heroes, Michael Ruhlman. Before he and I ever made contact, I was a huge fan of his book “The Soul of a Chef” which is a thrilling, page-turning account of his time at the master chef program at the C.I.A., as well as a probing portrait of Chef Michael Symon (who he’d eventually judge on “Next Iron Chef”) and the incomparable Thomas Keller. What makes the book great is Ruhlman’s lack of pretense: he does what a good storyteller must, dissolves himself into the background and allows the story to develop naturally. His clarity, his precision, his deftness have caused critics to label him an “elegant” writer and I think that word is incredibly fitting. He’s got real class–the effortless sort, not the forced kind you see with someone like that sommelier Stephen on Season One of “Top Chef.” He’s also incredibly generous (my grandmother would call him a “mensch”): he’s given me great advice over the past year, treating me more like a colleague than a protege and even turning to me for advice with his own career. All of this has meant a great deal to me in my journey from food writing hobbyist to food writing professional–I couldn’t ask for a better mentor.

Now I’m in the excellent position of getting to share with you my enthusiasm for Michael’s newest book, “The Elements of Cooking.” This book is almost written precisely for me (and probably you): after all the home cooking I’ve done, the cookbook reading and Food TV watching, this is the proverbial “next step.” It’s a cooking school you can put in your pocket and at 242 pages (49 pages of which are essays/instruction, the rest being a glossary) it’s a wildly efficient breakdown of what “real chefs” do and how you can put these classic techniques to use at home. The essentials boil down to six basic categories: stock, sauce, salt, the egg, heat and tools. Master these categories and you’re well on your way to producing restaurant-quality food at home; they’re building blocks that, once put to use, can be (and should be) used over and over again forever.

Michael Ruhlman was kind enough to let me e-mail interview him for the book and what follows is our exchange. I hope it inspires you to buy his book which will, I believe, become a mandatory staple for any passionate home cook.

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