kottke.org posts about Michael Ruhlman
New from Michael Ruhlman: a cookbook about the mighty egg, “A Culinary Exploration of the World’s Most Versatile Ingredient”.
For culinary visionary Michael Ruhlman, the question is not whether the chicken or the egg came first, it’s how anything could be accomplished in the kitchen without the magic of the common egg. He starts with perfect poached and scrambled eggs and builds up to brioche and Italian meringue. Along the way readers learn to make their own mayonnaise, pasta, custards, quiches, cakes, and other preparations that rely fundamentally on the hidden powers of the egg.
Ruhlman shares a bit about the book with NPR:
But often, Ruhlman argues, we don’t treat our eggs very well. Take scrambled eggs. “It’s one of the most overcooked dishes in America,” he says. “We kill our eggs with heat.”
Instead, we need, in most instances, to give the egg gentle heat. “When you cook them very slowly over very gentle heat, the curds form. And as you sit, the rest of the egg sort of warms but doesn’t fully cook and becomes a sauce for the curds. So it should be a creamy and delicious and delicate preparation.”
Michael Ruhlman uses a spoon of his own design for making perfect poached eggs.
In On Food and Cooking, Harold McGee notes that there is a liquidy part of the egg white and a viscous one. If you let the liquidy part drain, before poaching, you will have a beautiful poached egg. (People tell you to put vinegar or lemon juice in poaching water — this does nothing in my experience.) The problem was, my perforated spoons were so shallow the egg always wanted to jump out. No longer. The deep bowl of The Badass Perf spoon easily contains even a jumbo egg, as well as heaps of beans, vegetables, and pasta.
Michael Ruhlman is turning his Ratio cookbook into an iPhone app.
The best-selling cookbook […] is soon to be an iPhone app that will help you calculate amounts of ingredients in all the fundamental culinary preparations. When you know a ratio, you don’t know a recipe, you know 1,000. And this application does all the calculating for you.
Nice move…an iPhone app is perhaps a better expression of the subject matter than a book.
Michael Ruhlman announces the winners of his BLT From Scratch contest.
From scratch means: You grow your tomato, you grow your lettuce, you cure your own bacon or pancetta, you bake your own bread (wild yeast preferred and gets higher marks but is not required), you make your own mayo. All other embellishments, creative interpretations of the BLT welcome.
Don’t miss the winner’s BLT flow chart; he made his own sea salt from sea water.
Even though Michael Ruhlman had heard it all before, Food Inc. packed a powerful punch for him and his son.
Indeed his response will mirror that of most other people who see this movie. Upon leaving the theater, James said, “That was a really good movie, Dad. (pause) Kind of makes you want to be a vegetarian. (pause) Kind of makes you not want to eat.”
Here’s the trailer for Food, Inc.
Challenged to enjoy the food at The Cheesecake Factory, Michael Ruhlman finds some good dishes and a not so good overall impression.
The fact that any of the 146 [Cheesecake Factory restaurants] around the country can put out this astonishing variety of food is an impressive work of corporate organization and efficiency.
If you’re daunted by The French Laundry Cookbook and Under Pressure, Thomas Keller is coming out with a more accessible cookbook based on his casual Yountville restaurant: Ad Hoc at Home.
Keller showcases dishes that can be made every day (and not just for special occasions). Invaluable lessons, secrets, tips and tricks — as well as charming personal anecdotes — accompany recipes for such classics as the best fried chicken, beef Stroganoff, roasted spring leg of lamb, hamburger, the crispiest fried fish, chicken soup with dumplings, potato hash with bacon and melted onions, and superlative grilled cheese sandwiches, apple fritters, buttermilk biscuits, relishes and pickles, cherry pie — 200 recipes in all.
It’s due November 1. Ruhlman, did you have a hand in this one?
Update: Ruhlman says “yes”.
Michael Ruhlman announces that his newest book is available for sale. It’s called Ratio: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking.
We have been trained in America to believe that we can’t cook unless we have a recipe in hand. I am not saying recipes are bad or wrong — I use them all the time; there are plenty of recipes in the new book — but when we rely completely on recipes, we cooks do ourselves a grave disservice. We remain chained to the ground, we remain dependent on our chains. When you are dependent on recipes, you are a factory worker on the assembly line; when you possess ratios and basic technique, you own the company.
With this book, Ruhlman aims to to improve the home cook’s comfort level in the kitchen and provide a blueprint for a way of cooking that is less restrictive and more improvisational than following recipes. I haven’t seen Ratio yet, but Ruhlman’s “…of a Chef” trilogy are some of my favorite books. If you want a signed copy of Ratio (or any of his other books), you can order one directly from his site.
Michael Ruhlman has some photos of the Alinea book in the wild. Though possibly biased, he says it’s a beaut.
Grant and his partner Nick Kokonas, along with designer Martin Kastner and his wife, photographer Lara Kastner, wanted to do it on their own and so they have. Kastner, I believe a sculptor by trade, had never designed a book. His wife had never photographed a book, food or otherwise. Grant and Nick had never done a book either. And they were told by numerous publishers (in a nasally dismissive tone, Kokonas suggested) that they just didn’t have the skill or experience to do what they wanted to (“Gray pages?! You can’t do gray pages!” “You can’t sell a book like this at that price.”)
As mentioned in the post, the Alinea book is only $31.50 if you order through Amazon.
Another new book out in the fall is Thomas Keller’s Under Pressure, the chef’s long-awaited cookbook on sous vide cooking.
In “Under Pressure”, Thomas Keller shows us how sous vide, which involves packing food in airtight plastic bags and cooking at low heat, achieves results that other cooking methods simply cannot — in flavor and precision. For example, steak that is a perfect medium rare from top to bottom; and meltingly tender yet medium rare short ribs that haven’t lost their flavor to the sauce. Fish, which has a small window of doneness, is easier to finesse, and salmon develops a voluptuous texture when cooked at a low temperature. Fruit and vegetables benefit too, retaining their bright colors while achieving remarkable textures. There is wonderment in cooking sous vide — in the ease and precision (salmon cooked at 123 degrees versus 120 degrees!) and the capacity to cook a piece of meat (or glaze carrots, or poach lobster) uniformly.
Under Pressure is out October 1, 2008 and plays Bowie when you open the cover. Keller and Michael Ruhlman have also begun work on a book that “will focus on family-style cooking, in the style of Ad Hoc, and great food to cook at home”.
This week’s New Yorker has a profile of David Chang, chef/owner of the Momofuku family of restaurants. The profile isn’t online but Ed Levine has a nice write-up with some quotes.
Just because we’re not Per Se, just because we’re not Daniel, just because we’re not a four-star restaurant, why can’t we have the same fucking standards? If we start being accountable for not only our own actions but for everyone else’s actions, we’re gonna do some awesome shit. […] I know we’ve won awards, all this stuff, but it’s not because we’re doing something special — I believe it’s really because we care more than the next guy.
Reading the article, it appears that Chang is using Michael Ruhlman’s The Soul of a Chef as a playbook here. Caring more than the next guy is right out of the Thomas Keller section of the book…with his perfectly cut green tape and fish swimming the correct way on ice, no one cares more than Keller.
Michael Ruhlman is partially responsible (along with my wife, Jeffrey Steingarten, Thomas Keller, Bryan Boyer, and Lance Arthur) for my interest in food. His The Making of a Chef and The Soul of a Chef are two of my favorite books on the subject. His latest is The Elements of Cooking, a Strunk and White’s for the kitchen. Ruhlman explains who this book is for:
Every home cook who cares about getting better and every soul who is in or about to attend culinary school. I want all the young cooks who never went to culinary school and have always been nagged by the not-knowing-what-they-missed (probably not as much as they imagine) to buy it. I want every chef to buy it for his or her line cooks. And maybe most of all, beginners — I can’t imagine a better starting reference for cooking terms to go along with other food books. I want every professional cook to buy it for the people who cook for them when they’re not at work. In short I want everyone who cares about cooking to buy this book.
Great rant from Michael Ruhlman about the ethics of eating. “Beyond the fact that our current hand-wringing foreshadows an America that increasingly regulates how we live our lives, which is scary enough, the more insidious danger to me is that we think clams and ducks and lobsters are people too.”
Update: Anthony Bourdain responds to Ruhlman’s rant.
Chef/writer Anthony Bourdain turned 50 the other day so his friends threw him a big party; Michael Ruhlman surveys the scene.
Michael Ruhlman is guest-blogging up a storm over at Megnut. Ruhlman is the author Soul of a Chef and (with Thomas Keller) of The French Laundry Cookbook, among many others.
eGullet recently interviewed author Michael Ruhlman and he had this to say about what he liked about working in a professional kitchen:
You can’t lie in a kitchen — that’s what I like most about it. You’re either ready or you’re not, you’re either clean or you’re a mess. You’re either good or you’re bad. You can’t lie. If you lie, it’s obvious. If your food’s not ready, then it’s not ready. If you’re in the weeds, its clear to everybody — you can’t say that you aren’t. So I love that aspect of it. I love the immediacy of it, the vitality of it.
I’ve worked in a number of different places over the years and the ones I ended up liking the least were the places that allowed people (myself included) to hide. Some companies just have way too many people for the amount of available work. Other times, particular employees have a certain status within the organization that allows them to determine their own schedules and projects. Deadlines are often malleable, meaning that work can pushed off. Inexperienced or nontechnical managers might not have a clue how long a task should take a programmer…budgeting 2 weeks for a six-hour task that seems hard buys one a lot of blog-surfing time. Companies with coasting employees are everything a kitchen isn’t; they just feel slow, wasteful, lifeless, and eventually they suck the life out of you too.
As competitive and crazy as he makes the CIA (Culinary Institute of America) sound, I was surprised that, even though he didn’t attend a full slate of classes or do an externship like all of his classmates, Ruhlman was not only able to keep up with everyone, but seemed to excel at times. And somehow, he was able to take notes about what he was doing and conversations he had with instructors and classmates.