Photo © Donna Taylor Ruhlman
In the author's own words:
I was born in 1963 in Cleveland, Ohio. After graduating from Duke University in 1985 with a BA in English Literature, I worked for The New York Times as a newsroom copyboy. I left before two years had passed to pursue a desultory life of travel, writing, and odd jobs, returning to Cleveland in 1991. Here I found work as an editor at a local magazine that covered Cleveland's cultural scene, for which I wrote an article about the man who had become headmaster of my high school, a private boys' school. This article began my first book, Boys Themselves (1996).
A devoted amateur cook since fourth grade, I proposed to the Culinary Institute of America, the oldest and most influential professional cooking school in the country, that I be allowed into its kitchen classrooms in order to write a narrative of how the school trains professional chefs. The school agreed, and I wrote The Making of a Chef (1997).
I became so fascinated by the work of the professional cook and the culture of the restaurant kitchen that I continued to pursue the work, punching a clock briefly as a line cook, then writing a book about chefs and cooking, The Soul of a Chef (2000). I co-wrote The French Laundry Cookbook (2000) with Thomas Keller at the same time, and he and I subsequently wrote a food column for the Los Angeles Times for two years.
In February 1999, I moved with my family to Martha's Vineyard to research and report on life at a yard making plank-on-frame boats for the book Wooden Boats (2001). In October 2000, I began work at the Cleveland Clinic's Children's Hospital for the book Walk on Water (2003), which I wrote concurrently with A Return to Cooking (2002), with Eric Ripert, chef-owner of Le Bernardin, the Manhattan four-star restaurant.
I continue to live in Cleveland and am currently working on another book with Keller and the others from the French Laundry Cookbook team, about French comfort food, as well as a cookbook with Brian Polcyn on charcuterie for the home cook—a love song to the pig, to animal fat and salt, sausages, confits, pates, terrines. I'm also writing a non-fiction narrative about house and home. When this work is done, I hope to return to the chef world for more reportage on the work of professional cooking.
The Book of Schmaltz
Long Song to a Forgotten Fat
Little, Brown, 2013
For culinary expert Michael Ruhlman, the ultimate goal in cooking is flavor, and for certain dishes nothing introduces it half as well as schmaltz. A staple ingredient in traditional Jewish cuisine, schmaltz (or rendered chicken fat), is at risk of disappearing from use due to modern dietary trends and misperceptions about this versatile and flavor-packed ingredient.
THE BOOK OF SCHMALTZ acts as a primer on schmaltz, taking a fresh look at traditional dishes like kugel, kishke, and kreplach, and also venturing into contemporary recipes that take advantage of the versatility of this marvelous fat. Potatoes cooked with schmaltz take on a crispness and satisfying flavor that vegetable oil can't produce. Meats and starches have a depth and complexity that set them apart from the same dishes prepared with olive oil or butter.
What's more, schmaltz provides a unique link to the past that ought to be preserved. "Schmaltz is like a thread that runs through a great tapestry," says Ruhlman's neighbor Lois, whose cooking inspired his own journey into the world of schmaltz. "It's a secret handshake among Jews who love to cook and eat."
20 Techniques 100 Recipes A Cook's Manifesto
Chronicle Books, 2011
Rare is the cookbook that redefines how we cook. And rare is the author who can do so with the ease and expertise of acclaimed writer and culinary authority Michael Ruhlman. Twenty distills Ruhlman's decades of cooking, writing, and working with the world's greatest chefs into twenty essential ideas from ingredients to processes to attitude that are guaranteed to make every cook more accomplished. Whether cooking a multi-course meal, the juiciest roast chicken, or just some really good scrambled eggs, Ruhlman reveals how a cook s success boils down to the same twenty concepts. With the illuminating expertise that has made him one of the most esteemed food journalists, Ruhlman explains the hows and whys of each concept and reinforces those discoveries through 100 recipes for everything from soups to desserts, all detailed in over 300 photographs. Cooks of all levels will revel in Ruhlman s game-changing Twenty.
The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking
When you know a ratio, it's not like knowing a single recipe, it's instantly knowing a thousand.
In Ratio, Michael Ruhlman, recognized as one of the great translators of the chef's craft for both home cooks and culinary professionals, shows how cooking with ratios will unchain you from recipes and set you free. Ratio is the truth of cooking: basic preparations that teach us how the fundamental ingredients of the kitchen—water, flour, butter and oils, milk and cream, and eggs—work. Detailing thirty-three essential ratios and suggesting enticing variations, Ruhlman empowers every cook to make countless doughs, batters, stocks, sauces, meats, and custards without ever again having to locate a recipe.
The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing
W.W. Norton, 2005
Charcuterie—a culinary specialty that originally referred to the creation of pork products such as salami, sausages, and prosciutto—is true food craftsmanship, the art of turning preserved food into items of beauty and taste. Today the term encompasses a vast range of preparations, most of which involve salting, cooking, smoking, and drying. In addition to providing classic recipes for sausages, terrines, and pâtés, Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn expand the definition to include anything preserved or prepared ahead such as Mediterranean olive and vegetable rillettes, duck confit, and pickles and sauerkraut. Ruhlman, coauthor of The French Laundry Cookbook, and Polcyn, an expert charcuterie instructor at Schoolcraft College in Livonia, Michigan, present 125 recipes that are both intriguing to professionals and accessible to home cooks, including salted, airdried ham; Maryland crab, scallop, and saffron terrine; Da Bomb breakfast sausage; mortadella and soppressata; and even spicy smoked almonds.
The Making of a Chef:
Mastering Heat at the Culinary Institute of America
Holt Paperbacks, 2009
Just over a decade ago, journalist Michael Ruhlman donned a chef's jacket and houndstooth-check pants to join the students at the Culinary Institute of America, the country's oldest and most influential cooking school. But The Making of a Chef is not just about holding a knife or slicing an onion; it's also about the nature and spirit of being a professional cook and the people who enter the profession. As Ruhlman—now an expert on the fundamentals of cooking—recounts his growing mastery of the skills of his adopted profession, he propels himself and his readers through a score of kitchens and classrooms in search of the elusive, unnameable elements of great food.
Incisively reported, with an insider's passion and attention to detail, The Making of a Chef remains the most vivid and compelling memoir of a professional culinary education on record.
The Soul of a Chef:
The Journey Toward Perfection
In his second in-depth foray into the world of professional cooking, Michael Ruhlman journeys into the heart of the profession. Observing the rigorous Certified Master Chef exam at the Culinary Institute of America, the most influential cooking school in the country, Ruhlman enters the lives and kitchens of rising star Michael Symon and renowned Thomas Keller of the French Laundry. This fascinating book will satisfy any reader's hunger for knowledge about cooking and food, the secrets of successful chefs, at what point cooking becomes an art form, and more. Like Ruhlman's The Making of a Chef, this is an instant classic in food writing-one of the fastest growing and most popular subjects today.
The Elements of Cooking:
Translating the Chef's Craft for Every Kitchen
In The Elements of Cooking, New York Times bestselling author Michael Ruhlman deconstructs the essential knowledge of the kitchen to reveal what professional chefs know only after years of training and experience. With alphabetically ordered entries and eight beautifully written essays, Ruhlman outlines what it takes to cook well: understanding heat, using the right tools, cooking with eggs, making stock, making sauce, salting food, what a cook should read, and exploring the most important skill to have in the kitchen, finesse. The Elements of Cooking gives everyone the tools they need to go from being a good cook to a great one.
The Reach of a Chef:
Professional Cooks in the Age of Celebrity
For his previous explorations into the restaurant kitchen and the men and women who call it home, Michael Ruhlman has been described by Anthony Bourdain as "the greatest living writer on the subject of chefs, and on the business of preparing food." In The Reach of a Chef, Ruhlman examines the profound shift in American culture that has raised restaurant cooking to the level of performance art and the status of the chef to celebrity CEO. Bibliophiles and foodies alike will savor this intimate meeting with some of the most famous chefs in the kitchens of the hottest restaurants in the world.
The Craft of Italian Dry Curing
W.W. Norton, 2012
Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn inspired a revival of artisanal sausage making and bacon curing with their surprise hit, Charcuterie. Now they delve deep into the Italian side of the craft with Salumi, a book that explores and simplifies the recipes and techniques of dry curing meats. As the sources and methods of making our food have become a national discussion, an increasing number of cooks and professional chefs long to learn fundamental methods of preparing meats in the traditional way. Ruhlman and Polcyn give recipes for the eight basic products in Italy's pork salumi repertoire: guanciale, coppa, spalla, lardo, lonza, pancetta, prosciutto, and salami, and they even show us how to butcher a hog in the Italian and American ways. This book provides a thorough understanding of salumi, with 100 recipes and illustrations of the art of ancient methods made modern and new.
The French Laundry Cookbook
Co-authored with Thomas Keller. Photography by Deborah Jones
Thomas Keller, chef/proprieter of the French Laundry in the Napa Valley—"the most exciting place to eat in the United States," wrote Ruth Reichl in The New York Times—is a wizard, a purist, a man obsessed with getting it right. And this, his first cookbook, is every bit as satisfying as a French Laundry meal itself: a series of small, impeccable, highly refined, intensely focused courses.
Most dazzling is how simple Keller's methods are: squeegeeing the moisture from the skin on fish so it sautées beautifully; poaching eggs in a deep pot of water for perfect shape; the initial steeping in the shell that makes cooking raw lobster out of the shell a cinch; using vinegar as a flavor enhancer; the repeated washing of bones for stock for the cleanest, clearest tastes.
From innovative soup techniques, to the proper way to cook green vegetables, to secrets of great fish cookery, to the creation of breathtaking desserts; from beurre monté to foie gras au torchon, to a wild and thoroughly unexpected take on coffee and doughnuts, The French Laundry Cookbook captures, through recipes, essays, profiles, and extraordinary photography, one of America's great restaurants, its great chef, and the food that makes both unique.
One hundred and fifty superlative recipes are exact recipes from the French Laundry kitchen—no shortcuts have been taken, no critical steps ignored, all have been thoroughly tested in home kitchens. If you can't get to the French Laundry, you can now re-create at home the very experience the Wine Spectator described as "as close to dining perfection as it gets."
A Return to Cooking
Co-authored with Eric Ripert
Spontaneous meals at home with friends form the foundation of this dazzling collection of recipes that are easy enough for novices yet so inspired they could be restaurant-worthy. The result of a rare sabbatical from this famed chef's 4-star kitchen, A Return to Cooking is "an unprecedented look at the creative process of one of the world's best chefs" (Anthony Bourdain) as Eric Ripert prepares simple meals for friends in different locations, using ingredients at hand.
Expect to be enchanted by Eric's lack of pretense and his irrepressible joie—a chef who likes American mayonnaise and alphabet pasta, but can also lecture on subjects as diverse as the power of vinaigrette and the merits of Tabasco, shallots, and coconut milk. And every bit as fascinating is the bird's-eye view of the magic that occurs when decades of cooking experience coalesce with the forces of a chef's intuition.
An acclaimed journalist who has written about everything from chefs to pediatric surgeons now turns his attention to the subject of home. In 2001 Michael and Donna Ruhlman purchased a 100-year-old house in suburban Cleveland. Then they set about making it their own. In relating this story—whose details he invests with novelistic drama—Ruhlman moves readers to consider what "home" means in a nation of vagabonds: why Americans long for a home of their own even as they feel compelled to move on. Here, too, is a deft unraveling of the relationship between a physical structure and the family life that transpires inside it. Thoughtful, elegant, and provocative, House is a must for prospective homebuyers and lovers of bravura journalism.
Walk on Water:
The Miracle of Saving Children's Lives
Described by one surgeon as "soul-crushing, diamond-making stress," surgery on congenital heart defects is arguably the most difficult of all surgical specialties. Drawing back the hospital curtain for a unique and captivating look at the extraordinary skill and dangerous politics of critical surgery in a pediatric heart center, Michael Ruhlman focuses on the world-renowned Cleveland Clinic, where a team of medical specialists—led by idiosyncratic virtuoso Dr. Roger Mee—work on the edge of disaster on a daily basis. Walk on Water offers a rare and dramatic glimpse into a world where the health of innocent children and the hopes of white-knuckled families rest in the hands of all-too-human doctors.
In Pursuit of the Perfect Craft at an American Boatyard
There are fewer than 10,000 wooden boats in America, but the circulation of WoodenBoat magazine exceeds 180,000. What is it about these boats that has captured the popular imagination? With his "lively blend of reportage [and] reflection" (Los Angeles Times), Michael Ruhlman sets off for a renowned boatyard in Martha's Vineyard to follow the construction of two boats—Rebecca, a 60-foot modern pleasure schooner, and Elisa Lee, a 32-foot powerboat. Filled with exquisite details and stories of the sea, this exciting exploration of a nearly forgotten craft and the colorful personalities involved will enthrall wooden boat owners as well as craftspeople of every stripe, nature enthusiasts, and fans of compelling nonfiction.
"A naturally curious and intelligent cook, Michael has amassed a vast amount of culinary knowledge through his many years being around and writing about food. In his newest book Ruhlman's Twenty he has distilled everything down to the most essential 20 techniques that will help build solid skills and a positive outlook in the kitchen. It is a great resource." -Thomas Keller, chef/owner of The French Laundry
"I'm not sure if Michael Ruhlman is a great writer who cooks or a great cook who writes, but either way he always manages to make my favorite thing: good sense. With Ruhlman's Twenty he makes sense of just about anything and everything that can happen in a kitchen by boiling it all down to twenty elemental concepts, stunningly presented in concise and useful clarity." -Alton Brown, host of Good Eats and author of I'm Just Here for the Food
"There is something smart, useful and important to learn from each remarkable chapter of Ruhlman's Twenty. Whether you've cooked all your life or you've just come into the kitchen, you're bound to be changed by this book." -Dorie Greenspan, author of Around My French Table
Ruhlman, who explained the basic ingredients, tools, and cookbooks essential to the home chef in The Elements of Cooking (2007), now offers an illuminating read on the magic numbers that lie at the heart of basic cookery. He divides the book into five parts (doughs, stocks, sausages, sauces, and custards). In each section he explains what essential properties make the ratios work and the subtle variations that differentiate, for instance, a bread dough (five parts flour, three parts water) from a biscuit dough (three parts flour, one part fat, two parts liquid). While making his case that "possessing one small bit of crystalline information can open up a world of practical applications" gets a little repetitive, it's certainly a lesson worth taking to heart. This revealing and remarkably accessible read offers indispensible information for those ready to cook by the seat of their pants; with a handy grasp of these ratios (and a dash of technique), willing chefs should have no excuse to remain tethered to recipe cards and cookbooks. --Ian Chipman
From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Without the faintest hint of apology, Ruhlman and Polcyn present an arsenal of recipes that take hours, and sometimes days, to prepare; are loaded with fat; and, if ill-prepared, can lead to botulism. The result is one of the most intriguing and important cookbooks published this year. Ruhlman (The Soul of a Chef) is a food poet, and the pig is his muse. On witnessing a plate of cold cuts in Italy, he is awed by "the way the sunlight hit the fat of the dried meats, the way it glistened, the beauty of the meat." He relates and refines the work of Polcyn, a chef-instructor at a college in Livonia, Mich., who butchers a whole hog "every couple weeks for his students." Together, they make holy the art of stuffing a sausage, the brining of a corned beef and the poaching of a salted meat in its own fat. An extensive chapter on pâtés and terrines is entitled "The Cinderella Meat Loaf" and runs the gamut from exotic Venison Terrine with Dried Cherries to hearty English Pork Pie with a crust made from both lard and butter. And while there's no shortage of lyricism, science plays an equally important role. Everyone knows salt is a preservative, for example, but here we learn exactly how it does its job. And a section on safety issues weighs the dangers of nitrites and explains the difference between good white mold and the dangerous, green, fuzzy stuff. Line drawings. Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
The Making of a Chef
The Culinary Institute of America is known as "the Harvard of cooking schools" and many of this country's best-known chefs are graduates. Ruhlman enrolled as a student with the intention of writing this book, which begins as a chronicle of the intense, high-pressure grind of classes and cooking. However, it turns into an engrossing personal account as, his every effort critiqued, the author determines to become a student and not just impersonate one... The appendix offers a chart showing the course work for associate degrees. This will appeal to anyone aspiring to a career as a chef as well as to those interested in food preparation, presentation, and the restaurant industry in America. --Patricia Noonan, Prince William Public Library, VA
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.
The Soul of a Chef
Following on his previous intimate look into the lives of students and teachers at the Culinary Institute of America, Ruhlman now examines those driven individuals who aspire to culinary perfection. One road to perfection runs through the CIA's Certified Master Chef program. Ruhlman records the successes and failures of a diverse handful of young aspirants through the rigors of the 10-day examination. Ruhlman has favorites among these ambitious kitchen monarchs, but that doesn't detract from his ability to make the reader feel each slip of the knife, each lapse in reproducing a dish exactly as the legendary Escoffier would have presented it. The book's second section takes readers through the development of a Cleveland restaurant, Lola, whose chef draws on his CIA education and his early restaurant experiences. Finally, Ruhlman finds putative perfection at Thomas Keller's French Laundry, the revered Napa Valley restaurant. --Mark Knoblauch. Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
In his home kitchen, Michael discusses the ease of using Ratio as the basis for cooking most anything without using a recipe. Plus, there's pizza for the family.
Michael Ruhlman on "What I Learned at The French Laundry"
Also visit Michael's personal website for the latest news, events, and other information.