Ruhlman, Michael 1963-
Ruhlman, Michael 1963-
Born 1963, in Cleveland, OH; married; wife's name Donna (a photographer); children: one daughter. Education: Duke University, B.A., 1985. Hobbies and other interests: Cooking.
Home—Cleveland Heights, OH. E-mail—[email protected]
Journalist and writer. Worked for New York Times as a newsroom copyboy and at a Cleveland magazine covering Cleveland's cultural scene.
Nominated for James Beard Award for food writing, for The Making of a Chef: Mastering Heat at the Culinary Institute of America; three awards from International Association of Culinary Professionals, for The French Laundry Cookbook; James Beard Award, for "An Alphabet Test of Nerves."
Boys Themselves: A Return to Single-Sex Education, Holt (New York, NY), 1996.
The Making of a Chef: Mastering Heat at the Culinary Institute of America, Holt (New York, NY), 1997.
(With Susie Heller, Deborah Jones, and Thomas Keller) The French Laundry Cookbook, Artisan (New York, NY), 1999.
The Soul of the Chef: The Journey toward Perfection, Viking (New York, NY), 2000.
Wooden Boats: In Pursuit of the Perfect Craft at an American Boatyard, Viking (New York, NY), 2001.
(With Eric Ripert) A Return to Cooking: The Chef, the Cook, and the Artist, Artisan (New York, NY), 2002.
Walk on Water: Inside an Elite Pediatric Surgical Unit, Viking (New York, NY), 2003.
(With Brian Polcyn) Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing, illustrated by Yevgeniy Solovyev, W.W. Norton (New York, NY), 2005.
House: A Memoir, Viking (New York, NY), 2005.
The Reach of a Chef: Beyond the Kitchen, Viking (New York, NY), 2006.
The Elements of Cooking: An Approach to Style, Scribner (New York, NY), 2007.
Also author of the Blog Ruhlman at http://blog.ruhlman.com. Contributor of feature articles to Food Arts, Gourmet, the New York Times, and the Los Angeles Times.
Michael Ruhlman grew up in Ohio and graduated from the University School in Cleveland in 1981. He is a professional chef and has written a number of books dealing with food and cooking. He has also written on the search for perfection in a number of different fields and crafts.
For his first book Ruhlman revisited the private school he attended in his youth, University School. Published in 1996, Boys Themselves: A Return to Single-Sex Education, spends a year at the all-boys prep school in Cleveland and looks at the pros and cons of single-sex education. Ruhlman was given complete access to the school, where he attended classes and talked with teachers and students. The book, though generally in favor of single-sex education, does not necessarily depict University School as the perfect example of education. Though a fine institution, the school faces its own unique problems and dramas, which are chronicled throughout the book. A reviewer writing in Publishers Weekly observed that "the commitment of the school's innovative teachers shines through in this candid look at a rare institution." Beth Gutcheon in the New York Times commented that Ruhlman never decides if this form of education is best and noted: "A book as well written, convincingly reported and readable … doesn't also have to provide definitive answers." Terry A. Christener wrote in the Library Journal that "Ruhlman writes well, and his text is easily read and understood." A critic for Kirkus Reviews called the book an "affectionate and well-drawn portrait." The critic added that "few works of nonfiction have captured so much of the spirit of the prep school experience."
For his next book Ruhlman focused on another subject of personal importance: cooking. For The Making of a Chef: Mastering Heat at the Culinary Institute of America, Ruhlman attended the renowned Culinary Institute of America (CIA) at their campus in upstate New York. There for six months, he attended classes as a real student would, while profiling students confronting the challenges of becoming a top chef in the high-pressure world of cooking. Ruhlman's own interest in food dates back to his uncle's description of a perfectly prepared potato once sampled while in New Orleans. This elusive culinary perfection is what drives Ruhlman's passion for food.
A contributor to Kirkus Reviews observed of The Making of a Chef that the author's "insights into teachers and students are often interesting." Peter Kaminsky commented in the New York Times: "Any reader who has ever wondered what it's like to be at the center of the cooking maelstrom of a fine restaurant will feel as hurried, harried, sweaty and ultimately as satisfied as a line cook at the end of a long shift with no complaints from the customers." A reviewer in Publishers Weekly called Ruhlman "an accomplished writer, and his material is fresh." Wendy Miller of the Library Journal found the book to be "an enjoyable read," and wrote that, "after reading this title, boot camp and law school will seem like child's play."
Ruhlman wrote The French Laundry Cookbook in collaboration with Thomas Keller. The book charts the career of renowned chef Thomas Keller at The French Laundry restaurant in California, who is considered one of the greatest chefs in the country. The cookbook gives detailed instructions and descriptions of some of Keller's most original and delectable dishes. Included are a number of photographs showing finished dishes as well as preparations. Ruhlman won three awards from the International Association of Culinary Professionals for his work on this book. A reviewer for Publishers Weekly noted that, "with few exceptions … recipes are haute, labor-intensive preparations." Wendy Miller in the Library Journal wrote: "Epitomizing a love of ingredients … and an almost magical approach to food, this is required for any real ‘cookbook’ collection," and that to call it merely a cookbook "would be to trivialize its content and impact."
In The Soul of the Chef: The Journey toward Perfection Ruhlman examines three different chefs and their pursuit of perfect cuisine. He looks at Brian Polcyn of the Five Lakes Grill in Milford, Michigan, and Polcyn's second attempt to pass the Certified Master Chef exam given at the CIA. This is a grueling ten-day exam which many chefs consider rigid and obscure. The next section focuses on Michael Symon of Cleveland's Lola Bistro and Wine Bar. Ruhlman focuses on both Symon's daily rituals as a chef and the preparation and awaited arrival of a well-known food writer. The last section deals with Thomas Keller, with whom Ruhlman wrote his previous book. Ruhlman confirms some rumors about the renowned chef and gives insight into his search for perfection.
Tom Cooper in the Library Journal commended the author. "Each section of the book is fascinating in itself," he wrote. A reviewer for Restaurant Hospitality called The Soul of the Chef a "terrifically written book" that demonstrates that "perfection is perpetually elusive and you have to put in long hours on your feet in a hot kitchen every single day just to come close. The best part is, you can come close." Anthony Bourdain stated in his review for the New York Times that Ruhlman "succeeds—by turning his investigation into an adventure story, a hold-your-breath-while-you-turn-the-page thriller that's also an anthropological study of the culture of cooking."
Ruhlman departed from his previous topics for his next book, Wooden Boats: In Pursuit of the Perfect Craft at an American Boatyard. Though still dealing with issues of perfection, this book focused on the nearly extinct craft of wooden boat building. This topic was first suggested by Ruhlman's publisher, Michael Naumann, a wooden boat owner himself. Ruhlman had no previous interest in boats, and did not even recognize the distinction of wooden vessels. After hearing Naumann talk for thirty minutes on the topic, Ruhlman was riveted and began preparations for the book.
Wooden Boats looks at master boat builders Nat Benjamin and Ross Gannon, who have a boatyard on Martha's Vineyard. Ruhlman worked beside them and was intrigued with not only the amount of skill and attention to detail required to build wooden ships, but also the class issues that ensue when blue-collar artisans spend months working on boats for the ultra-wealthy. He explained in an interview posted on Ruhlman.com: "The wooden boat was a metaphor for all things that matter in our cheap disposable culture." Charles Preston in the Wall Street Journal praised Wooden Boats, noting that "Ruhlman consistently comes through with touching lyricism." A Publishers Weekly contributor stated: "His ability to simply tell the boat-builders' story, making connections between boats and life, gives this sharply observed book its pleasures." Alan Prince, in his review for the BookPage Web site, noted that the book "is as finely crafted and appealing as the vessels it describes."
With the help of Eric Ripert, Ruhlman returned to the topic of cooking with the appropriately titled A Return to Cooking: The Chef, the Cook, and the Artist. Featuring illustrations by photographers Shimon and Tammar Rothstein and Colombian painter Valentino Cortazar, the book chronicles Eric Ripert, chef at the four-star restaurant Le Bernardin in New York City, and his attempt to get out of the confines of his kitchen and experiment with cuisine in different regions. Together the troupe travel to Sag Harbour, New York, Puerto Rico, Napa Valley, California, and Cavendish, Vermont. Devon Thomas in the Library Journal called A Returnto Cooking a "handsome, over-sized work … it is also a meditation on what cooking means and its relationship to art." A reviewer for Publishers Weekly commented: "This is a practical and rare look into what happens when a chef comes out of the industrial-sized kitchen and into the fire of his creativity."
In 2003 Ruhlman focused on the world of pediatric heart surgery in Walk on Water: Inside an Elite Pediatric Surgical Unit. Ruhlman was allowed access into the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, where he chronicled the work of Dr. Roger Mee, considered to be one of the best pediatric heart surgeons in the world. Again Ruhlman is concerned with ideas of perfection because, for pediatric surgeons, precision is crucial. A contributor to Kirkus Reviews called the book "a window into an unfamiliar world where excellence is difficult to achieve yet absolutely essential." A reviewer in Publishers Weekly noted: "Although the medical terminology can slow the reader down at times, most will tear through this engaging and often wrenching account." James Swanton wrote in the Library Journal: "Ruhlman's immersion in and close observations of one of the world's best heart centers will be essential reading for those who find themselves confronted by the complexities of congenital heart disease."
Ruhlman collaborated with Brian Polcyn to write Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing. The authors cover the basics concerning these types of preservation-cooking techniques, with an emphasis on how to preserve and cook foods safely. Numerous recipes are included for sausages, poultry, and other meats. A Bookwatch contributor wrote that Charcuterie is "the only comprehensive book on the topic." A Publishers Weekly contributor referred to it as "one of the most intriguing and important cookbooks published this year."
In House: A Memoir, Ruhlman tells the story of moving into a "fixer-up" house in Cleveland Heights. The once grand, century-old house needed extensive remodeling, including almost an entire reworking of the plumbing and electrical wiring, as well as complete remodeling of the kitchen and bathrooms. As the author recounts the trials and tribulations he and his wife faced in remodeling the house, he also ponders the philosophical importance of finding a place to permanently live. "This house renovation, in other words, was also a renovation of the self," wrote Lauren F. Winter in Books & Culture. While the author does discuss his adventures with contractors and worries over an ever-expanding budget, Ruhlman also delves into the very real strain that the project places on his marriage. A Publishers Weekly contributor noted that the author "doesn't shy from depicting the weaknesses of his marriage." "For anyone who has ever bought an old house or for anyone who may be contemplating such a purchase, Ruhlman's new book is a must read," wrote Mark Knoblauch in Booklist. A Kirkus Reviews contributor noted that the author "mostly … speaks commonsense as he frames a picture of what a home means," adding: "He's thought hard about the subject and mixed his reflections well with his personal experience."
In the The Reach of a Chef: Beyond the Kitchen, Ruhlman takes a look at the growing popularity of famous media chefs and their widening influence beyond the kitchen and restaurant into the culture at large. In the process, he profiles a wide range of notable chefs, including Masayoshi Takayama, Thomas Keller, and Rachael Ray. Writing in the New York Times Book Review, John T. Edge commented that the author "serves his readers," adding: "The ‘cooking-struck, chefadoring, restaurant-crazy consumers’ get a behind-the-curtain pass to what may prove to be America's theatrum mundi. And culinary professionals get a portrait of life on and off the line at a time when the ‘frontier for the modern American chef was largely uncharted territory.’" Jennifer Reese, writing in Entertainment Weekly, called The Reach of a Chef "a fun page-turner on what happens in restaurants." A Publishers Weekly contributor noted Ruhlman's "light, unobtrusive style," adding that "he brings considerable knowledge … when commenting on either individual dishes or the industry as a whole."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Ruhlman, Michael, House: A Memoir, Viking (New York, NY), 2005.
Booklist, February 15, 2005, Mark Knoblauch, review of House: A Memoir, p. 1045; May 15, 2006, Mark Knoblauch, review of The Reach of a Chef: Beyond the Kitchen, p. 13.
Books & Culture, September-October, 2006, Lauren F. Winner, review of House, p. 18.
Bookseller, July 29, 2005, review of Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing, p. 38.
Bookwatch, March, 2006, review of Charcuterie.
California Bookwatch, January, 2007, review of Charcuterie.
Entertainment Weekly, May 26, 2006, Jennifer Reese, review of The Reach of a Chef, p. 109.
Kirkus Reviews, July 1, 1996, review of Boys Themselves: A Return to Single-Sex Education, p. 955; November 1, 1997, review of The Making of a Chef: Mastering Heat at the Culinary Institute of America, p. 1630; May 7, 2001, review of Wooden Boats: In Pursuit of the Perfect Craft at an American Boatyard, p. 392; February 15, 2003, review of Walk on Water: Inside an Elite Pediatric Surgical Unit, p. 292; January 1, 2005, review of House, p. 43; March 15, 2006, review of The Reach of a Chef, p. 280.
Library Journal, October 1, 1996, Terry A. Christener, review of Boys Themselves, p. 96; November 1, 1997, Wendy Miller, review of The Making of a Chef, p. 109; February 15, 1999, Linda Bredengerd, review of The Making of a Chef, p. 198; January, 2000, Wendy Miller, review of The French Laundry Cookbook, p. 150; June 15, 2000, Tom Cooper, review of The Soul of a Chef: The Journey toward Perfection, p. 106; November 1, 2002, Devon Thomas, review of A Return to Cooking: The Chef, the Cook, and the Artist, p. 123; April 1, 2003, James Swanton, review of Walk on Water, p. 123; May 1, 2006, Lisa A. Ennis, review of The Reach of a Chef, p. 114.
New York Times Book Review, September 29, 1996, Beth Gutcheon, "Separate but Equal," p. 17; December 21, 1997, Peter Kaminsky, "Learning to Stand the Heat," p. 13; July 30, 2000, Anthony Bourdain, "The Hautest Cuisine," p. 9; May 28, 2006, John T. Edge, review of The Reach of a Chef, p. 17.
Publishers Weekly, July 15, 1996, review of Boys Themselves, p. 63; November 3, 1997, review of The Making of a Chef, p. 73; October 4, 1999, review of The French Laundry Cookbook, p. 69; June 26, 2000, review of The Soul of a Chef, p. 62; April 9, 2001, review of Wooden Boats, p. 62; September 16, 2002, review of A Return to Cooking, p. 64; March 17, 2003, review of Walk on Water, p. 66; February 28, 2005, review of House, p. 51; September 5, 2005, review of Charcuterie, p. 54; March 27, 2006, review of The Reach of a Chef, p. 73.
Restaurant Hospitality, September, 2000, "Pursuers and the Pinnacle," p. 50.
Wall Street Journal, May 4, 2001, Charles Preston, review of Wooden Boats, p. W10.
BookPage,http://www.bookpage.com/ (September 5, 2001), Alan Prince, review of Wooden Boats.
Culinary Institute of America,http://www.ciachef.edu/ (November 3, 2000), "Ruhlman's Rules: Author of Book about the CIA Advises Graduates."
Michael Ruhlman Home Page,http://ruhlman.com (May 7, 2007).