If food writing was an olympic sport, Andrew Friedman would most definitely be its champion. First asked to collaborate on the Gotham Bar and Grill Cookbook by Alfred Portale in 1997, Friedman has since become one of the most highly sought after food writers in the industry. Friedman has collaborated on cookbook projects with notable greats like Laurent Tourondel, Michelle Bernstein, Bill Telepan, Jimmy Bradley, David Waltuck, and former White House Chef Walter Scheib. His non-fiction masterpiece, Knives at Dawn, had him trailing the US Team at the Bocuse D’or – a journey he speaks with us about extensively.
His upcoming projects include books with Michael White, Paul Liebrandt and Harold Dieterle. Friedman’s venture with Dieterle recently got picked up by a publisher-a result of Friedman’s vast experience coming up with the concept and accounts of that on his website, Toqueland. Friedman also sold an oral history project on chefs of the 1970’s and 1980’s-set to be published by Ecco Press.
There’s no doubt Friedman has changed the face of food literature and our culinary conversations in general. Recently, he has become the go-to commentator for words on the cookbook ghostwriter controversy. In response to the issue, Michael White lauded Friedman [on The New Potato] explaining, “I am thankful that Andrew Friedman is so incredibly talented and understands what I am trying to do. When he reads back the text to me, it amazes me how beautifully he has encapsulated my thought process.” Friedman is a great friend as well as a great writer, and we were happy to have been able to sit down with this talent, who for once is the face in front of the story, rather than the one behind it.
What inspired your book Knives at Dawn? Was that the first book you wrote that wasn’t a collaboration with another chef?
It was the first thing I did that wasn’t with another chef. It all began when my agent called me up suggesting that I take a look at what was happening with the Bocuse D’or. It was a turbo-charged version of Top Chef that dovetailed with my passion for Tennis. After putting it off the whole summer of ’08, I finally got down to Orlando to watch the event where they picked the U.S. team. In forming my proposal, it was amazing because I had full access. After coming back and selling the project, I started making periodic trips to Napa to observe training. I also went to France to observe the final event and to conduct a series of follow-up interviews a bit later on.
From a writer’s perspective, what about the competition attracted you the most?
The intersection of sports and cooking. There was a team; they train; there was a coach – Roland Henin – and this notion was very cool to me. It’s kind of like everything I like rolled into one package. It was also amazing to watch Tim Hollingsworth develop like a polaroid picture; he matured before my eyes. Watching Tim expedite the two platters he was going to cook and put [them] on a world stage was a real privilege. Although the book was written as a third person narrative, looking back it seems like more of a collaboration. Tim gave me more time than I could have ever possibly imagined.
How did that compare with how you usually write? Because you normally collaborate with chefs to write their stories.
Since it was my book I didn’t have to run it by anybody else and I got the final say. I don’t really talk about this much, but it’s hard for me to read the book again. It all came together so quickly and I had little time for reflection. In hindsight, I wish I had written a different book that was more like a journal with personal diary entries. I say this because, even as someone who has written in collaboration with a lot of chefs, I was put in an absolutely unbelievable position. For example, I had full access to the French Laundry kitchen. I think my reaction to this amazing privilege was something that readers could have related to. There were also humorous, meaningful, and personal moments in the book that would have been captured more effectively as a journal entry.
You’ve never really written a book that is more personal to your experience. Do you wish to do that some day?
Well, its funny you say that because my next book is probably going to be about oral history, so I definitely won’t be doing it there. Honestly, that’s why Toqueland has been so great because it’s me writing about whatever I want to write about. I also think that two or three aspects of the website might eventually become their own book. The website leaves me with less pressure to not stray away from my typical narrative. I also do a lot of first-person writing for Tennis Magazine, and this is a great outlet for me. Honestly though, the website has been amazing and [it] feels like it has always been a part of my life.