Andrew Friedman calls himself a chef writer because, as much as he loves food, he’s passionate about the stories chefs have to tell.
“My point of view is writing not so much about the food but about the chefs, that’s why I say I’m a chefie not a foodie,” he says. “I think too many well-known chefs are almost portrayed as cartoon characters and in a broad stroke. I wanted to spend time with them and really get to know their stories, who they really are and their impact on how we eat now. Like Wolfgang Puck. He’s a tremendous cook but people call him the first celebrity chef. He’s so much more than that.”
To accomplish this, Friedman interviewed over 200 chefs and food writers and others who were leading the food revolution against processed and packaged foods.
“I’m such a geek I would spend three hours with someone just to get a nugget or two,” he says.
The results? An accumulation of tens of thousands of transcript pages and his latest book, Chefs, Drugs and Rock & Roll: How Food Lovers, Free Spirits, Misfits and Wanderers Created a New Profession (Ecco 2018; $27.99), where he recounts how dedicated and imaginative men and women in the 1970s and the 1980s, who were willing to challenge the rules, revolutionized America’s food scene.
Now chefs are like rock stars, often known just by one name, commanding their own empires of cookbooks, TV shows, restaurants, cookware and food products. But Friedman points out that up until 1976, the United States Department of Labor categorized cooks as domestics. It took lobbying by the American Culinary Federation, at the urging of Louis Szarthmary, the late Hungarian American chef who owned The Bakery in Chicago and wrote The Chef’s Secret Cookbook, a New York Times bestseller, to change the classification into a profession.
“I wanted to show how this became a viable profession,” he says. “I was talking to Jody Buvette, owner of Buvette in New York and she remembers sitting her father down and saying ‘I have two bad things to tell you. I’m gay and I want to be a cook.’ It was like telling your upper middle-class parents that you wanted to be a coal miner.”
Friedman, whose knowledge about restaurants, culinarians and food seems delightfully endless, chose three cities to focus on—San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York. What does he think of Chicago’s food scene?
“It’s great,” he says. “I love dining in Chicago and you have some brilliant chefs but I think much of the beginnings started in those three cities.”
Besides, he has those piles of transcripts. There’s surely more than a few Chicago stories in all those pages. In the meantime, Friedman gives us a wonderfully written read about a defining time—one that in some ways separates frozen TV dinners and what many restaurants are serving today.
What: 5 course 80s-era dinner inspired by Chefs, Drugs and Rock & Roll with wines selected by Sommelier Rachael Lowe and conversation at Spiaggia Restaurant
When: Tues. October 2, 7 pm
Where: Spiaggia Restaurant, 980 North Michigan Ave., Chicago, IL
Cost: $150 per person
FYI: 312-280-2750; spiaggiarestaurant.com
What: Talk with Andrew Friedman about Chefs, Drugs and Rock & Roll
When: Wed, October 3, 6:30 to 8:30 pm
Where: Read It & Eat, 2142 North Halsted St., Chicago, IL
Cost: Purchase a ticket and book combo for $36.45 or 2 tickets and a book combo for $46.45
FYI: 773-661-6158; readitandeatstore.com