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Q & A with Andrew Friedman

Having co-authored over sixteen of the best cookbooks and counting, Andrew Friedman seems content being the sideman to some of New York’s most celebrated chefs.  While we often overlook those who play the part of co-writer, chefs like Alfred Portale, Jimmy Bradley, Tom Valenti & Michael Lomonaco faithfully rely on Andrew’s seamless ability to translate their whimsical inventions into user-friendly recipes.  From beginnings as publicist with no formal food training and a serious junk food habit, Andrew jumped at the chance to collaborate on Alfred Portale’s Gotham Bar And Grill cookbook, which went on to earn a Beard nomination for “Best Cookbook”.  He was hooked.  After a crash course in food at the French Culinary Institute, he’s been knee deep in cookbooks since.  Finally, he steps into the limelight:

What did you want to be when you grew up?
Film director, then screenwriter, then novelist.  The last one is still active.

How did you get into food?
I had a short, unhappy life as a restaurant publicist in the 1990s.  That’s how I got into food.  I got into cookbook writing when one of my clients, Alfred Portale, asked me to coauthor his first cookbook.  In other words, it would be fair to say that I pretty much stumbled into it.

Have you had any formal training?
Just the French Culinary Institute’s La Technique program.  One hundred ten hours of kitchen-classroom instruction over six months’ of Saturdays.

What was the first cookbook you worked on?
Alfred Portale’s Gotham Bar and Grill Cookbook, published in 1997.

How many books have you done to date?
Sixteen published cookbooks, plus Don’t Try This at Home, a collection of kitchen disaster stories from famous chefs that I worked on with (literary agent) Kim Witherspoon. I’m writing four more cookbooks right now, plus two other projects.

Which was your favorite (most sentimental perhaps)?
Most sentimental is the Gotham cookbook because it was my “big break.”  Otherwise, the more narrative ones, like White House Chef, are my favorites because I like telling a good story, even in a cookbook.

Which was the hardest for you?
Hands-down it was Don’t Try This at Home.  My (twin) kids were four months old and I came into the project very late.  Of the forty-one stories in the book, I “ghosted” twenty-eight of them in eight weeks.  It was like a crash course in narrative storytelling – I didn’t have to come up with the plots, of course, but each story had its own demands and there were days when I’d crank out two of them in twenty-four hours.

Who’s your favorite chef to work with?
Picking a favorite chef would be like picking a favorite friend, literally.  Let’s just say the ones I’ve become closest friends with include Alfred Portale, Michael Lomonaco, Tom Valenti, Jimmy Bradley, Terrance Brennan, Pino Luongo, Walter Scheib, and David Waltuck.  Can’t get much more specific than that.

Rumor has it you’re writing your own cookbook Andrew.  Do tell…
The rumors are true.  I’m writing The Weekend Warrior Cookbook for Bloomsbury USA. The easiest way I know how to explain it is that it’s a book for all the people who Rachel Ray left behind.  It’s for what I’d call hobbyist cooks–two hundred recipes for the two days when we have the time to market, garden, cook, etc.

Is there any cuisine you simply can’t or won’t cook?
I think if you have a mastery of basic techniques you can cook pretty much anything.  That said, I’m not especially dexterous when it comes to the intricacies of plating, so I’m not sure I’d ever be that good with, say, sushi.

What is your junk food of choice?
My favorite movie theater junk is Sour Patch Kids and a Diet Coke.  It’s Pavlovian for me – as soon as the guy tears my ticket I have to buy them.  I usually polish them off sometime during the coming attractions.  I didn’t discover “real” food until I was almost thirty, so I’m hardwired for certain garbage.  It’s a holdover from my sad culinary childhood.

What’s next on the horizon for you?  Other than your cookbook, any other ventures in the works? Spill the beans…
Well, I am writing a number of other cookbooks right now, including The Chanterelle Cookbook, a diabetes cookbook with Tom Valenti, and a still-untitled cookbook with Michelle Bernstein.  I also had a real thrill recently when I collaborated with American tennis star James Blake on his upcoming memoir, entitled Breaking Back. It has nothing to do with food, but like I said, I stumbled into food.  Tennis was a big thing for me long before food was.

 Until we eat again,
Restaurant Girl
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