Andrew Friedman has collaborated on more than 20 cookbooks with some of America’s most famous chefs, such as Alfred Portale and Laurent Tourondel. He coauthored the memoir Breaking Back with tennis player James Blake, and is the founder of Toqueland.com, a chef-focused Web site. His latest collaborations are a cookbook written with Michael White, Classico e Moderno: Essential Italian Cooking, and To the Bone, written with Paul Liebrandt.
How did you get started in the food world?
I became a copywriter at a PR company that did lifestyle accounts, and I was working with some of the best restaurants in New York and the country—Gotham Bar and Grill, Aquavit—I totally stumbled into the food world. I didn’t know anything about food. I became friends with Alfred Portale, the chef at Gotham Bar and Grill, and I would sometimes help him write a speech or letter, and when he did his first cookbook, he asked me to help.
Did you enjoy that first book?
The book did really well—I had a blast. I’ve always struggled with the isolation part of writing, it’s lonely, so I loved the collaborating, the teamwork, working with the editor, the photographer, the art director. But I hate testing recipes. I hate timing every minute. I’d much rather cook and improvise.
What is the biggest challenge of collaborating?
The hardest thing is finding the voice. I think the trick to collaborating is to help make up on the page what you lose by not being there with the person, the tone of their voice, the hand gestures. At some point I realized that my job is to not be a stenographer, anyone can do that, but to get the person on the page.
How do you get to know the chefs?
The first phase is what I call the “inside the actors studio phase.” We start off with their childhood and then go through their career, although not necessarily the most intimate details of their lives, though sometimes they come up. I try to track their interest in food and cooking and restaurants as early as they can remember it to today. It’s a lot of back and forth, a lot of follow-up questions. It’s a very intimate process.
Why do you think you are drawn to chefs?
I like working with people with a point of view. What’s really interesting to me is figuring out how and why they put the food on a plate.
The best part of what you do?
Building relationships. The collaborating provides insight so that when I’m writing a book of my own I have a deeper understanding of the life and the craft, and I know what questions to ask. Right now I’m writing a book for Ecco about the American chef movement in the 1970s and ’80s that ends around 1992, on the eve of the Food Network. It’s an oral history, so I’m traveling and interviewing people—and it’s all kind of social. I’ve never thought of myself as a foodie. What I’ve always said is I’m a chef-ie. I consider myself a chef writer, not a food writer.