Adam_jpegWhy it’s the Amateur Gourmet who’s stopped by my blog for a little Q&A on his book tour:

Adam Roberts explains what the book is, why it is, and most important, offers words of advice to other bloggers out there who want to move into the book world.

Michael Ruhlman:  Welcome, Adam, thanks for agreeing to this.  I know I wasn’t on the original list, so I appreciate your letting me fill in for the maternal Megnut and gracing me on your Virtual Book Tour.

Adam Roberts:  Please, it’s important to focus on the little people too. And I firmly believe that given some time and a little more work in the prose dept., your blog might turn into something worthwhile.

MICHAEL:  Right, well, thanks.  Have you always had this kind of ego?

ADAM:  Ego?! What you call ego, I call an awareness of my own majesty. I’m sure you wouldn’t understand, but I just had a BOOK published.

MICHAEL: Please, tell us what it is.

ADAM: It’s called The Amateur Gourmet: How to Shop, Chop, And Table-Hop Like a Pro (Almost).   I took the title from a Keats poem. It’s an elegant tome meant to inspire the young, the food wary and jaded old people, such as yourself, to charge into the kitchen with great gusto and cook. In all seriousness, though, I wrote it to make money. Please tell your readers they can buy it here, and here, and here!

Ag_jacket

MICHAEL: All right, enough shenanigans, Adam, settle down.  I’m actually REALLY interested in the process of how a blogger becomes a book writer (as I’ve done it the other way around).  I do like your blog  I read and even blurbed your book because I can happily recommend it (no matter how insufferable you can be when you’re in the limelight).

ADAM: I’m sensing a little bit of jeal—

MICHAEL: As you write in the book, you started blogging after a resounding conversation ensued following a review of Charlie Trotters in Chicago. I’d very much like to know how the book came about, how you made the transition from blogger to book author.  You and I first began emailing when you wrote to introduce yourself and say that we shared the same agent.

ADAM: Our agent, Elizabeth, wrote me an e-mail and said that she found my blog and had I ever considered writing a book? It was that simple. And though I hadn’t yet considered the idea of turning my blog into a book, I already knew I wanted to make writing my vocation so the timing was perfect.

MICHAEL: Was it easy to write?  You’re obviously a facile writer with a unique and genuine voice.  How was book writing different from your work blogging?

ADAM: The challenge of writing the book was conceptual: with my blog, I usually honor every whim and caprice–if I want to write a song about ice cream, I do. With the book, I knew that pages couldn’t be wasted with nonsense, that each chapter would have to be purposeful, that it would all have to add up to something. So in that way it was difficult but also way more rewarding.

MICHAEL: One of the biggest obstacles for people who are developing independent writing careers is learning to manage time.  Describe how you managed your writing time for both the blog and the book?

ADAM: That’s very true and it was definitely difficult, at first, to get into a routine where I could write effectively every day. Now I do as follows: I wake up and I work on the blog for a bit, I’ll do a new post or edit the one I did the night before; I do e-mails, which takes up way more time than you might think; I read like 30 or 40 blogs just to stay current (and that also takes a great deal of time, but I think it’s important) and then I eat lunch. After lunch, I make myself leave the apartment and I go to a coffee shop where I do my "professional" writing. I find this incredibly effective–by making the coffee shop my office, I manage to churn out way more work than I would at home where I would continue to surf the web and waste time. For the book, I made a rule that I had to write at least 1000 words a day, usually 1500. Since the contract said the book had to be 40,000 words that meant I could have a first draft done in 40 days. And that’s how it happened. Once the first draft was done, I worked on the revision, and so on. Chapters died, new ones came in, my editor made me re-conceive three or four: all of this happened while sipping an iced latte. After working on this "professional" work (and I still do this routine, working on new projects, etc.), I make a trip to either the farmer’s market (on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays) or the grocery store and plot dinner. Then, after making a dinner (hopefully something I can blog about) I load the pictures on to Flickr and do some more posting. And then I go to bed.

MICHAEL:  What you describe is the single most important practice an aspiring writer can learn.  It is, literally if you will, the make or break fact of the aspiring writer’s life: you either have or do not have the capacity to maintain a daily writing routine—same time, for the same amount of time, producing roughly the same quantity of words.  You do, thus your book.  …What was the hardest part of writing this book?

ADAM: The hardest part about writing the book was keeping myself reigned in. I wanted to travel the world, to write intricate family histories, to translate each recipe into Anicent Greek. My editor (Philip Rappaport) was fantastic at keeping me focused, reminding me that people would read this book because they’re interested in food, not in the 18 cats raised and bred by my Aunt Gladys. (I don’t really have an Aunt Gladys.) But in all seriousness, while my blog often meanders, this book stays on subject and that was a great experience for me to have.

MICHAEL: Another thing I wonder about as bloggers move into authordom is sales. Why should we pay $25 (or $16.50 plus shipping) when we can frolic along with you on your blog for free?

ADAM: I’d like to use a food metaphor: think of my blog as being a chef’s house. People have spent time at my house and eaten the little snacks I’ve prepared in the afternoon while watching "Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure" on DVD: that’s my blog. My book, on the other hand, is my attempt at a four-star restaurant. Every word, every sentence, every paragraph has been picked over, adjusted and positioned to elicit maximum pleasure. The stories in the book are all BIG stories–too big for a blog; they’re also stories I’ve had two years to mull over and consider, to render them with maximum care and skill. Plus the book is shiny. My blog isn’t so shiny.

MICHAEL: Part of your blog persona relies on your being the regular guy on the street, the everyman.  Which works great in blog form.  Isn’t it then presumptuous to expect to become a Famous Author.  Is there a certain amount of hubris required to move with “maximum care and skill” into this new territory?

ADAM:  Well here’s the thing: anyone who’s a writer growing up these days has one of two options–they can hold themselves high and write lofty essays about obscure Gallic poetry in leather-bound journals that they will attempt to parlay into a career, or they can start a blog. The drawback to the second option is that there’s a blogging stigma: people think blog and they automatically think "My sister got a pony and I wanted a pony and it’s totally unfair and I hate my life" instead of acknowledging that writing on a blog is still writing and it can be good writing, just as good as writing that’s done anywhere else. So I don’t think it’s presumptuous for a blogger to write a book: I think it’s the future.

MICHAEL:  Something that bothers me is the word gourmet.  It sounds fey, it sounds so pinkie-in-the-airish.  Gourmand I like the sound of a little better, but it’s still got the same problems.  What’s your definition of gourmet?

ADAM: A true gourmet is a person who has a real appreciation for and understanding of food. For many, that implies pretension or elitism, but for me it’s an indication of a deep consuming passion; a real zest for living that was best embodied by our greatest gourmet icon, Julia Child. She was a true gourmet.

MICHAEL:  Why should we aspire to it?

ADAM: Unlike stamp collecting or model airplane building, we all eat–we have to eat to survive. Anyone can eat to survive, though. What separates us from the animals is our ability to truly appreciate and understand what we’re eating. For example, my old roommate’s girlfriend had a dog and that dog once made a feast of my cat’s kitty litter. That dog’s inability to discern that what it was eating was literally crap is not that different from our own inability to discern that what we’re eating is crap. Once we start caring, though; once we make a decision to care about this simple thing that we do every day, life starts to change. We appreciate things more. Not only that, we begin to realize how bountiful this green earth is and how many GOOD things there are to eat and then we hit ourselves on the head and wonder how we ever ate bad things. And then we go to therapy and talk about our mothers.

MICHAEL: Thanks Adam for taking the time to talk about your work.  I trust you’ll stick around for the rest of the day to answer questions if people have them?

ADAM:  You bet.

MICHAEL: One last question.

ADAM: Yes?

MICHAEL:  Who is this Gini Anding character?

ADAM:  Any meaningful questions? 

Michael: Is that really you on the cover?

Adam: Anyone?

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29 Wonderful responses to “Who is this scary man?”

  • Big Red

    From his picture and his “comments” I am thinking a touch of Napolean syndrome, scrawny bastard. But this guy certainly has a point, our ability to truly appreciate what we eat, understand why we eat it and what the story is behind it makes being human a glorious thing. However the point missed I think is that not everyone is in tune to the greater gastronomic understanding. People still eat skyline chili for god’s sake! But like a dog to a cat box they keep going back.
    But I digress. I will certainly be getting this book, and giving it the once over. I am fan of good writing, and that is something, Ruhlman, you have an eye for, so I will be sure to get this guy’s book, and I promise to forget his comments about being aware of his own majesty.

  • Bob delGrosso

    Adam & Michael
    The real problem with the words gourmet and gourmand is that they are French and, with the possible exceptions of the words “douche” and “diplomat,” will always sound “fey” or “pinky in the airish” to American ears.

    While I agree with Michael that “gourmand” sounds slightly less effete, I think that the Italian slang form “gavone” sounds even better.

    So Adam, you might consider changing your handle to “The Amateur Gavone” or “il Gavone Dilletante.” It sounds better, is much more masculine and it’ll play well in Brooklyn and Queens and to the large non-Itlian American demographic who’s appetite for such language has already been piqued by hit shows like the Sopranos. All right? Good,it’s settled.

    And good luck with the book Adam!

  • Skawt

    Ruhlman:

    Just remember this axiom when young punks start getting uppity:

    Age and treachery will always overcome youth and skill.

  • Carri

    Food blogs provide a great source for up to the minute info and experiences, but there’s nothing like curling up with a hulking copy of ‘The French Laundry Cookbook” now is there? It does seem like good ‘practice’ for book writing, in that to keep a blog fresh and interesting you have to write regularly and sound like you know what you’re talking about…yeah, anyway. I think a virtual book tour is a virtual inspiration! I do have one qustion…Did you pick the add for the new toilet on your blog with the bare bottom on it? A bit ‘cheeky’ don’t you think?

  • ruhlman

    i love gavone! thanks bob.

    FL at Home: that lightweight Buford couldn’t write a blog to save his life.

    Skwat, I’m engraving that quote in my children’s bedroom walls.

    carrie, tell us where your bakery is.

  • Adam

    Dear Carri,
    Yes, that ad is a bit cheeky. I accepted the ad before I saw what it was: and the next thing I knew there was a giant ass on my blog. But, as a justification, we food bloggers focus too much on how the food goes in and not enough on how it comes out. Thanks for your question!
    Adam

  • stephanie

    Well, since you’ve gotten the Ruhlman seal of approval, I’ll be walking across the street to Borders in 15 minutes to pick up a copy of the book. How can I resist? 😀

  • Carri

    It’s in Homer Alaska…National Geographic Adventurer thinks we are a wilderness town, but I have other ideas! Let’s just say we eat really well!

  • Not the Bounty Hunter

    Have you even tried fresh litter dredged cat butt pate?

    I didn’t think so.

    And yeah, New York’s alright.

    IF YOU LIKE SAXOPHONES!

  • Scotty

    Didn’t Tony Soprano call someone a gavone just before he offed him? No I highly recommend the Yiddish term “Maven”. It evokes studiousness, seriousness of purpose, chicken soup and annoying reminders from ones mother about how long it’s been since you called.

    Adam, the book sounds interesting. I think I’ll buy it now, rather than waiting for it to show up in the 75% off bargain bin – as I do with Ruhlman’s stuff.

  • Carri

    Yes, Adam, you are right about that, in fact to keep it all in perspective I try to remember that as a person who feeds many people for a living…if I’ve done my job right, truly perfect, then all that should be left at the end of the day is a pile of…well, you know! So let’s none of us take ourselves too seriously here! time for me to go feed the people…

  • Kal

    Thanks to both of you for touching on writing routines. I had a fantastic daily writing schedule before I uprooted my entire life a year and a half ago, and I’m only now tackling how to get back into the groove under completely different circumstances.

    I achieved some success as a semi-pro fiction author first, and became a food blogger second, quickly followed by other forays into nonfiction, so I’ve got a lot to balance on my plate (so to speak). It’s really useful to hear how others are balancing blogs, books, and staying current!

  • Chip Griffin

    Very entertaining Q&A, Ruhlman, even if you seem to be trying to channel Bourdain. Adam, I read the book over the weekend and I found it to be a quick, enjoyable read. Definitely something for the aspiring gourmand (I, too, prefer that term, though I also like foodie even if some people think of it as disparaging). Now we just need to get you over to visit with us a Cork & Knife.

  • Claudia

    Carri:

    Homer’s a great funky little town. Wilderness? Hardly. Now Coldfoot – THAT’S getting towards wilderness.

    I know Tony covered native peoples in the Quebec episode with the Inuit over there, but I still think he should do an Alaska NR – there’s still a lot more to cover. And the Pacific NW didn’t even touch on all the great salmon and smoking (true barbecue), etc., etc. Lotsa lotsa good ground to cover in AK . . .

  • Kathy

    Doesn’t “gourmand” actually mean “glutton?”

    Adam, the faux-egotist/snarky tone you’re using with Mr Ruhlman isn’t pretty for a snotty young upstart like you. Leave that tone to the Bourdains of the world and use your own voice.

  • t-scape

    I thought the interview was entertaining, and Adam’s sense of humor was enough to get me to check out his blog (which I admit I had not read before). It’s not just a select few who get to have a sarcastic sense of humor!

  • Tags

    Hey Adam,

    When you’re famous and bring your show to Cleveland, don’t forget to shine an overwhelmingly positive light on the city. Also, don’t forget to show any problems that need to be addressed. BTW, remember to keep it buoyant and sparkly. Don’t say anything unless it’s nice. Rainbows over the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame are good, surfboards over the sewage is bad. Lollipops and sausages are good, soup kitchens near the unemployment line are bad. Carousels with Kucinich are good, Bookstores with Buford are bad.

    And stop using snooty French words like amateur.

  • Shanti

    Thanks for the eGullet link…just wasted several hours of my evening reading that. I like your style Adam, and I’m impressed at the way you started out – I’m still just a lurker there. Out of curiosity, would you eat at Trotter’s again?

  • Adam

    Shanti—I’d love to go back to Charlie Trotter’s and give it another go. Who knows, maybe four years later I’d have a new take on the experience. I’m sure I’d appreciate the food more, though I’m not sure I’d warm to the atmosphere: it was very intense in there. Thanks for your question.
    Adam

  • Carri

    Hey Claudia,Homer as a wilderness itself, perhaps not…but good jumping off point, maybe. As far as Bourdain or anyone doing Alaska (we’ve already had Racheal Ray…too bad), I don’t know if it’s possible to really capture what’s happening up here in a program, even one as irreverent as NR. The scope is just to big and most of what is so entertaining about living here is not necessarily PG13 material!

  • Laura

    To both Adam and Ruhlman, I love how you both have a distinct voice and I love your writing. Food can be taken seriously and there are times when it should be, but at the same time its food. So I am glad to read both of your opinions.

    As far as pretension and food and language and all that, the golden standard (as far as necessary skill sets in most restaurant kitchens) are French! So what about all the terms that are thrown around- bouquet garni, mise en place, etc. Just something to think about.

    Btw Adam, I read your book on the plane today and it definitely made my flight more enjoyable and I could not put it down. I love your humor and your writing voice and your majesty.

  • veron

    How about putting an excerpt on the Amazon site…I find that very helpful for readers to decide whether to buy the book or not.

  • Claudia

    Carri:

    The very fact that a lot of Alaska isn’t PG-13 material is to its credit, I’m thinking . . . (!)

  • Marlies

    Kathy is right: a gourmand is a glutton, almost the opposite of a gourmet. The German word is even better: Fressack! someone who gorges himself indescriminately.

  • Danelle

    Good interview. Michael- thanks for being a part of the French Laundry cookbook. I am in LOVE with it! I am looking forward to reading all your books about the great Thomas Keller. Adam, keep up the good work and good luck! Your book also sounds like a must read!