Dining » Food Features

The Ruhlman Rules

Cleveland's foremost culinary voice shares his secrets to food, hair and schmaltz


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?How long before the book is released?

The book comes out next October.

How are sales going?

They're fine. I haven't checked lately but it's thousands, it's not 50,000 or 20,000. But I would expect to sell about 10,000 in the first year. And I would expect those numbers to change as more people buy iPads. With all of my digital products it's been sort of a long tail source of income for us.

What do you see as the future of the cookbook?

Like all media, it is going to fragment. In the same way the audience fragmented with radio when television came along. There will always be cookbooks. People love the physical object of a cookbook. I love cookbooks — to hold them, to look at them. There will always be that but there will always be more and more digital cookbooks and people will be cooking from tablets more frequently. They will probably be able to buy both the hardcopy and electronic versions as well. There will be more self-published cookbooks and those that are worthwhile will succeed because they have great personal recommendations. It's an unprecedented time for people who have good ideas.

What about the future of dining and cooking trends?

I'm hopelessly optimistic and believe that more people will cook their own food because the whole world is better when people cook their own food for their friends and family. We'll have better-produced food because more and more people are demanding it, and more and more farmers and growers and creators of food are providing it. They're employing better methods. Restaurants are getting better because they have to, to keep up with the young upstarts who have the energy to make really great food, like Jonathon Sawyer and so many others in Cleveland. Even grocery stores are sourcing locally grown produce in the summer. Heinen's does a fabulous job sourcing local produce. The independent chains are better at this. Heinen's and Zagara's both do a good job.

What do you think about Ferran Adria's cooking style and molecular gastronomy in general?

I think that it's young cooks exploring what's possible. It gets very boring cooking strip steaks and baked potatoes, very boring to do eggs Benedict at brunch. Cooks are by nature energetic and curious. They want to explore and do what hasn't been done before. I think it's a great thing. Now, do you want to eat it all the time? No, it's highly manipulated food. You want to eat it sometimes 'cause it's fun and interesting. But I wouldn't want to eat it everyday. It gets a lot of press but actually it's very rare. There are few places in America that do it because it's hard to do well and so costly to do. And if you can't do it well, it's disastrous. If you don't do it well, your restaurant is going to close. It's even difficult for those who do it well. You're still going to have a lot of people looking at it saying, "What the hell is this? We're going to McDonalds." As a trend, molecular gastronomy will keep on going as long as there are people interested in those techniques. It's a fringe movement 'cause it's so difficult to do well.

What are your thoughts about "celebrity" chefs?

We took our food and it's abundance for granted for so long in America. When it started to make us sick, we suddenly became very hyper-conscious of our food. Chefs are a symbol of our food, and therefore we made them celebrities. Is that a good thing? I don't think it's a bad thing but it should be kept in perspective. The best chefs consider themselves craftsmen. The worst chefs consider themselves artists. There are some chefs that perform at that level but they are very rare. Celebrity chefs are good insofar as they help educate America about how to eat and how to cook. What is the load of crap being pawned off on us is by big agricultural giants, the Swanson chicken broths and all the Monsanto products'. We made chefs celebrities because we saw them like religious leaders of something that was important to our humanity. Where else can we look?  We're starting to look at farmers. There are now celebrity farmers. Farmers are fabulous people. They ought to be the genuine celebrities in my book. Not the chefs that cook their food. The people that produce the food are the ones that ought to be celebrities.

Where do you like to eat when you're home in Northeast Ohio?

God, do you think I'm going to tell you that (Laughing). I say go out and find cool places. Talk to other people. That's how I do it. I really don't go out that much because I'm always traveling, and when I'm not traveling I want to stay home and cook for my family. We don't go out a lot. But Cleveland has just become a fabulous place to go out for food. It's endless. I urge people to explore. If they don't like something, then the market won't support it. If they like something, I urge them to tell their friends and to support it.

Have you ever sent a dish back and if so why?

I don't think I would ever send a dish back. I would be too embarrassed. If it was really bad, I would courteously tell my server. For example, If I ordered a steak and it didn't come out as I had hoped, I would tell my server, "I ordered this rare and, as you can see, it isn't. Either don't charge me or bring me a properly cooked steak." Again, it should be done courteously and even when something is wrong or a lot wrong I rarely say anything. For me it's kind of rude. Frankly, I can't remember a time when I've sent anything back. The level of cooking is very high and people are very good at what they do. They're very knowledgeable and the caliber has been great. That really doesn't happen anymore. That used to happen at the Brown Derby circa 1970. When they cooked the baked potatoes in tinfoil. I cannot recall a single dish I've had in Cleveland or anywhere that I even remotely wanted to send back, let alone criticize.

With today's technology, you and your wife can pursue your careers in any city in the country. What keeps you in the Cleveland area?

I'm glad you asked me and not my wife. She's from New York and it's been a serious bone of contention for a long time. She asks all the time, "Why the fuck do we live in Cleveland?" What I realized after my dad died in 2008 was that I moved our family back here not just because it was my home but to be with my Dad, who was ill.

Just to fill in with a bit of background information, your father worked in the advertising business here?

Yes, he was Creative Director at Liggett-Stashower and my mother started a business here — a woman's dress store, Point of View.  She was very entrepreneurial and my dad was very writer-ly and creative. I am very much a product of my parents' upbringing. I am very lucky to have had such amazing parents. I met Donna when she was a photographer for the Palm Beach Daily News in Florida. We got tired of living in Florida, which is just hot and flat and hot.

I had asked my Facebook friends to chime in with questions for this interview and you've answered many of them already. This final question was sent to me and I wasn't going to ask, but it kept recurring and my hairdresser is also curious. To what do you attribute your gorgeous head of hair?

It is, no doubt, all the fat that I eat. Make sure you don't actually put the fat on your hair. Put it in your food. No, I don't use any hair product and why my hair is a subject of conversation I don't know. My perfect hair has been made fun of by many. I can't escape it, even my dear friends are constantly lamenting the fact that they wish their hair was more like mine. It's such a funny topic.

Could your perfect hair be due simply to genetics?

Heart disease, hypertension, diabetes... most of the modern day maladies we have today are largely genetic and the result of eating processed food. Eat healthy food. When you eat something and you feel bad afterwards, don't eat that way again. And, when you eat something and you feel good afterwards, eat that again. I eat good food and that's why I have such great hair.


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