Good Will Hunting

My Summer Reading List: The Making of a Chef

Originally posted on October 7, 2009.

Ok, so astrologically Summer ended two weeks ago but I had a busy September.  Besides, we’re still knocking out 90 degree days here in L.A. (Lower Alabama).  The final book on my list is Michael Ruhlman’s landmark work The Making of a Chef: Mastering Heat at the Culinary Institute of America.  Rulhman’s mission?  Infiltrate the CIA.

The award-winning food writer went about documenting life as a student at the most prestigious culinary school in the world through first-hand experience.  Ruhlman attended classes, took exams, cooked in campus restaurants and even braved blizzards, and he translates it all beautifully to the written word.

Deftly the author guides the reader through Chef Pardus’ Skills class, echoes Chef Coppedge’s mastery of the baking arts and vividly describes the Odin-like majesty of President Ferdinand Metz.  Most importantly the prose gives one an accurate feel for the sacrifice and stress associated with studying at the Culinary.

A reoccurring theme throughout each kitchen is a dependency not on recipes but rather on ratios.  Each new chef/instructor hammers home the importance of ratios.  So much so that now I am ready to order Ruhlman’s latest best seller named, coincidentally, Ratio.

My journey through some of the great food tomes this summer was done because I felt I was lacking a theoretical and academic foundation to go with my 23 years of practical experience.  After reading these books, especially The Making of a Chef I am reminded of a great line from the movie Good Will Hunting, “You wasted $150,000 on an education you coulda got for $1.50 in late fees at the public library.”

Publishing Your Own Cookbook

Most people believe the hardest part in producing a cookbook is creating/collecting the recipes but they would be wrong. That is actually the fun part and as we know – anything that is fun goes by quickly. Generating the content for a cookbook is merely the tip of the iceberg; the onus is in everything else.

After you have gathered all information for your book editing is next followed by indexing. Both are tedious and time consuming – but necessary. The table of contents is also essential but not as problematic. Once you have arranged all of the material, edited it, indexed it, and created your table of contents you must then decide on the cover art. Once this is done you have a cookbook and the work begins in earnest – namely publishing and distribution.

Start with organization. Experts agree that you should always do an outline before starting a written project. This defines the layout. An outline is helpful with a cookbook to determine how you will break up the chapters. Will the type of dish determine the chapters or will it be by ingredients? Where will things like essays or illustrations come into play?

The table of contents can be relatively easy as long as you start it from the beginning. As I add new recipes to my text I add the name of the recipe to the table of contents. At this point the page number is inconsequential as most likely your page numbers will change a good deal. Once you have finished editing, print out a copy of your table of contents and then flip through your text writing down the page numbers. Then you can go back and add them to the actual table.

Editing is crucial, especially so with cookbooks. There is a considerable difference between 3/4 teaspoons of yeast and 34 teaspoons of yeast. You may wish to contact a professional editor. Check your local classifieds for people who provide this service. The usual charge is around $50. For indexing the “find next” function in MSWord is indispensable. Simply make an alphabetical list of the ingredients in all of your recipes then use the “find next” function (Ctrl+F) to find each occurrence and note the page number.

Unless you are an established cookbook author, a renowned chef, or a celebrity you will find it hard to get a standard publishing house to look at your cookbook, which leaves self-publishing. In this case the author invests $500 to $1000 of their own money to print the books. There are a number of companies who provide this service like Cookbook Publishers, Inc. ( and Word Association Publishers ( These companies provide you with the best avenue for making the cookbook in print match the one in your vision.

Another investment is your ISBN, which allows large retailers like to sell your book. The ISBN is a unique machine-readable identification number, which marks any book unmistakably. The cost of one ISBN is usually less than $400 and most major retailers will not consider you without one. For more information visit There is another way to self-publish that requires no up front money or an ISBN. is a company that enables individuals and companies to sell a wide variety of products online with no upfront costs.

This is how I self-published my first cookbook. It was easy. I simply uploaded my text (in .pdf format) and my cover art and the book was done. Are there any drawbacks? Although the cover is in color the text can only be printed in black and white which means, for the most part, no pictures. I have worked with these folks for several years now and I have no doubt that as soon as it becomes feasible they will allow for color pages. They do offer data CD publishing as well, so if photographs are integral to your cookbook you might pursue this avenue.

Once you have decided on a means of getting your cookbook transformed from conceptual to tangible then you must convince people to buy it. This is perhaps the hardest part therefore it may require the most physical labor and often a lot of imagination.

Start of course with easy marks, family and friends. Hopefully someone you know will have an outlet to get your book before the masses. For instance a relative who works at a store that will agree to sell your cookbook at their counter. Offer to conduct cooking classes or judge cooking contests. Do anything you can do to bring attention to you and your creation – this is called “creating a buzz”. .

In this day and age anyone that has something they want the world to know about should start with some sort of Internet presence. The more professional the web site the more likely people will be to purchase from it. There are a number of top notch web hosting companies out there. I have used for years with much satisfaction, their service a cut above the rest. Another well-respected hosting and design company is

You can create a buzz by sending free copies to people or organizations that do cookbook reviews or might be influential in the culinary or printing industry. Remember to not let rejection bring you down. Several studios turned down Ben Affleck and Matt Damon on their original screenplay for Good Will Hunting before a copy of it reached the hands of Robin Williams.

As you can see there is a good deal of work involved with self-publishing your own cookbook, but the rewards are undeniable. It only takes one copy of your book to land on the right desk to elevate you from local cookbook author to best selling cookbook author.

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Stuart in 80 Words or Less

Stuart is a celebrity chef, food activist and award-winning food writer. He penned the cookbooks Third Coast Cuisine: Recipes of the Gulf of Mexico, No Sides Needed: 34 Recipes To Simplify Life and Amigeauxs - Mexican/Creole Fusion Cuisine. He hosts two Internet cooking shows "Everyday Gourmet" and "Little Grill Big Flavor." His recipes have been featured in Current, Lagniappe, Southern Tailgater, The Kitchen Hotline and on the Cooking Channel.

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Stuart’s Honors & Awards

2015 1st Place Luck of the Irish Cook-off
2015 4th Place Downtown Cajun Cook-off
2015 2nd Place Fins' Wings & Chili Cook-off
2014 2015 4th Place LA Gumbo Cook-off
2012 Taste Award nominee for best chef (web)
2012 Finalist in the Safeway Next Chef Contest
2011 Taste Award Nominee for Little Grill Big Flavor
2011, 12 Member: Council of Media Tastemakers
2011 Judge: 29th Chef's of the Coast Cook-off
2011 Judge: Dauphin Island Wing Cook-off
2011 Cooking Channel Perfect 3 Recipe Finalist
2011 Judge: Dauphin Island Gumbo Cook-off
2011 Culinary Hall of Fame Member
2010 Tasty Awards Judge
2010 Judge: Bayou La Batre Gumbo Cook-off
2010 Gourmand World Cookbook Award Nominee
2010 Chef2Chef Top 10 Best Food Blogs
2010 Denay's Top 10 Best Food Blogs
2009 2nd Place Bay Area Food Bank Chef Challenge
2008 Tava: Discovery Contest Runner-up


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