“My response to those asking how they can become a food writer is the same: first, become a writer.”
― Michael Ruhlman, The Main Dish
As shocking as it sounds, Michael Ruhlman never intended to be a food writer. One of the defining books of his career, “The Making of a Chef,” was intended to be a one-off project; something interesting to delve into before moving to the next.
Yet, when he started writing about food, things suddenly took off. He found himself co-writing cookbooks with Thomas Keller and Eric Ripert, then writing several of his own. He became a judge on “The Next Iron Chef,” has developed an app to encourage cooking, and started his own line of kitchen products.
Ruhlman claims he’s been lucky; but behind that luck, there seems to be a tenacity and doggedness that has been crucial in making him wildly successful.
In our interview for Entrepreneurial Chef Magazine Issue #7, Ruhlman shares the simple, yet sophisticated approach to culinary entrepreneurship. Below is a snapshot of the full write-up from Issue #7 on one of the most prolific authors in the industry today.
Preparation Meets Hard Work
In our interview, he emphasized the importance of not only being prepared for the lifestyle of an entrepreneur – “you’ve got to have a certain tolerance for risk and most people like to receive a regular paycheck and feel comfort in having a regular job” – but also how crucial it is to show up, every day. “I was a bad writer for many years,” he said, “but I continued to show up and write and eventually I got better.”
No Magic Formula
Showing up was also crucial to how Ruhlman has achieved long-term success. “There is no magic formula,” he said, “the way for me to achieve success was showing up every day. It’s always a series of steps. You make yourself a little better at every step of the way; that’s what Thomas Keller says all the time. Just a little bit better every day and accomplish something every day.”
It’s All Just a Process
Ruhlman takes the same approach to entrepreneurship; it began as a series of steps that led from one opportunity to another. “There wasn’t a single incident that defined my becoming an entrepreneur,” he said, “it was a gradual increase.”
Inspiration from Perspiration
He takes a simple approach to generate new ideas: show up, put in the work, and go from there. “Inspiration does strike,” he told us, “but you don’t wake up saying you’re going to be inspired today, or say I’m not going to work because I don’t feel inspired. Can you imagine running a kitchen that way? You show up, put in the work, and progress from there.”
Obsession & Sheer Doggedness
As his story shows, there are two underlying components to entrepreneurship: An obsession paired with “sheer doggedness.”
Ruhlman always knew he wanted to write, to tell stories. He also developed a growing passion for cooking early in his adolescence, cooking through college, relationships, and his courtship of his wife, Donna.
He may not have categorized his interest in cooking as an obsession, but it was an ever-present interest that inevitably merged with his primary obsession to write. This eventually turned into a monthly food column, the interview with Parker Bosley that laid bare his ignorance of what it meant to be a chef, then the proposal to the CIA that would become “The Making of a Chef.”
None of this would have been possible without Ruhlman’s persistence and perseverance. Entrepreneurship is the hardest road you can take, but for some, like Ruhlman, it’s the only way to live.
Ruhlman has called his path to food journalism an “accident.” A happy accident, but an accident nonetheless. It is a modest description of a life thus far driven by persistent determination and a relentless drive to keep showing up, day after day.
He knew two things: that he wanted to write, and that he loved to cook. Ruhlman didn’t directly seek out collaborating with Thomas Keller, but he had laid the foundations for such a collaboration to exist. He focused on writing well, honed his ability to relate a story, absorbed everything he could about chefs, and dove head first into one of the best culinary schools in the nation. He took risks – financial and otherwise – to pursue what he loved to do, and found opportunities in unexpected places.
Sure, you could call Ruhlman lucky, but then again, luck happens to those whose preparations intersect with opportunities.
Entrepreneurial Chef Magazine
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