Max and Eli Sussman: "No One Asked Us to Open a Restaurant, but Someone Asked Us to Write a Cookbook"
Most chefs who put out a cookbook do it after they've run a restaurant for awhile, and then they often turn out a memoir that ends up serving more as a coffee table souvenir than as a recipe book. The Sussman brothers did it backward. Max was sous chef at Roberta's until earlier this year, and Eli helms Mile End, but neither has been working in restaurants long enough to put out that kind of account.
The Best Cookbook Ever
That hasn't stopped them from penning two catalogues of recipes -- This is a Cookbook and just-released The Best Cookbook Ever -- which, they say, are meant to be on the opposite side of the spectrum from those stylized collections from big-name chefs: These are useful guides in the kitchen, meant to be dog-eared and splattered, whether you're an amateur or an expert in the kitchen.
The brothers grew up in Michigan with a food-loving family, and they both found their love for the industry -- and for providing instruction to new cooks -- at their old summer camp, where Max ran the kitchen for a couple of summers and Eli worked as his assistant. During that time, Max worked hard to bring the dining program in line with the ideals of the camp, buying local and sustainable ingredients and enlisting campers to help cook from scratch.
After that, the brothers' paths diverged, and they took separate routes to New York kitchens: Max moved here four years ago after working his way up the ranks in restaurants in Ann Arbor; Eli abandoned a Los Angeles office job when he realized he was spending all of his spare time cooking and all of his expendable money on food.
When Eli landed in Williamsburg, his brother was already the sous chef at Roberta's. Eli started trailing in kitchens, and Mile End spoke to him immediately. He joined the team, working his way up to sous chef there. Max left Roberta's earlier this year to focus on his own project.
In this interview, the guys talk about an upbringing that put food at the center of their lives, the Brooklyn brand, and repeating mistakes on their second cookbook.