Those familiar with the tales of Anthony Bourdain know that the restaurant business is intense work. In Fried: Surviving Two Centuries in Restaurants, ex-chef and current teacher Steve Lerach furthers this assertion, weaving tales of the quirky, hard-working, creative personalities he met throughout his 30-plus years working in the Twin Cities, while also exploring the history of dining, going as far back as the reign of France's Louis XVI.
City Pages: What possessed you to meld the history of dining with personal tales of your life?
Steve Lerach: The book started out being a master's thesis on what I was calling "The Transformative Power of Restaurants." Funnily enough, the more I read about the history of restaurants, the more I kept seeing analogs to people that I have worked with, as well as situations parallel to what went on in France, New York, and other places. The people that I had worked with kind of overwhelmed the story after a while and became the focus.
CP: Why do you think restaurant work attracts such a variety of people?
SL: I think it's truly an outsider business. The people who work in food are often the opposite of the rest of the population. They work when others are playing. They tend to want to keep their originality and uniqueness, and the restaurant atmosphere welcomes that. You can't really be off-the-wall or different at a bank, for example.
CP: Any recent restaurant trends that excite you?
SL: In Minneapolis and St. Paul, we're always behind the coasts, but at this point it's tough to find a bad meal at a reasonable restaurant. Nowadays we have better chefs, better ingredients. We now have local produce that hasn't traveled 1,500 miles, basically grown for preservation not flavor. I'm excited that so many chefs are doing sustainable food, using organic ingredients, and supporting local farmers. It's crazy not to. This is the best soil in the world: Why would we want to bring our produce in from somewhere else?