12/24/14

Secret Weapons: Eating and Friends with Craig Griffin

Eat, Knucklehead, by Craig Griffin (book cover)
Adam Robinson: Thank you for agreeing to do this interview for Amy McDaniel presents Eat Genius.
Craig Griffin: Anything for Amy.
AR: I was just reading an article I saw on Facebook about one of the Navy Seals, the one who got Bin Laden. His house was broken into, and he defeated five intruders. What are your feelings on that?
CG: Sounds like—
AR: But maybe we should talk about your book.
CG: I smell a hoax.
AR: Wait, the hoax being American Facebook machismo, not your book, right?
CG: Yeah, the Seal thing. I tried to google it but my computer's only letting me Yahoo. Which is for shit, you know. But yeah, American machismo, a hoax.
AR: Yeah, a lot of browsers are switching to Yahoo. I've been using Bing a lot. It's pretty good.
CG: I read an article yesterday crediting Ayn Rand with it.
AR: With Bing? I tried to google it but my computer’s only letting me Chumhum.
CG: American machismo. Like, but for Ayn Rand, guys would keep their shirts on during pickup basketball games. Or not so much that, but they'd like losing as much as winning because the game's so fun.
AR: Oh, but Ayn Rand derailed that?
CG: She's like: Win. That's it. And make fun of the losers. I feel like these sports metaphors are tired, but I've got this baseball team I'm thinking about.
AR: Oh?
CG: I'm being made head coach of this high school baseball team in this official ceremony at the school tomorrow and I'm nervous as hell.
AR: There's a ceremony? Who will be there? Are there boosters?
Hippy coach (#24)
CG: I have to give a speech, and I think that when you give speeches to baseball teams and their families, you're supposed to use a lot of sports metaphors to make a connection. And to make it seem like you know what you're talking about. And I realize that all the metaphors I've used so far are about basketball. So you can see why I'm nervous. That's the wrong sport. Goddam Ayn Rand.
AR: That sounds like fun. Maybe start by saying it's because of Atlas Shrugged that we're so competitive. Then talk about James Naismith and the peach baskets. Then close by saying "Let's win one for the Gipper." Then start a slow clap.
CG: I think I'll probably just tell them I'll cut all my hair off if we win state. Then maybe the slow clap thing.
AR: I have no advice, really. You're probably the first art teacher that gets to coach the baseball team. So, about your book. Will it have pictures?
CG: Yes. Well, drawings. We should send a copy of it to that Navy Seal. And the five guys he defeated. They could read it while they convalesce.
AR: When you tell people about Eat, Knucklehead, do you say it's a cookbook, or a novella, or it's letters from a dad to his son, or what? Like, I mean, if they're running away from you as you try to tell them. So you only have a second.
CG: I think that if someone's gonna stick around for the full explanation, I've told them it's a cookbook. Unless they seem literary, then maybe I say novella. Nobody writes letters anymore, do they?
AR: Yeah, no one would know what you meant. They’d be like “letters? You mean an epistolary novel?” So when you started putting the cookbook together, were you surprised by how much story you were writing down?
CG: Am I surprised by how much of my cookbook isn't a cookbook? Hmm. I don't think I expected it to work, actually.
AR: What do you mean? Which part didn't you expect to work?
CG: Well, the idea—to share recipes that are cheap, healthy, easy and quick, in a vernacular and style that was specific to this character, this father, who's writing these letters to his son, explaining different motivations/styles of kitchen play, and in these letters including stories that would somehow be relevant to a reader beyond the son, the intended recipient. I just wasn't sure I could achieve that relevance.
AR: Oh, oh. I see. Well I think you accomplish that because the father is an interesting guy and it's fun to read about his exploits.
CG: I'm glad you think so.
AR: I’m paid to.
CG: I was also like, where the fuck was I gonna find enough recipes … I'm about as much of a cook as I am a baseball coach ...
AR: Well that's a good question, about your cooking experience. And I think it suggests some of the, of what makes the book so worthwhile. Like, you're not a chef or anything. So what drew you to writing a cookbook?
CG: Right. I've never had any kind of classical training. I'd get sent home first on one of the cooking competition reality programs.
AR: Probably true.
CG: But I was a teacher. And somehow, when I taught, I got wrangled into teaching a cooking class.
AR: Oh yeah?
CG: And even though I'd never spent any time thinking about how to teach someone to, for instance, saute an onion, I had an approach to the class that all but transformed the 20 or so sophomores into Julia's Children.
AR:
CG: Julia’s—
AR: Oh, I get it. What was that approach, and did you replicate it in book format?
Cheese wads
CG: First day of class, I said, “You may have heard that this class used to be called Home Ec, and in it you would learn how to, I dunno, knit doilies or something, along wth beat an egg and burn a roast. We'll call this class 'Culinary Art,' and in it you will learn how to do one thing: impress a significant someone in your life.” Everybody was hooked. And yes, there are a few chapters—well, the entire book is all about cooking for someone you care for.
AR: Yeah, that's what I got most out of the book, your love not just for cooking, but for the experience that comes from eating with people. Whether it's a Super Bowl party or a holiday dinner with your partner's parents.
CG: Or camping, or breakfast in bed.
AR: So, all the chapters are linked to tell the story of a young guy's life. His dad is basically giving him instructions for all these different milestones people come to in their twenties. Was it hard to find recipes to fit into that? Which came first, the kid's milestones, or the food you wanted to write about?
CG: Most of the recipes came after the general outline was put together. I had an idea of what the milestones would be, but it wasn't until I fleshed out the story that I started thinking seriously about what kinds of recipes I'd need. I had a good amount myself, and some I planned on developing. But I also had a secret weapon. Do you want to know what that was?
AR: Follow up question: what was the secret weapon?
CG: I'll tell you: friends. You'll see in the acknowledgement section of the book. We know so many people who are pretty amazing cooks, and I even had recipes they'd made in mind before I contacted them.
AR: So you actually contacted people and they sent you their recipe?
CG: Yes, when I finished the letters in the book, I sent personal letters to all these people, these beautiful friends, explaining the book and the chapters. For some, I just asked for this or that recipe they'd made once that I'd tasted, but of everyone, I asked whether reading through the letters brought anything to mind. The response was pretty fucking awesome.
AR: People love talking about food, when they have a good experience around eating.
CG: Yeah.
AR: Of all the recipes in the book, what are you craving the most lately?
CG: I just made the open-faced sloppy joes. Holy crap were they delicious. That recipe comes from my friend Fred. Otherwise, it's getting cold up here, so we're exploring soups.
AR: And there's a whole letter devoted to them.
CG: Have you cooked anything lately, Adam?
AR: Well, I made soup a couple weeks ago. And I'm making chili tonight.
CG: Attaboy.
AR: And I've had Uncle Pants's Sure Fire Hangover Cure a couple times.
CG: That's an easy one to remember. Uncle Pants.
AR: Yeah, but you got to read the book to find out ...
CG: Or they could just look up last year's Eat Genius. But that's no fun. Yeah, read the book. And have a Happy New Year.

Eat, Knucklehead will be out from Publishing Genius in March.

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