Having the chefs agree to a phone interview was hard enough. Getting them on the phone at all was worse.
It took nearly 70,000 calls to get more than 5,000 one-on-one surveys with chefs from all over the country for “Best Chefs America,” a large-format, 400-page book coming out this week. The compendium, produced by a Charleston-based venture of the same name, covers all 50 states and U.S. territories.
The $75 book will be sold primarily online through bestchefsamerica.com/book but also at Heirloom Books in Charleston, which will have a tent at the BB&T Charleston Wine + Food Festival. Online shipments begin Thursday.
“This was no small task and has never been done before,” according to Gabe Joseph, an attorney and the company’s chief operating officer. The effort took a team of about a dozen people who started work about 10 months ago.
“We think this book is really important and will shake up the food world,” Joseph says.
Each chef was asked a series of questions during the 15- to 30-minute interviews. For example: “Thinking about chefs nationally, which three chefs do you respect the most?”
Likewise, “Which three local chefs do you respect the most?”
Twenty-seven Charleston-area chefs made the list. One, Sean Brock of McCrady’s and Husk restaurants, vaulted into the book’s top 25 “Most Influential” chefs in the country.
“Chefs know best is kind of our motto around here,” Joseph says.
The idea for the book was conceived by Bill Blalock, who hired Joseph to run the operation. Charleston as a culinary hot spot was a natural fit for the book, Joseph says.
“It attracted people like Bill and myself. We’re all sort of young and hungry, pun intended.”
He says the team was fortunate to connect with as many chefs as it did because chefs are notoriously difficult to reach. “Imagine us as startup, the first thing they think is, ‘What is this guy trying to sell me?’ ”
In addition to the chefs, the book covers culinary ground such as emerging trends and ingredients. Photography is by Andrew Cebulka of Charleston.
Despite the turnover rate in the food and beverage industy, Joseph believes the book has a good shelf life. “Even if a ‘Best Chef’ does leave the restaurant he or she is listed with, the kind of restaurant that a ‘Best Chef’ has cooked at is still probably worth checking out.”
The company also plans to keep information current on its website, rolling out chef profiles in coming months as well as “some very interesting stuff that we weren’t able to fit into the book.”