The Rumpus Mini-Interview Project #32: Rebecca Steinitz in Conversation with a Chef

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My husband, Sam Putnam, is the chef of a popular new restaurant, which I’m not going to name because it’s already gotten plenty of publicity.

I wanted to interview him because I haven’t seen him much lately and people are always asking me how he’s doing. He also tends to be a quiet guy, and I wanted to get him to talk.

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Rebecca: What’s it like to be the chef of such a successful restaurant?

Sam: It’s a lot of work.

Rebecca: Say more.

Sam: It’s both very satisfying and very stressful.

Rebecca: Why?

Sam: The positive feedback is very satisfying. Trying to produce the product I want to produce at the volume we need to produce it is extremely challenging.

Rebecca: What’s it like to spend fifteen hours a day six days a week in a restaurant?

Sam: The time spent in the restaurant is not particularly difficult. What’s difficult is the lack of time to spend on my family and my own life.

Rebecca: What do you miss most?

Our daughters, in chorus: Your lovely daughters.

Sam: What I miss most is my wife and lovely daughters. Fortunately the restaurant is very close to home so they can often come visit me at work, but I sometimes feel alienated from what’s going on with my family and that’s difficult. Frustrating.

Rebecca: As you know, I’m not much for cooking. Can you comment on some of the things I don’t like?

Sam: Sure.

Rebecca: Chopping.

Sam: Sometimes I find chopping very relaxing. Unfortunately as the chef of a busy restaurant, when I’m chopping usually I should be doing something else.

Rebecca: Being patient while things cook till they’re really done.

Sam: That doesn’t bother me because I always have many other things to do while things are cooking.

Rebecca: Doing all that work and then it’s all gone in 15 minutes and you just have to do it again.

Sam: That’s the nature of cooking.

Rebecca: And it doesn’t bother you?

Sam: No, it’s an ephemeral art form.

Rebecca: And you’re ok with spending your life producing ephemeral art and not leaving a mark in the world?

Sam: The mark I leave is a lot of happy well-fed people.

Rebecca: Touché. What have you always wished someone would ask you in an interview?

Sam: I don’t know, but the question I least like in an interview is what’s your favorite thing to cook.

Rebecca: OK, then I’ll ask you what your least favorite thing to cook is.

Sam: That’s a good one. My least favorite thing to cook is scrambled egg whites. I think they’re disgusting.

Rebecca: I was going to ask you about cooking in the era of the celebrity chef. Do you have anything to say about that, or do you want to leave it with egg whites?

Sam: I’m not a fan of the celebrity chef. I think that the current obsession with chefs as superstars has caused a corresponding decline in our society’s appreciation of all the unknown everyday cooks, both professional and amateur, who work very hard simply to feed people good nourishing food without any personal aggrandizement.

Rebecca: Thanks. Nice to have you home for the evening.


Rebecca Steinitz is a writer and editor in Arlington, Massachusetts. Her essays, articles, and reviews have appeared in The New Republic, The Utne Reader, Salon, The Boston Globe, The New York Observer, Hip Mama, Literary Mama, and The Women's Review of Books, among other places. She also works with urban high school teachers as a writing coach in the Boston Public Schools. More from this author →