How To Get Started:
First, the Idea
I had come to the conclusion that no one else was going to write about the life of Friedemann Paul Erhardt (a.k.a culinary icon CHEF TELL) and that I better do something about that. After all, he had been my brother-in-law.
I was not sure that writing his life-story was a worthy endeavor — family and friends were in opposite camps about the man: some loved him, others hated him. I just wanted to research the facts and decide for myself.
In December of 2011, one of my sisters, Bunny Erhardt, widowed since Chef had passed away in 2007, granted my request for access to her friends and acquaintances. She gave me permission to write the first Chef Tell biography.
Embarked on my quest to discover whether this man was worthy of my time or not, I developed a three-part outline loosely fitted to the early, middle and later years of his lifetime. As the work progressed, data gathered on my desk and on sheets of papers surrounding my desk, fitted into corresponding sections of that outline. Eventually, a timeline list of major events in Tell’s life took shape and became the backbone to my body of work.
As people’s names popped up, I jotted these down, notching a mark each time the same name appeared more than once. The resultant list directed me to individuals who would become subjects of interviews that, I hoped, would provide personal anecdotes, as well as qualify the data, which, by now, were adding up to conflicting accounts.
Fact and fiction overlapped more than a few times. These were not proverbial “truth is stranger than fiction” mishaps; either the subject of my book had lied to the press, or journalists had researched poorly their magazine and newsprint articles, or not at all. Sifting actual facts from a widespread panoply of published falsehoods circulated among articles, media interviews, and the chef himself, became the hardest part of the task!
My Virgin Interview
My first in-person interview was in the Philadelphia administrative office of Chef Georges Perrier, a contemporary of Chef Tell and one of the Top Five, premier French chefs in America. Perrier had agreed to 15 minutes only — not much time to request more than a simple, “Tell me, chef, what was important about Chef Tell?” If any more time would pass, I would wing it by following my instincts.
I had never conducted a live interview with anyone before. Working in international marketing sales (to support my writing aspirations) I had met and sold products and services to many top business executives in the financial and healthcare industries for over 18 years, but this would be my first live interview as an “Author.”
“Mon dieu, I did not know this. I knew this woman; she was simply tall, bright and beautiful.”
Later, having shelled out a twenty-dollar bill to retrieve my rented car from the union-run, Philly parking garage, I made a mental note to bring enough change to feed the street meters at future interview meetings. That evening I rewarded myself with an authentic Philly cheesesteak sandwich for making it through what I thought would be the worst of my gauntlet of interviews for this book.
“Chef Tell was a giant of a man. I miss him. I loved him,” and “You know, maybe I’ll have you write my biography, because I like you. But, of course, it would be a very naughty book!”
Each subsequent interview, each fork in the road, each turn, hill and valley on the path I took to find new information about whether I would love or hate the man who had been Chef Tell,moved me inexorably toward its own conclusion.
“WOW is a great start! This is a wonderful account of one man’s voyage and how in so many ways every reader will connect with something. It is engaging, and takes you through all the emotions of life, leaving you to decide what is next for you, and how you will make the most of your today – it’s a testament of the human spirit.”—Tracy Repchuk, #1 Amazon.com Best Selling Author and Top Woman Speaker in the World Online Business Strategy