Two Guys and a Cookbook

Sussman brothers' "Freshman in the Kitchen" makes cooking look easy
Cover art for the "Freshman in the Kitchen" cookbook. Ann Arbor resident Max Sussman is the brother on the left.

Cover art for the "Freshman in the Kitchen" cookbook. Max Sussman, who lives in Ann Arbor, is the brother on the right.

When The Chronicle called Max Sussman one evening earlier this week, he was cooking ratatouille.

“Ratatouille” isn’t a dish his target market is likely to know about (though maybe they’ve seen the movie). But Max and his brother Eli are hoping to change that. The mission – to get their generation comfortable with (or ideally, even excited about) cooking.

To do that, they’ve written “Freshman in the Kitchen: From Clueless Cook to Creative Chef.” Max, who lives in Ann Arbor, worked a booth at last weekend’s Kerrytown BookFest, and was heartened by the response. “Some people bought two or three copies” to give as gifts, he said. “I didn’t know if we’d sell any.”

The text makes for an engaging, chatty read – you get the sense that these guys are having a blast. Recipes are accessible, and they’ve included all manner of tips to help a novice navigate unfamiliar territory. That said, there’s plenty to appeal to a more experienced cook, too. It’s not about slapping together PB&Js (though they’ve got a recipe for PB&J smoothies) – you’ll learn to make chicken shawarma, goma ae and yakisoba, among other hard-to-pronounce dishes.

The cookbook’s publisher is Ann Arbor-based Huron River Press, which is making a name for itself in that niche. The press, owned by Steve and Shira Klein, has published eight cookbooks, including two by Craig Common, owner and chef of the Common Grill in Chelsea, and one by Eve Aronoff, owner and chef of the upscale eve restaurant in Kerrytown.

Max used to work at eve – both in the kitchen and as DJ Max Blixx on Thursday nights, when the restaurant features music and complimentary appetizers in its wine bar. (He now works in the prep kitchen at Zingerman’s Deli, and does a little catering on the side.) When he and his brother were shopping their proposal around to publishers, they turned to Huron River Press initially because of the eve connection.

Huron River Press did some research and found there wasn’t anything like this on the market, said Steve Klein. They did a run of 5,000 copies, which is about average for these books, and are using a grassroots approach to promoting it. Eli, who lives in Los Angeles, is working events in that area, while Max is promoting the cookbook locally.

He’ll get more signature cramps at Saturday’s HomeGrown Festival, an event at the Community High School field near the Kerrytown farmers market. The Zingerman’s booth is where he can be found there. He’ll be preparing Potato Leek Soup for people to taste (yes, the recipe’s in the cookbook).

You can buy “Freshman in the Kitchen” at local bookstores or via their website. It retails for $17.90.

Meanwhile, as a special bonus for Chronicle readers, here’s the Sussmans’ recipe for sesame peanut noodles. Enjoy!

Sesame Peanut Noodles


½ pound dry spaghetti 

3 tablespoons toasted sesame oil 

1/4 cup crunchy peanut butter 

1/4 cup soy sauce 

1 tablespoon seasoned rice vinegar 

1 teaspoon chili sauce 

3 tablespoons water

1 teaspoon brown sugar

1 small clove minced garlic

1 tablespoon minced ginger

1 carrot, shredded

3 green onions, thinly sliced

1 cucumber, medium dice

1 tablespoon sesame seeds


1. Cook spaghetti according to directions on the box. Drain and rinse pasta, then toss with 2 tablespoons sesame oil.

2. Combine peanut butter, soy sauce, seasoned rice vinegar, chili sauce, water, brown sugar, garlic, ginger, and remaining tablespoon of sesame oil in a bowl.

3. Toss the pasta with the peanut sauce mixture, 1/2 the carrot, 1/2 the green onion, and cucumber.

4. Transfer to a serving dish and garnish with sesame seeds, remaining carrot, and remaining green onion.