Skip to main content

Was King Tut Murdered?

Egyptologist Bob Brier is the author of "The Murder of Tutankamen: A True Story" (Putnam) about his search for the killer of King Tut, using forensic evidence. Brier also hosts The Learning Channel's series "The Great Egyptians." He's also the author of several books: "Ancient Egyptian Magic," Egyptian Mummies," and "Encyclopedia of Mummies." Brier's speciality is paleopathology: the study of disease in the ancient world. He is a professor of philosophy at the C.W. Post campus of Long Island University. (Interview by Barbara Bogaev)


Other segments from the episode on April 6, 1998

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, April 6, 1998: Interview with Bob Brier; Review of Martha Cooley's novel "The Archivist"; Interview with Michael Ruhlman; Review of DJ Shadow's album "Preemptive Strike."


Date: APRIL 06, 1998
Time: 12:00
Tran: 040601np.217
Head: The Murder of Tutankamen
Sect: News; International
Time: 12:06

BARBARA BOGAEV, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Barbara Bogaev sitting in for Terry Gross.

Whenever you see a big crowd huddled around an exhibit in the ancient Egypt section of a museum, you can be sure what they're staring at: the mummies. Our guest today, Bob Brier, is one of the world's leading authorities on mummies. Brier is an Egyptologist, specializing in paleopathology, which is the study of the diseases of the ancient world. He teaches at C.W. Post campus of Long Island University.

Brier made headlines in 1994 when he mummified a modern human cadaver using the techniques ancient embalmers applied in mummifying the pharaohs. Bob Brier is the author of several books on mummies and ancient Egypt. He's also the host of "The Great Egyptians," a television series on The Learning Channel.

In his new book, "The Murder of Tutankamen," Brier uses modern forensic evidence from King Tut's remains to bolster his theory that the young pharaoh did not meet a natural end. I asked Bob Brier what makes him think there was foul play.

BOB BRIER, EGYPTOLOGIST, PROFESSOR OF PHILOSOPHY, C.W. POST CAMPUS, LONG ISLAND UNIVERSITY, HOST "THE GREAT EGYPTIANS," AUTHOR, "THE MURDER OF TUTANKHAMEN": To tell you the truth Barbara, the evidence is from different areas and it's not as strong as we'd like it, but it really suggests murder. The forensic stuff, when I finally got into it, wasn't my strongest evidence. Sure, there's evidence of a blow to the back of the head, but that's not murder. A bullet to the brain is not murder. It could be an accident. It could be all kinds of things.

You have to look at the circumstantial evidence. And it's the circumstantial stuff that really got me going, and I think in some ways is very moving and what makes it a great story. For example, soon after Tutankamen died, his widow, who was the last member of the royal family, wrote a letter to the king of the Hittites.

Now, the Hittites were the traditional enemies of ancient Egypt. And she writes a letter to the Hittite king and says: "my husband has died. Sons I have none. They say to thee thy sons are many. Send me one of thine sons and I will make him King of Egypt. Never will I marry a servant of mine. I am afraid."

And that's pretty impressive stuff. Why is the Queen of Egypt writing to the Hittite king and saying she's afraid? And why is she saying, "I'll marry one of your sons and make him King of Egypt." You know, aren't there eligible Egyptians around? So, I think that suggests at least that some strange things are going on during the time and I think it's turmoil.

BOGAEV: Is there any other circumstantial evidence?

BRIER: Oh, there's plenty. For example, the prince eventually was sent from the land of the Hittites. The king at first didn't believe it. It was so incredible that he sent a messenger to Egypt to make sure the story was true. The messenger came back and said "yep, it's true." And then finally, the prince was sent. But we know from the Hittite records that the prince was murdered by Egyptians on the border of Egypt.

All right, so there is at least one documented murder. Then, the question becomes: well, who murdered the prince and why? And who is this servant that she didn't want to marry? Well, the next thing we know is that Tutankamen is buried and when his tomb was discovered in 1922, that was the first time we knew with absolute certainty who his successor was; who followed Tutankamen.

On the walls of the tomb is a painting of Tutankamen as a mummy, and next to him is the next pharaoh. We're sure he's the pharaoh 'cause he's wearing the crown of the king. And he's administering the equivalent of the last rites to Tutankamen. That is, he's holding an instrument to the mouth, the opening of the mouth ceremony is being performed, and the pharaoh is going to be given breath and life in the next world.

And this next king is Aye -- A-Y-E -- who was the vizier of Egypt at the time. So he was an old, trusted servant. Now the question becomes: how did Aye, a commoner, become King of Egypt? And now you're supposed to ask: what's the next clue?

BOGAEV: Go on, go on.

BRIER: Yeah, yeah. It's an amazing story, but it's all true, which is neat. The next clue is a ring -- a faence (ph), a ceramic ring -- that was found in an antiquity dealer's shop in Cairo in the 1930s. It was found by Percy Newberry (ph), an Egyptologist who used to rummage through these stores looking for interesting historical objects.

The ring has the khartoushes (ph) -- the ovals that encircle royal names -- of two royal people. One is Ankasunamen (ph), the widow of Tutankamen; and the other is Aye, the vizier. And what it means is that Aye married Ankasunamen. Aye married the widow.

So "the way I became pharaoh" was by marrying this terrified widow who's saying "never shall I never a servant," i.e. commoner. "I am afraid."

BOGAEV: Well, that's a nasty story -- the regent kills the king and marries his wife.

BRIER: Yeah, yeah. And it's -- that's -- that part is fairly well-documented. What isn't documented is what happens to Ankasunamen next. She disappears from history. We don't have her tomb. We don't have any record of her after this. The last record we have is this frantic letter written, saying "I am afraid."

BOGAEV: Back to the forensics...

BRIER: Mm-hmm.

BOGAEV: ... what exactly remains of a mummy? What remained of King Tut in mummy form? I understand you have to remove the brain and the internal organs to mummify a body. So, what did you have left to go on? What were you looking at?

BRIER: They're -- with mummies, it varies with the individual mummy as to how much remains. If it's been well-preserved, there's not just a skeleton, but there's also soft tissue. But part of the embalming was removal of the internal organs, and taken out through an incision in the left side of the abdomen, but kept. They were placed in special jars called conopic (ph) jars. And these jars were used to preserve the organs because the Egyptians were resurrectionists. They believed that in the next world, you would get up and go again. You would literally get up and go again.

So they kept everything, except the brain. The brain was removed through the nose, but that was thrown out. Now, the reason -- you might say: well, why didn't they keep the brain, because if you wanted to get up and go again, you're gonna need your brain. The Egyptians believed that you thought with your heart, which is not a crazy theory. I mean, for example, when you get excited, it's your heart that beats quickly, not your brain.

So the brain is thrown out, but with Tutankamen, we have the skeleton and we still have his internal organs. They were kept. Now unfortunately, when he was examined carefully in the 1920s, when the tomb was first discovered, there wasn't much in the way of advanced technology for what to do with these things. So one of my hopes is to examine, for example, the organs. From examining his stomach, we can tell: what was his last meal? Did he eat way before he died? Or was it right after a meal? We might be able to tell by examining his liver -- was he sick? Did he linger for a long time before dying?

So, there are lots of things we can go on from Tutankamen. We just have to get access to the body.

BOGAEV: Did you actually study his mummy?

BRIER: No, I -- his mummy is sealed in the tomb where it was found. The body of Tutankamen is the only one left in the Valley of the Kings, of the pharaohs. Because he was found in his tomb virtually intact, it was thought that after the treasures were removed and the body was examined, it should stay in the tomb. So it's still there in the sarcophagus, sealed in.

One of the interesting things I did examine were two fetuses -- mummified fetuses -- that were found in the tomb with Tutankamen. These were probably miscarriages of his young wife, Ankasunamen. And if either of those two little girls had lived, history would have been quite different. There would have been a successor.

BOGAEV: How was your murder theory received by other Egyptologists?

BRIER: Well, I think it's really mixed in a funny way. It's far from proven that he was murdered. It really is a theory, as you say. I think it's a reasonable theory and I think it's probably the most reasonable theory. But I had some interesting responses from colleagues.

One -- one really sticks in my mind. I had done this television show about the murder of Tutankamen for The Learning Channel, and it got a lot of publicity and very good reviews -- received very well. But being received very well on television isn't the same as having a solid academic, you know, theory.

And I got a letter from a very close colleague. I mean, she's very close -- a dear friend -- saying basically: "you know, Bob, you got it all wrong. Aye was a grandfather type who really always nurtured the young couple, and he never would have killed Tut."

Now, that's her position, which I certainly respect, but what's interesting was that I think she felt that her theory had more, perhaps, support, but I don't think it really did. I think these things become very personal and we become perhaps too attached to our theories and if evidence crops up that contradicts your theory, you give it up.

BOGAEV: Dr. Bob Brier is my guest. He's an Egyptologist specializing in helio-pathology, which is the study of diseases of the ancient world. He's conducted autopsies on many ancient mummies. He's written four books about ancient Egypt. His new book is The Murder of Tutankamen.

We'll talk more after this break.

This is FRESH AIR.

Back with Egyptologist Bob Brier. He's a leading authority on mummies and the diseases of the ancient world. He hosts the TV series The Great Egyptians on The Learning Channel. Part Two airs the beginning of May.

A couple of years ago, you mummified a modern human cadaver yourself -- in the manner of the ancient Egyptians. But first of all, how did you get permission to do this?

BRIER: Oh, in any medical -- in any medical project involving a human cadaver, there is usually a state board that determines what is done with the cadavers. So you write up your proposal, like any grant proposal, explaining what your goals are; why you're doing it. And then they either approve it or turn it down.

So, ours was unanimously approved.

BOGAEV: Who was the lucky cadaver?

BRIER: I'm not gonna tell you. Whenever a body is given to science, there's always the condition of anonymity. So, we don't reveal who it was. And the person who gave his body to science doesn't know what the project is going to be for which his body will be used. So, he's going to be surprised when he wakes up and finds himself mummified.


BOGAEV: What did you hope to learn by doing it yourself?

BRIER: Well, before we did the project, the general procedures for mummification were known. The crucial thing is to dehydrate the body, because bacteria need moisture to work on a body. That is, they won't attack a body unless there's moisture there. This is why, for example, the blueberries -- the dehydrated blueberries -- in your cereal last so long.

So they -- we knew that they dehydrated basically; they removed the internal organs. But there were lots of details that we really didn't know. For example, how do you remove a brain through the nose? Or is it possible to remove the liver through a 2.5 inch incision, which is all they made in the abdomen? Or for example, how much natron (ph), which is the dessicant they used -- the white powder that occurs in Egypt -- how much natron do you need to dehydrate a human cadaver?

So there were a lot of questions that we wanted to answer, and that's why we attempted a mummification.

BOGAEV: And did you find your answers?

BRIER: Yeah, it was rather successful. And I don't mean to hedge by "rather." It was really quite successful. For example, it takes 600 pounds of natron to dehydrate a body. Or, one of the things we were interested in was: how do you get -- you know, how do you take the brain out through the nose? It was very difficult, is the answer. It didn't happen the way most of us thought it did.

That is, we all thought -- and there are papers written on it, which we now know are wrong -- that the body is lying on its back and with a long tube, you probe through the nasal passage past the ethnoid (ph) bone to the bone behind your eyes, and then into the cranium. And then what you do with a kind of long, hooked instrument very much like a coat hanger, you pull a little bit of the brain out a little bit at a time and repeat this many times, and then you get the brain out.

Wrong. Doesn't happen that way. We tried it. The brain is -- is not viscous enough. It just doesn't adhere to the coat hanger instrument and doesn't come out. What we finally realized was: you use the instrument kind of like a whisk and you rotate it inside the cranium so that you break down the brain 'til it's almost in a liquid state, and then you turn the cadaver upside down and the brain runs out through the nose.

BOGAEV: Oh, man. How much...

BRIER: It's not for everybody.


BOGAEV: ... how good a job did you do on your mummy? Where is he or she?

BRIER: It's a he. I think we did really well. The mummy is, as I put it, "dead and well." It had been -- it was mummified about 2.5 years ago, and since that time it's remained at room temperature with no preservatives other than its dehydration and it has no signs of decaying any more. So, we think we've really done it right.

The mummy, as a matter of fact, just made its first trip. It's out in San Diego, California at the Museum of Man, where they're having a very large exhibition on mummies and they're bringing in mummies from Peru and the bog mummies and Egyptian mummies. And they wanted our thoroughly modern mummy.

BOGAEV: Why did the ancient Egyptians first begin mummifying bodies?

BRIER: Well, it comes from the religion. They were resurrectionists. They believed the body would literally get up and go again in the next world. So, you had to have your body and it had to be intact. I think originally, the first embalmer was really the sands of Egypt. In very early historic times, they buried the bodies in -- just in a sand pit. And if you bury a body in warm, dry sand, it'll dehydrate very quickly. And this is what preserved the body and created natural mummies.

And I think this was the idea from which the Egyptians went. You know, if you see a -- I mean, at some point, the sand is going to blow away from the mummy and it's going to be exposed. And you're looking at a human being who hasn't changed that much, who may have died 2-300 years ago. And I think this may have given rise to the Egyptian theory of resurrection -- that nothing really changes when you die. You just go to a different place.

BOGAEV: Bob Brier is my guest. He's a leading Egyptologist and mummy expert. He teaches philosophy at C.W. Post University.

Your specialty is diseases of ancient peoples, and that's what you're looking at often when you're studying mummies. What did ancient Egyptians suffer from?

BRIER: Well, one of the things we get from studying mummies is a picture of what they suffered from, and the answer is: almost everything. The ancient Egyptians were always sick. You know, it's easy to form this picture of this happy civilization on the banks of the Nile. You know, they were the greatest civilization of their time in the Near East. But they were sick all the time.

One of the things we learn is that they had a lot of intestinal parasites. Whenever we look at the abdominal cavity, you'll see larvae, you'll see remains of parasites. So they had things like anemia all the time. Another thing that they really had problems with, and must have caused tremendous discomfort -- was tooth decay. And it wasn't tooth decay in our sense.

They didn't have sugar, so they weren't getting cavities the way we do in modern society. They were getting cavities from -- literally from their daily bread. Their bread was stone ground, and what that means is: when you're grinding it, you're getting a little bit of your stone in your bread.

Not only that, but then you had sand-blown -- you know, wind-blown sand coming into the bread. So when they ate their bread, they were actually grinding down their teeth. And almost all Egyptians had ground-down teeth, which eventually exposes the roots and causes a lot of pain. So, there were a lot of Egyptians who were really unhappy campers.

BOGAEV: I think there were pharaohs who you surmise died of tooth abscesses.

BRIER: Well, Rameses the Great, actually, may have died of an abscess on the mandible -- the lower jaw. There's a really big abscess in a hole. He could have died of septic infection from that. And even the Pharaoh Amenhotep III (ph) had terrible teeth, and he may not have been able to rule for the last couple of years. He may have been -- had to have been sedated perhaps with wine, maybe even with opium, which was the new miracle drug of the New Kingdom.

So teeth were a significant part of the daily life of the Egyptians, and it wasn't a pleasant part.

BOGAEV: What do you learn about modern diseases studying ancient ones?

BRIER: The idea of studying ancient diseases is that if we understand what happened in the old world -- in ancient times; and if we see the progression of the disease into modern times, we'll know more about the modern state of the disease. For example, one of the things I'm interested in is Alzheimer's. Is Alzheimer's a purely modern disease? Or, did it occur in ancient Egypt?

Now it's hard to study, because usually the Egyptians removed the brain at mummification and you need to study brains. But there are some lower-priced mummifications where the brains remain inside the cranium. So what we've got to do is study brains of old ancient Egyptians and see if there's any evidence of Alzheimer's. And I've been doing that.

So far, we have no evidence of Alzheimer's yet, and it may be a modern disease. If it is, we'll have learned something -- that it's something about the living conditions today that made it appear, and then we may be on the track of how to prevent it.

BOGAEV: How about cancer? Did ancient Egyptians suffer from cancer?

BRIER: Cancer's an interesting question. There's a bit of a debate among paleopathologists now whether there was any cancer in ancient Egypt. We don't have real solid absolute certain evidence of soft tissue cancer. There's some bone cancer -- a lesion on the bone that seems to be pretty solid. But soft tissue cancer, we don't seem to have it -- any real evidence. There's a couple of things that look like it, but it's interesting. If they didn't suffer from cancer, that would be really interesting.

One of the things they did suffer from, which I think is surprising, is hardening of the arteries -- arteriosclerosis. You know, normally it's the kind of thing that we attribute to our living, our fatty diets, and our sedentary ways and this kind of thing. But a lot of mummies show arteriosclerosis. There's a clogging of the arteries. Rameses the Great had it, but Rameses lived 'til he was 86 or so. But that's one of the surprises.

BOGAEV: I have to ask you the "have you ever actually touched a mummy" question, and what it feels like.

BRIER: Oh, I've touched lots of mummies. And it feels just fine. Mummies are fairly solid. One of the things that people don't realize is they're very light. An average mummy weighs about 30 pounds because once you're dehydrated, remember we're mostly water. And once you take out the water, we don't weigh very much.

So mummies are very light -- certainly hard. There's no sense of soft -- softness of tissue. And I think one of the things you have to be careful with, they're really quite brittle -- quite fragile. Over 2-3,000 years, the bone structure gets very, very frabile -- very fragile. So you have to be very careful.

BOGAEV: Were you always a mummy fan as a child?

BRIEF: Oh, yeah. I think I always liked mummy movies; always was interested in things like that. So, I think it's almost a childhood fantasy come true.

BOGAEV: Bob Brier's new book is The Murder of Tutankamen. He hosts The Great Egyptians, a six-hour TV series on The Learning Channel. Part Two airs Sunday, May 3.

I'm Barbara Bogaev and this is FRESH AIR.

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.

Dateline: Barbara Bogaev, Philadelphia
Guest: Bob Brier
High: Egyptologist Bob Brier is the author of "The Murder of Tutankamen: A True Story" about his search for the killer of King Tut, using forensic evidence. Brier also hosts The Learning Channel's series "The Great Egyptians." He's also the author of several books: "Ancient Egyptian Magic," "Egyptian Mummies," and "Encyclopedia of Mummies." Brier's specialty is paleopathology: the study of disease in the ancient world. He is a professor of philosophy at the C.W. Post campus of Long Island University.
Spec: History; Egypt; The Murder of Tutankamen
Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1998 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1998 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: The Murder of Tutankamen
Date: APRIL 06, 1998
Time: 12:00
Tran: 040602np.217
Head: The Archivist
Sect: News; International
Time: 12:30

BARBARA BOGAEV, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Barbara Bogaev in for Terry Gross.

A just-published first novel called "The Archivist" by Martha Cooley has put book critic Maureen Corrigan into a T.S. Eliot tizzy. Here's why.

MAUREEN CORRIGAN, BOOK CRITIC: Last winter, I saw the British actress Fiona Shaw (ph) perform T.S. Eliot's masterpiece "The Wasteland" in a derelict theater in Times Square: bare light bulbs hung from the rafters; broken seats were cordoned off in every row; and theatergoers in need of the facilities were directed to a porto-san out on the sidewalk. It was the perfect wreck of a setting in which to hear those famous opening lines: "April is the cruelest month."

As Shaw proceeded to act out The Wasteland in different voices, I heard what I'd always missed in 100 previous readings -- the raw feelings in Eliot's lines, the heartache, lust, despair, and terror hidden beneath his cool, riddling surfaces. For me, reading The Archivist, an extraordinary first novel by Martha Cooley that knowingly alludes to Eliot's life and poetry, was like sitting in the theater again that strange night.

At first, I thought: fine, here's another A.S. Bayett-type (ph) puzzle novel that will make some readers feel good about having majored in English. But The Archivist proves to be more than just another accomplished literary version of "Name That Tune." It vividly references not only the intellectual themes that dominated Eliot's life, but the emotional and spiritual ones as well.

The Archivist is such a passionate and fully-imagined novel that you don't need to know Eliot to become swept up by it, but I'll bet that if you aren't familiar with The Wasteland, "Prufrock" and "The Four Quartets" before reading The Archivist, you'll be roused to go on an Eliot binge right after you finish the novel.

The anti-hero of The Archivist is a man in his 60s named Matthias (ph), who works as the chief archivist of a major university rare book collection. One day, a young graduate student named Roberta turns up to disrupt the peaceful silence of his world.

Roberta demands access to a sequestered stash of letters T.S. Eliot wrote to an American woman named Emily Hale (ph), who he was close to before and after his tortured marriage to Vivien (ph). By the way, these letters actually exist in a collection at Princeton, sealed until the year 2020.

Matthias shoos Roberta away, but she's persistent. Slowly, he becomes drawn in by the elaborately odd story Roberta tells about why she needs to see Eliot's letters. It has to do with Eliot's romantic rejection of Emily Hale, his conversion to Anglo-Catholicism, and Roberta's own discovery that she's the daughter of European Jews who converted to Protestantism after the Holocaust.

Of course, there's something more beyond pure intellectual attraction at work here. Roberta reminds Matthias of his long-dead wife Judith. Like Roberta, she was also Jewish and a poet. Like Vivien Eliot, Judith was also mentally unbalanced and died in a sanitarium.

I've perhaps created the impression that The Archivist is one of those stately and maudlin novels destined to be embalmed on screen by Merchant-Ivory. Not true. In dense, lively flashbacks to their childhoods and early romance, both Matthias and the departed Judith paint a sumptuous picture of life in the mid-century Manhattan -- a place jumping with the jazz music they both loved. And Judith's madhouse journal, which forms the center of the novel, contains a treasure-trove of witty, brilliant fragments of insight shored against her ruin.

Here, for instance, she describes her limited relationship with her foster parents: "affection is there between us -- a slack filament on which we pull now and then to make sure somebody's at the other end."

By the startling conclusion of The Archivist, bookish Matthias proves that he's not a hollow man, and Martha Cooley demonstrates, as Eliot well knew, that enlightened plagiarism can produce some of the most wonderful and original works of literature.

BOGAEV: Maureen Corrigan teaches literature at Georgetown University. She reviewed The Archivist by Martha Cooley.

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.

Dateline: Barbara Bogaev, Philadelphia
Guest: Maureen Corrigan
High: Book critic Maureen Corrigan reviews "The Archivist" by Martha Cooley.
Spec: Books; Authors; The Archivist; T.S. Eliot; Martha Cooley
Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1998 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1998 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: The Archivist
Date: APRIL 06, 1998
Time: 12:00
Tran: 040603np.217
Head: The Making of a Chef
Sect: News; Domestic
Time: 12:35

TERRY GROSS, HOST: Journalist Michael Ruhlman managed to infiltrate one of America's most mysterious institutions, the CIA -- or the Culinary Institute of America. He came away knowing how to peel 50 carrots in record time.

In his new book, "The Making of a Chef," Michael Ruhlman describes the 81-week course of study at this gastronomic boot camp, which is also the leading professional cooking academy in the country. Ruhlman joined a group of new recruits at the CIA and attended classes, starting with the first kitchen skills course, on through meat fabrication, seafood cookery, Asian cuisine, bread, and wines.

He writes that he uprooted his wife and newborn daughter, moved 500 miles to live in one room above a garage in order to learn how to make a superlative brown veal stock. I asked him what he learned on his first day at the CIA.

MICHAEL RUHLMAN, JOURNALIST AND AUTHOR, "THE MAKING OF A CHEF: MASTERING HEAT AT THE CULINARY INSTITUTE OF AMERICA": The first day in any kitchen, you learn the kitchen first. You'll walk about the kitchen and the chef will show you where the steam kettles are, where the flats are, where the pans and pots are.

After that, we began first by roasting veal bones, and then we peeled a carrot. And that is where you begin.

BOGAEV: You peel the carrot? Did you know how to peel a carrot?

RUHLMAN: I had peeled many carrots before in my time. But there was something fascinating even in peeling a carrot. To learn economy of motion, in order to peel 50 carrots and peel them faster than your dishwashers or faster than any of your other cooks, was important. So to -- it was an idea to economize motion and effort and increase speed, which is what so much of cooking -- professional cooking -- is about.

BOGAEV: How do you correctly peel a carrot?

RUHLMAN: Well, you -- a properly peeled carrot -- the base of the carrot is -- we were using these big horse carrots that are about a foot long and the base is about two inches thick. And so you put the base on the cutting board and you rotate the carrot as you are peeling. This is so you're not holding your carrot -- your wrist isn't getting tired -- and you -- it works quite nice. It's hard to demonstrate verbally, but it works quite nicely in your own kitchen.

BOGAEV: Now this whole issue of sauce, and I guess you...

RUHLMAN: It's a big one.

BOGAEV: ... should say "stock" -- yes, it reaches just mythological proportions in your book. There seems to be a whole philosophy and history of stock, which of course is the soup base for creating sauces that I think most of us who haven't worked in a kitchen just have no idea about. What are these various camps and issues in the stock wars?

RUHLMAN: Well, everybody has their own way of making stocks and their own beliefs in stocks, and some people roast their bones and some people make a white stock. If you roast your bones, you're going to get a caramel color and you're going to get some caramel sweetness in your stock. If you don't, you're going to have a more neutral and pale looking and flavored stock, but one that can take on any number of flavors that you want to add to it later.

I like brown stock, and then we move -- then one would move from brown stock to the kind of sauce you will make from that stock, and here is where the war begins. And the war began at the CIA -- minor -- a minor skirmish on "roux" -- and what color one made one's roux to. Was it a blonde roux to make a brown sauce? Or a brown roux to make a brown sauce?

BOGAEV: Here I have to interrupt you. "Roux" is the thickened stock, right?

RUHLMAN: "Roux" is a mixture of fat -- no, no -- roux is a mixture of fat and flower. And stock is added to -- roux is added to stock -- stock added to roux -- in order to thicken that stock.

BOGAEV: Now this is French cooking...


BOGAEV: ... and here in America, there are plenty -- there are some French restaurants, but there are plenty of restaurants all over the country making sauces. Are they making sauces the same way?

RUHLMAN: Probably...

BOGAEV: Are they based on this French cookery? Is it relevant to what's going on in American restaurants?

RUHLMAN: ... a lot of people wonder about that. And I think it's very relevant. Virtually every professional kitchen is using some veal stock. Some people will use a brown veal stock. Some people will use a white veal stock. It's just -- as a base, nothing beats it for flavor and body, and it can take on myriad flavors; anything you want to bring to it. It's just a great canvas on which to put flavors.

So to learn the properties of veal stock is essential for a young cook because without a proper veal stock, you cannot make a good sauce.

BOGAEV: The model for the CIA seems to be what a medical intern or resident goes through. The place never closes. The courses are in three-week installments. You begin one course immediately after you end the last three-week group. And it sounded as if you and your fellow students were there at least 12 hours a day.

RUHLMAN: That's -- everything you said is accurate. It's a miracle of organization, that place. It never shuts down -- almost never shuts down for snow or any other reason. It's just everything is locked into place and you step through this regimen as the person ahead of you did and as the person behind you did, and there is always someone who will be coming in behind you and you will always be following somebody else through the whole course.

It's -- in order to -- to -- all those classes that I've listed or mentioned, those many classes, they have to -- it has to be this orchestrated in order to do it efficiently. Otherwise, it -- the whole thing would fall apart.

BOGAEV: It seems as if every teacher at one point in every class asks the students to ask themselves: what does the food want to be?


What do they mean?

RUHLMAN: I don't -- they don't -- only a couple would do that. One in gastronomy would do that. He would -- he encouraged the students to think Socratically about food in order to perhaps come up with new ways of -- of combining foods. I would -- I think that at the CIA, most chefs would not say that. They would say -- they would want the student to focus on a fundamental, rather than on some sort of esoteric and abstract idea of what the student wanted food to be, or what he thought the food needed.

Then again, you -- a chef will ask you there: is this -- is this soup or is this chicken or is this broccoli -- is this green bean properly seasoned? And that is fundamental -- knowing when something's -- and when I say "seasoned," I mainly mean salted. Is it properly salted? You should not taste the salt, but you should understand the effects of salt so that when you taste a green bean, you understand that its full flavor is coming out because the water has been properly seasoned and the bean is -- the bean therefore is also properly seasoned.

BOGAEV: Now when I have people over for dinner, everything is just a mess in the kitchen. The things don't get done in time or not all at once -- everything's ready at a different time. I walk around the kitchen looking for things and forgetting what I wanted to do next. Efficiency seems to be the key to cooking.

How do would-be chefs learn that? How do you teach that?

RUHLMAN: That's a good question, 'cause I was that person you just described. I -- I was a mess and my kitchen was a mess. And you are right: efficiency is the name of the game. When you are cooking professionally, you've got to -- you know, you're prepping for, I don't know, depending on the restaurant, 100, 200, 300 covers that night. And you've got a lot of food to get out, so you can't waste any time.

You learn efficiency from day one by keeping your board clean; from cleaning up after yourself; from working clean all along. And that is drilled into you every step of the way. So that by the -- you know, by the end of two years, it is just natural, or it ought to be natural, for you to keep your station clean just as a matter of course because it's been drummed into you.

So, you learn it slowly by degrees and by being yelled at.

BOGAEV: It's interesting that all the chefs at the school describe their profession as being incredibly, physically demanding. Now, when you look at a chef, or what I -- I don't think of chefs as being marathon runners or being particularly in top shape. What do they mean by that?

RUHLMAN: Many of them are. Many of them are very thin, believe it or not, because they don't eat, 'cause they're working all the time. They're around food all the time. You stop eating. I lost a lot of weight working in kitchens.

They mean it's -- you're -- it's physical. You're lifting heavy things. You've got big stock pots, you're lifting. You're carrying around 50-pound bags of potatoes and onions. You are -- if you're on the line cooking for service, you are in temperatures of 120 to 150 degrees for, say, between two and six hours. And you're moving fast. And in order to -- to do this, you've got to be clear-headed. You've got to be almost -- you have to be athletic in your mien. Otherwise, you've -- you'll collapse. You just can't do it. You have no choice. You must be able to withstand a certain amount of heat, pressure, and at the same time keep your mind clear enough to cook 30 or 40 or 50 meals an hour.

BOGAEV: It's kind of a mystery to me what happens in the kitchen of a restaurant before the doors open for business, and that is certainly something you learn at the CIA. What is -- what is the prep? What's there before customers walk in?

RUHLMAN: Everything is cooked before the customer walks in. Most things are cooked or partly cooked. This is what ones learns there. And it's important. It's the only way that -- that a restaurant can put out so much food so beautifully. This was -- it began in France and so as far as we know it remains that -- the best, maybe only way to produce so many fine meals, so many fine plates of food, in that short a time.

So you learn how to -- you learn to cook and shock your vegetables -- "shocking" is simply putting them in cold water so they stop cooking. When you do this, you've got fresh green beans that are ready for service. All they need to do is be reheated in a pan with some butter or however -- they can be put back into boiling water or -- but the point is, they're cooked. And in order to get them ready for the diner takes 30 seconds.

BOGAEV: So if you're the saute station, say -- that's your job.


BOGAEV: What's your day like? You have all this stuff that's cooked. What do you do?

RUHLMAN: You will have a number of meals that you're responsible for. Usually, you will have -- you will have to get all these component -- you will have to put all the components, say, I don't know, between five and 15 meals together. You'll have to have the starch; whether, you know, the various kinds of potatoes that you'll be serving.

You'll have to portion out your meats and you'll have them on a tray. You'll have them at your station in a low-bar (ph) at your station, so they stay cold. So as soon as you need the veal, it's pounded out and ready to go right in that saute pan; so that the chicken is right there; so your filets are right there.

You've got all -- your misenplas (ph) is ...

BOGAEV: What is that?

RUHLMAN: "Misenplas" is a French term for "put in place," but it's used widely in the industry and at the CIA and means "everything that you need to get the job done," in effect. A saute cook's misenplas are -- his misenplas is -- it's all the components that he needs to produce all the meals that he is responsible for. It will be -- the vegetable for every plate that he does. It will be all the protein -- all the meat that he does. It will be all the starch that he does.

And they'll be in little hotel pans or little one-sixth pans; all in front of him. People have open -- many kitchens now have open kitchens -- many restaurants now have open kitchens -- and if you walk by these open kitchens, you'll see a whole tray of stuff. There'll be cut-up vegetables. There'll be asparagus. There'll be mushrooms. There'll be butter. There'll be sauces.

And this is all part of the misenplas, and it's all the components of everything on that restaurant's menu.

BOGAEV: How much actual cooking does the -- the master chef do?

RUHLMAN: It depends. Some chefs just expedite, meaning they take the tickets as they come in and call off the orders and wipe the plates and make sure everything looks beautiful and keep the -- they keep the kitchen in order. Other chefs work the line.

I watched John Schenk (ph) when he was at the monkey bar (ph), and one of the students that I was working with was doing his extra in there. Schenk worked the line. He was there cooking. Other chefs are not there cooking. It depends. There are many, many -- there -- I think there are about a million cooks, according to statistics that I read from the government. That's a lot of cooks.

There are many different kinds of cooks, and we only seem to think about restaurant chefs as a cook. But hotels have cooks and nursing homes have cooks and corporations have cooks and prison systems have cooks. And chefs -- when I say "cook" I mean "chef," too. I'm skeptical of the word "chef." I think it's overused and used -- it now carries with it too much -- too many trappings of celebrity and it's ceased to mean what it used to mean.

So when I say "cook," it's -- I mean, "cook" in the highest way. A good cook is a term of respect when I use it.

BOGAEV: After you finished writing the cook, you went to work as a line cook...

RUHLMAN: Mm-hmm.

BOGAEV: ... for a couple months, right?

RUHLMAN: Four months.

BOGAEV: Did you feel you just had to put into practice what you'd learned? Or did you really have aspirations to make it in this business?

RUHLMAN: No because it's really -- it's too hard. It's crazy. I'm not -- I'm not a life-long cook. I did it, one, because I had to see if I could do the work and do it for -- day after day, week after week. I did it because I wanted -- I needed to keep writing about it. I'd become so fascinated by this -- by this world, this interior world of the professional kitchen that I thought in order to continue writing about it, I needed to have experience there.

BOGAEV: I want to thank you very much, Michael Ruhlman, for talking today on FRESH AIR. It was fun.

RUHLMAN: It was fun. Thank you.

BOGAEV: Michael Ruhlman's book, The Making of a Chef, recently won the prestigious James Beard Award in the category of writing on food.

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.

Dateline: Terry Gross, Philadelphia
Guest: Michael Ruhlman
High: Journalist Michael Ruhlman is the author of the book, "The Making of a Chef: Mastering Heat at the Culinary Institute of America." Ruhlman attended the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York to research his book.
Spec: Culture; The Making of a Chef; Books; Authors; Education; Culinary Institute of America; Espionage
Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1998 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1998 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: The Making of a Chef
Date: APRIL 06, 1998
Time: 12:00
Tran: 040601np.217
Head: Preemptive Strike
Sect: News; Domestic
Time: 12:55

BARBARA BOGAEV, HOST: One of the most innovative and distinctive CDs in recent years was DJ Shadow's "End Traducing." Released late in 1996, it introduced this California musician's cut and paste musical style, an alternative hip-hop style that owed little to the prevailing modes of gangster rap, techno, or electronica.

A new release by DJ Shadow called "Preemptive Strike" collects recordings Shadow has made from 1993 to the present. Rock critic Ken Tucker has a review.


DJ SHADOW, SINGER: Everybody's so concerned
About heroin and marijuana and all that
Until they forget the most dangerous narcotic that exists
And that's the narcotic that is injected into the mind's
It's called social narcotics

So you know as well as I do that things are changing...

KEN TUCKER, FRESH AIR COMMENTATOR: DJ Shadow was once asked what his favorite types of music were. He said: "it doesn't work that way for me. Hip-hop is what you do with all the music you hear."

What DJ Shadow does is sample other people's recordings, reorganizing and reinterpreting many different kinds of music that he hears, that he seeks out, that he tracks down like a detective. They're not so much compositions as solutions to a mystery of his own devising.


SINGER: You will hear my heart
And the circle will be complete

TUCKER: DJ Shadow is Josh Davis (ph), a guy in his 20s who lives in Mill Valley, California. A vinyl record-nut since he was a teenager, he's assembled a vast collection of rock, rap, jazz, classical, and experimental music, from which he fashions his own collages of sounds. In the process, occasionally scratching records like an old school DJ, he creates his own moods and ideas.


DJ Shadow recently told music critic Grielle Marcus (ph) in the New York Times: "it's not looping. It's chopping up -- finding and isolating a key element, then breaking it into ever-smaller fragments." It's very difficult to give you a sense of what this CD sounds like because its cuts merge into one another, yet are completely disjointed within each cut. If you didn't look at the liner credits, you really wouldn't know where one selection ends and another begins.

The effect is dream-like, but it doesn't put you to sleep or into a trance state. Preemptive Strike is full of the vividness and jolt of a good lively dream -- one that brings together associations you'd never have when you're awake, but which leave you feeling exhilarated, refreshed, thinking in new ways about how pop music works.

BOGAEV: Ken Tucker is critic-at-large for Entertainment Weekly.

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.

Dateline: Ken Tucker; Terry Gross, Philadelphia
High: Rock critic Ken Tucker reviews "Preemptive Strike," by DJ Shadow.
Spec: Music Industry; Preemptive Strike
Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1998 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1998 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Preemptive Strike
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

You May Also like

Did you know you can create a shareable playlist?


Recently on Fresh Air Available to Play on NPR


Daughter of Warhol star looks back on a bohemian childhood in the Chelsea Hotel

Alexandra Auder's mother, Viva, was one of Andy Warhol's muses. Growing up in Warhol's orbit meant Auder's childhood was an unusual one. For several years, Viva, Auder and Auder's younger half-sister, Gaby Hoffmann, lived in the Chelsea Hotel in Manhattan. It was was famous for having been home to Leonard Cohen, Dylan Thomas, Virgil Thomson, and Bob Dylan, among others.


This fake 'Jury Duty' really put James Marsden's improv chops on trial

In the series Jury Duty, a solar contractor named Ronald Gladden has agreed to participate in what he believes is a documentary about the experience of being a juror--but what Ronald doesn't know is that the whole thing is fake.

There are more than 22,000 Fresh Air segments.

Let us help you find exactly what you want to hear.
Just play me something
Your Queue

Would you like to make a playlist based on your queue?

Generate & Share View/Edit Your Queue