The Brothers Sussman: How Cooking With Family Works

Not long ago, no one in New York knew who Eli and Max Sussman were. The elder brother, Max, rolled up in 2010 from Michigan and about a year later, was followed by Eli. Max runs the kitchen at the popular pizza joint Roberta’s in Bushwick, Brooklyn, and Eli works the meaty line at the prevalent Jewish deli, Mile End. Though they don’t work in the same space, they live together in Williamsburg and cook as a team at home. Max likes local, seasonal, and wholesome ingredients, and Eli is addicted to sandwiches (he loves Court Street Grocers, Graham Ave Meats & Deli, and Parm’s turkey Sammie). Together, they are the Sussman brothers, stars of summer camp kitchens, successful before turning 30, and now, authors of their second cookbook, This is a Cookbook: Recipes for Real Life, which comes out today.

Why should we buy your cookbook?
Eli Sussman: The goal of the cookbook was always for it to be a useful tool and never be a coffee table book. We wanted it to be user friendly and inviting, which is why the antidotes are in there, not just to fill space, but to know where we are coming from so you know you can trust us.

So, why should we trust you?
ES: Well, writing a cookbook isn’t about knowing how to cook well, which we both know how to do, but more about making the user comfortable with the recipes you select for a cookbook. We know our audience, and we are the people that would want to buy our book. Meaning, we love food, are adventurous, and we want to learn to make things at home. So, you can trust us not only because we work at awesome restaurants and cook at home, but also because we know how to craft an awesome recipe for our audience, and that’s a really difficult task, to write recipes that are user friendly.

Why did you decide to write the cookbook with your brother?
Max Sussman: Eli and I have complementary styles, and also, I cook better, but he is slightly funnier and writes faster. So, it only made sense to write it together.

It’s rare that two brothers, with no formal training would be as popular as you guys are. Why do you think that is?
ES: I honestly don’t know if we are popular, but it think it could be due to several factors. First, the culture is very obsessed with food right now, so people want to know more and more what the food is, and the people behind the food. Max is the executive chef of arguably the most popular restaurant in Brooklyn for sure, and in the top 10 for New York. I am a line cook at Mile End, which is also everywhere, and since people like knowing their food and who is making their food, we have been in the right place at the right time.

As far as no formal training, in this day and age doesn’t seem to matter much. I have worked at Mile End for a year now, and I look at it as my college culinary career. I learned how to butcher,  how to make stocks, how to make chopped liver—it’s as good as culinary school. Of course, there are a million things you would learn that you won’t learn in a restaurant. Like making master sauces and soufflés. But, more and more, I think people are forgoing that expense and interning, staging, and going the less expensive, more hands-on route.

What’s it like to work so closely with your brother? 
MS: Eli and I have a really great working dynamic and actually get along surprisingly well. We make sure to agree on the overall vision of what we’re working on and then any disagreements are just about details, so it’s never a big deal to try to figure out what to do.

Have you guys always done stuff like this together?
ES: The first cookbook was born out of us working at summer camp together. Max was the head chef and I was like his sous chef, though it wasn’t called that. The camp was based on kibbutz, which is a socialist style of living in Israel, so it’s communal, and everyone has to do something. So, we had a garden and really stepped it up. At the beginning of the summer, Max said we were making nothing frozen, which was hard, but it was fun because making everything from scratch. We started writing down the recipes and when we got back to college, people were always asking us random cooking questions so we wrote a book proposal and sent it around.

So Max, how did you transition to dumpster diving to one of the hottest restaurants in Brooklyn?
MS: Well it was about a ten-year process, but my interest in food, cooking, and constantly trying to improve [myself] led me here. I always loved cooking and a big turning point was when I took a job as a line cook at eve, a restaurant in Ann Arbor, Michigan. It was the first time I was exposed to really good food in a restaurant setting, and I learned about all the little things and immense personal effort that goes into creating a great meal. I worked at a lot of different places between, but coming to Roberta’s was the next opportunity I have had to make great food without sacrificing quality for anything. 

And Eli, why Mile End?
ES: I made a list of the style of food I wanted to work in and Mile End satisfied every request on my list. My brother knew Noah [Bernamoff] and I got a trail, and now it’s the only place I have worked here.

Though both places are hip, they are very different…
ES: I think our choices mirror our personal style. I love delis and diners, and I think if one day I was to open up a restaurant, it would be very close to a diner-slash-deli.

Do you guys hope to open a restaurant?
MS: One day yes, but I’m actually super happy at Roberta’s since we do everything I can think of wanting to do, like have a garden, bake amazing bread, and make really great food.
ES: I definitely want to, but I think our visions for what we want to do is incredibly different.

Finally, Max, what’s your favorite recipe in the book?
MS: Linguine with anchovies, parsley, and walnuts. It’s so simple and so delicious and also really easy so how could you go wrong?