A Life at the Grill (and a Labor Day Recipe)


Grillworks Inc

I like fire. As a child I nearly burned our house down in each of the successive countries we called home. I played with matches in Paris and Buenos Aires, and certainly would have in London had I not been imprisoned in my crib. I even took my hobby to camp with me and scorched portions of my cabin.

Whether out of practicality or self-preservation, my father began to channel my obsession at our farm in northern Michigan. In the summers I was put to work cutting, categorizing, and stacking firewood for the winter. Monstrous "Yule logs" meant to burn all evening, short stout pieces for the basement's wood furnace, long ones to power the living room fireplace, and compact lengths for the wood stove. When all this was done, I could look forward to picking up all suitable sticks on our four acres to store for kindling.

Obviously Dad liked fire too. After the wood gathering, I'd experience payoff in the form of a dinner of game, beef, or garden-grown vegetables, fresh off the family grill. Now this was not just any grill. This was The Grill. Sooty, worn, and a little byzantine, our stainless steel machine had stood in the same place for 20 years, harnessing thousands of fires into doing our bidding.

Dad's hometown of St. Louis is a barbecue city by any measure. He had also worked as a foreign correspondent for Time magazine, and his first post, in France, had opened his eyes to the magic of reductions and sophisticated sauces. When my father was assigned by his employer to cover the coup in Chile, he deposited his young family in the relative safety of Buenos Aires. The grilled cuisine of rural regions and Argentina—well, there was the site of an open-fire revelation.

Letters were answered by calls from food great James Beard, among others, who invited my father to his New York office with grill in tow—then didn't allow the grill
to leave.

When we settled in Michigan, father and family immediately missed the flame of our travels. The first few summers became grill-designing season. Dad tested prototype after prototype, the requirements being that the end product be a single machine that could perform the techniques of Europe, South America, and the USA. Even with all the effort put into it, he didn't envision it as a product, just our family grill. It became The Grill.

The Grill was a quick hit with dinner guests, some of whom knew that what they were looking at was an amalgam of international grilling equipment, the rest simply there for the open fire and the results. Shortly his friends wanted their own, and a hobby business was born. Then their friends called. Stories appeared in the paper. Horrified Mom was pressed into service as Treasurer. Letters sent on a lark were answered by calls from food great James Beard, among others, who invited my father to his New York office with grill in tow—then didn't allow the grill to leave.

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Ben Eisendrath is the president of Grillworks Inc., maker of Grillery wood-fired grills. Early Grillworks grills were used by James Beard himself, and today their designs are the favored grilling platform for many other live-fire chefs. More

It was a world-cuisine education begun early. After a childhood that began in London, moved to France, then grill-Mecca Argentina, Ben and his family were finally deposited by his journalist and grillmaster father in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Ben studied Environmental Sciences, Literature, and Psychology for his BA at the University of Vermont�where environmentalism joined live-fire passion to form his philosophy of ecological and food-chain participation. Also a technophile from birth, out of college Ben was swept up by the digital wave and ultimately found himself living in Washington, D.C., directing product design at AOL headquarters. But his well-worn, Dad-built Grillery always waited at home, and after his 10-year AOL tour she finally won his full attention. �After all,� Ben says, �you can touch a grill.�

With the company fully reborn, today Ben designs Grillworks grills to be tactile, visually striking tools for amateurs and pros alike. They're now found in restaurants, kitchens and backyards all over the world�and since Ben believes grilling to be a seminal morale-builder, also at the forward operating bases of U.S. troops deployed abroad. The little grill Dad built, called "Magnificent" by James Beard himself, is thriving once again.

Ben writes and speaks about artisanal grilling and travels extensively to ensure his designs best harness the world's open fire techniques. He calls Washington home but still builds his grills near the family farm in northern Michigan.

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