When Ian Knauer ’99 was a first-year student living in Suffolk Hall, he and a few friends had a weekly tradition they called “Big Night”. The guys would take turns cooking in the common kitchen, and spend hours talking over the shared meal. “These nights would go on until six in the morning,” Knauer recalled. “Every single week it would be the thing we would look forward to.”
It didn’t matter what he made for dinner. Food was the excuse to connect. Growing up in Allentown, Pa., and spending weekends laboring at his family’s Colonial-era farm 40 miles northwest of Philadelphia, Ian Knauer grew to love watching how food brought people together.
After a detour into work as a stockbroker, he landed a job testing recipes at Gourmet magazine. His memoir/cookbook The Farm was released in April. And his TV show, also called The Farm, is set to debut on PBS stations across the country in fall 2013.
Knauer’s inspiration is that 40-acre plot of rolling Pennsylvania countryside that has belonged to his family for nearly three centuries. Knauer’s aunts and uncles jokingly call it “the sweatshop on the hill.” As a boy he’d chop wood and mow the lawn under the watchful eye of his grandfather, Daniel, who died in 2010. Daniel Knauer also taught his grandson about the pleasure of freshly picked strawberries and how to raise honeybees. The Farm is dedicated to him.
At Hofstra, Knauer took calculus and discovered he had an affinity for numbers. He’d always liked languages, so he majored in international business. After graduation he became a stockbroker. He loved the work, but not the lifestyle. He left his job at Fidelity Investments in 2000.
Cooking is easy. If I can spread the word, that’s something I’ll feel really good about – Ian Knauer
Meanwhile, Gustavo Moraes ’99, one of his suitemates from Suffolk Hall, was working on a master’s degree in film at Columbia University. Moraes had a job babysitting a boy after school. He asked Knauer to fill in for him while he took time off to visit his native Brazil. “Ian was a good person,” said Moraes, now a filmmaker in Rio de Janeiro. “He liked kids, and he had an interesting perspective on life.”
To Knauer’s surprise, Ruth Reichl, editor-in-chief of Gourmet magazine, was the mother of the boy Knauer would be watching. “She had this wall of cookbooks,” Knauer said. After Reichl’s son went to bed each night, Knauer would pore over the books, falling asleep with his nose in the recipes. After his babysitting stint ended, Reichl hired Knauer to work in Gourmet’s test kitchen.
Knauer soon discovered one of the perks of working in the kitchens at Gourmet: the opportunity to take classes at cooking schools around the world – an opportunity Knauer took advantage of in California, Hong Kong, Mexico, and England, among many other places. Knauer rose quickly through the kitchen ranks, and eventually was in a position to invent his own recipes. When Gourmet stopped publishing in 2009, he returned to the farm and came up with the idea for the cookbook.
The Farm contains 150 recipes organized by the season when they are best enjoyed. The 233-page book also describes the farm, with its beehives and gardens bursting with peppers, peaches, herbs and tomatoes. Knauer splits his time between there and his home in New Hope, Pa., 70 miles southwest of Manhattan.
His TV show is expected to appear on PBS in fall 2013. Knauer calls The Farm “the New Yorker of food shows.” He’ll show viewers how he makes delectable meals with fresh, local foods, and how they can do the same.
Different episodes focus on specific components. There is a dairy episode, a beer episode and a pig roast episode. In the honey episode, Knauer prepares chipotle honey-glazed baby back ribs, sweet potatoes with honey-shallot lemon dressing, carrots with a honey glaze, and honey walnut cake for dessert.
“I’ve always called it a cinematic journey through your taste buds,” says Kevin Rhoades, executive producer of Rocket Surgery Entertainment, which is filming The Farm.
Knauer and the production company are bankrolling the show on their own, with help from sponsors. After it airs on PBS, they hope to sell The Farm to another TV network.