Knock, Knock

October 17, 2017

A few years ago my buddy and coauthor Chef Charles Carroll had a crazy idea.

Let’s organize a trip to Afghanistan. Bring along a troupe of celebrities, entertainers and cooks, a few tons of food, dozens of pallets of gifts, drop in on a forward operating base (FOB) in a war zone, put on a Vegas-style show, and make a home-cooked meal for 5,000 US troops.

Some people build model airplanes in their spare time. Some go on hikes, or start a coin collection. Chef Charles does impossible things. It’s like his hobby, I guess. Although he doesn’t actually have any “spare time.” As executive chef of one of the busiest country clubs in the U.S. he runs a staff of seventy-five, putting on eighty to a hundred banquet events per week.

Spare time or not, though, he keeps climbing these impossible mountains.

So he raised the money, organized the team, and made the trip. Cooked for the troops. That was 2011. And it had far more impact on him than he even expected.

“Men and women came up to me and told me what it was like there,” he says. “That they hadn’t expected to be there more than a few months, and now they were there for years. How much they missed home. Some of them were talking about suicide.”

When he got back Stateside he decided he had to go back, and this time, he had to bring them as much of a taste of home as possible. A flood of messages from people back home saying they missed them and how much they loved and appreciated them. So he got messages on video from all sorts of people. But he wanted something big. What’s big?

The president. No, not the president, singular. Presidents — plural.

He picked up the phone. Called the office of George W.H. Bush. Talked to the folks there, explained what he wanted: a personal video message from the former president to the troops that Charles could take with him on his next trip.

They said they’d relay the request and get back to him.

He hung up, thought for a moment. Picked up the phone again. This time, he called the offices of George W. Bush. The other former Bush president. Explained what he wanted.

They said they’d relay the request.

“Well,” said Charles, “you know, George Senior’s already in.”

Really, they said. Okay. They’d definitely get back to him.

Hung up. Paused. Picked up the phone again: Georgia. Jimmy Carter’s office.

“I should tell you,” he said as he explained what he wanted, “both the Bushes are already in. I’m sure President Carter would want to be part of this, too.”

Next call — you guessed it — was to Bill Clinton’s office. Same conversation.

Now came the tricky part. Calling the White House. Getting a personal favor from a former president (or four) is one thing. But a sitting president is a good deal busier. And talk about getting through the gatekeeper! Try the White House switchboard.

So Charles called, and a week later he called again, and a week later called again. He put in a few dozen calls. It got to the point where, when the White House picked up the phone, Charles would just say, “It’s sunny today in Houston, partially cloudy, twenty percent chance of rain later today…” and they would say, “Hello, Charles.”

Meanwhile, he got the video messages from Jimmy Carter, George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush. And then, he got the video message from President Obama. Not only that, he and his wife got a formal invitation to attend a Christmas reception at the White House. Which they did.

Next thing you know it was 2013 and he was in Afghanistan again, with Robert (Restarant Impossible) Irvine and the legendary Coach Lou Holtz and a cast of dozens, up onstage in front of thousands of our finest.

(If you want to see some mighty inspiring photos from that trip, click here and browse through the “Operation HOT” section.)

And this time, he brought all five video messages with him to those troops, along with the Cajun food and the dozens of pallets of gifts from home.

How do you get five U.S. presidents to do you a personal favor?

You ask.

“Knock,” goes the Scripture, “and it will be answered.” It’s amazing how many doors will open for you when you’re on a mission to bring value to people.

But you have to knock on the door.

Eight years ago, Chef Carroll knocked on my door.

He contacted me, out of the blue, letting me know he’d read The Go-Giver, loved it, and was using it with his staff at the country club where he worked. And that he had an idea for a story he’d love to write with me.

I loved the idea, but had nowhere in my schedule I could really fit it in. He kept knocking. He knocked and knocked. And eight years later, here we are.


Because today is the official launch of our book, The Recipe, — a true entrepreneurial labor of love, which we wrote, kneaded, proofed, baked, produced, sliced, and published ourselves.

Bon appetit!

Knock, knock.

Who’s there?


Arbuckle who?

Arbuckle be on sale by the time you read this…

We hope you’ll buy a copy!

The Recipe: A Story of Loss, Love, and the Ingredients of Greatness, by Chef Charles Carroll and John David Mann; available in hardcover, ebook, and audiobook.


  1. Mark Given

    Awesome John! That’s the kind of story Hollywood should make a movie about. You kids ROCK (and bake)!!!

    • John David Mann

      From your lips to God’s ears! 😉 Actually, we do have some Hollywood interest, though it’s early still and you didn’t hear it from me! (Shhh.) And bless you, Mark for your amazing support in this launch! Much appreciated!

  2. Beverly Bellmore

    I agree with Mark. I’d love to see a movie about the book, the making of the book and the other things that Charles has done, like these visits to Afghanistan. That’s a kind of tall order but it would be so inspiring and encouraging to others. Like the book is! Of which I have a SIGNED copy on the way. Yay!

    • John David Mann

      Thanks, Bev! Ditto to what I said to Mark — there actually IS movie interest brewing. But we never had this conversation. 😉

  3. Lee Burrell

    So glad you and Chef Carroll did not give up the dream for The Recipe. It is a wonderful and impactful book. It will definitely be a gift for my children this Christmas. Your work resonates with my heart. Keep up the great work and God bless.

  4. David Connon

    John, this is a very nice story. I’m glad you and Chef Carroll got to work on a book together.


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