How Steve Sidman serves his celebrity-chef clients
Published in 2018 Georgia Super Lawyers magazine on February 22, 2018
Steve Sidman’s big break in the high-end restaurant world came when he represented chef Grant Achatz and his business partner Nick Kokonas, the team behind Alinea, a world-famous Chicago restaurant, in a cookbook deal in 2007. But his journey to being the top chefs’ top lawyer started much earlier.
Sidman wanted to be a musician. He played in bands all the way through college—including, he says, “a really, really, really mediocre cover band” with Kokonas at Colgate—then worked at a record label in New York. When he got tired of eating ramen, he got a job with Beldock Levine & Hoffman, which had, he says, a small but influential entertainment practice. It certainly influenced him; it made him want to be a lawyer.
“Six months prior to that,” says Sidman, whose father was an attorney, “I would have said I’d be dragged kicking and screaming into the practice of law.” Suddenly he saw a way to work with creative people and artists, and make a good living at the same time.
Even before law school at Emory, Sidman started working for one of the country’s top entertainment attorneys, Joel Katz; post-J.D., he joined his firm, Katz, Smith and Cohen in Atlanta. “Just because I wanted to make myself indispensable,” he says, “I took on any work they gave me. Anything that seemed even remotely uninteresting but necessary tended to flow to me. These are the decisions you make as a young lawyer.”
It gave him exposure to a wide variety of transactional work—from tour bus leases to bass players’ work-for-hire documents—which he calls “building blocks of people’s careers in the music and entertainment industry.” He wound up repping recording artists, musicians, authors and actors. Then he got a call from his old college buddy.
“‘Hey, do you do book deals?’” Sidman recalls Kokonas asking. “‘Because I’ve invested in a restaurant, and we’re doing a cookbook deal.’”
It wasn’t just any restaurant. Alinea had already been named the best in the country by Gourmet magazine. The project was unique in that Achatz and Kokonas financed the book’s production and retained online and foreign distribution rights, while the publisher was responsible for distribution to brick-and-mortar stores and some online retailers. Sidman describes the cookbook deal as “self-funded, self-marketed and—like everything else Chef Achatz and Nick do—an absolutely unmitigated success.”
That success in turn helped Sidman gather a notable roster of chefs, including Atlanta icons and James Beard Award winners Linton Hopkins and Steven Satterfield, Top Chef winner Richard Blais, Chopped winner Suzanne Vizethann, former Top Chef participant Hector Santiago, and cookbook author Asha Gomez.
He says there’s little difference between representing a musician and a culinary artist. “Artists are artists, and they share a lot of the same goals and the same needs,” he says. “It’s not just what they do, it’s who they are. They want to share [their skill] with people and, God willing, make some money at it. … When I was younger, I wanted to be one of those people, but if I couldn’t, I was going to serve them in some meaningful way.”
Sidman, who hung a shingle in 2010 before moving to Carlton Fields as a member of its intellectual property group in 2017, describes his day-to-day as divided between the phone, email and deep dives into contracts. “It is not sexy,” he says. “My life is not an episode of Entourage.”
The upside? “At the end of the day, we are about helping people create things,” he says. “We’re not trying to break things down.”
Sidman thinks he’s a decent cook, even if that’s not a majority opinion in his own household. “My wife and daughters will tell you I’m incapable of scrambling eggs or boiling water,” he deadpans.
A more honest assessment may be that he likes to cook. “I make an enormous mess. I use every pot in the kitchen. Occasionally it tastes good. More often than not, it’s edible.” And though he’s eaten in just about every restaurant in town, his wife’s stuffed cabbage is his favorite comfort food. Clearly a man who knows on which side his bread is buttered.