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Special Sauce with Ed Levine

Serious Eats' podcast Special Sauce enables food lovers everywhere to eavesdrop on an intimate conversation about food and life between host and Serious Eats founder Ed Levine and his well-known/famous friends and acquaintances both in and out of the food culture.
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Apr 19, 2018
My guest on this week's Special Sauce is Simply Recipes founder Elise Bauer, who was a veteran of Silicon Valley start-ups long before she started her blog. "In the late '90's I worked with a start-up and helped raise $35 million on Wall Street for what was similar to what is now Skype. But it was also in the late '90's when, what do they say, what's that great saying of venture capitalists, 'In a strong wind, even turkeys fly.'"
 
It failed and Bauer took its demise to heart. "The company went bankrupt, I decided I'm gonna take a year off and get into shape. And I was living in San Francisco and so I decided what better way to get in shape than to do ocean swimming. The ocean there is about 60 degrees in the summertime and what better thing to do with one's time, right? And I loved ocean swimming. I actually did the [swim from] Alcatraz to San Francisco twice."
 
But after the attacks of 9/11, and after unsuccessfully trying to nurse one of her best friends back to health through a protracted illness, she developed chronic fatigue syndrome. Unable to work or swim, she packed up her laptop, left San Francisco, and moved back to Sacramento to be near her parents and regroup. "When I moved home, I gave myself a year where I would only do things that brought me joy...Doing things that make you happy, that's pretty good life medicine."
 
So in 2003 she decided to launch her blog Simply Recipes to keep a record of her parents' recipes. The only problem? There was no readily available blogging software available at that moment, and so she had to hand-code all the HTML, the CSS, the recipe pages, and the navigation. "No one does it anymore, but that's what you did back then. Because there wasn't blogging software. And then when someone told me, 'Guess what? There's blogging software out there.' I looked into it. I thought, 'Oh my gosh. I don't have to hand-code every single page on my website in order to put up a recipe or put up an article.'"
 
Elise was expending every ounce of energy she had left on Simply Recipes, and she found it incredibly worthwhile despite the initial lack of compensation. Why? "Because food is fun and I think it's important to write this stuff down and I believe in sharing knowledge. I don't believe in secret recipes. I don't think you should take recipes to your grave. I think the way we as a culture improve and grow is by sharing information and learning from each other. So it really is ... I want everybody to know how to cook well because if everyone cooks well, then I'm gonna eat better."
 
Elise's story is remarkable and life-affirming in so many other ways, as you'll find out when you listen to this week's episode. As for how Simply Recipes became the food blog juggernaut it is today? You're just going to have to wait until next week to find out.

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The full transcript for this week's episode can be found here at Serious Eats.

Apr 12, 2018

In part 2 of my Special Sauce interview with Sara Moulton, she plunges headfirst into the issues women face as chefs. "When I first moved to New York...I couldn't get a job. But not only that, about every five years there'd be an article in the New York Times saying, "Where are all the women chefs?" It pissed me off, because I'd be like, "I know where they are. Being kept down or going to California where it's far easier to get a job, because nobody will give them a job here."

Here she is on why she thinks she lost her long-running show on the Food Network: "The way I see it is, competition and cleavage took over. I had cleavage, but they didn't want to see mine. But that's all right. And that's not what I was there for. I'll be honest, I was devastated."

Sara also talks about checking in with women in the industry periodically: "I always talk to them and try to find out what's the deal, how we're doing, how are we moving forward? I mean, I'm no longer doing that. But, how are women chefs doing? What they say consistently is they're still not getting the same publicity, and they're still not getting the same real estate deals and backing for new restaurants. They're still being treated like second-class citizens."

As for what she would tell a young woman chef about how to proceed: "The advice I would give to them is pretty much the same as what I used to [say]: 'Head West, young lady. California is so much better a place.'"

As a mother of two children who has been married for a long time, I asked her what she tells women chefs about having it all: "That is still a really difficult question and answer. I have no idea. You either have to have a partner who is willing to stay home...I mean, Jody Adams, you know, from Rialto*, her husband stayed home...If you can set that up, yes, you can make it work. But...it's striking when you think that this is not an issue for a man to be working 80 hours a week and [have] a family. But it is for most women. That is where I always hit a wall. I have no answers except the one I just gave you. It's rare to find the person who's willing to just stay home."

*Editor's note: Rialto shuttered in 2016. Adams is now chef and owner of the restaurants Porto, Saloniki, and TRADE.

Sara Moulton is smart, savvy, talented and pulls no punches. Listen in and I'm sure you'll agree.

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The transcript for this week's episode can be found over at Serious Eats.

Apr 5, 2018

This week's guest on Special Sauce is food television personality and pioneering chef Sara Moulton, who is as unpretentious as she is accomplished. And when I say accomplished I mean accomplished. Sara is currently the host of the PBS series Sara's Weeknight Meals and the co-host of Milk Street Radio. She previously was the host of the live television show Cooking Live on the Food Network for almost ten years. Suffice it to say, Sara should be familiar to anyone who has watched cooking shows on television.

Want an example of her lack of pretense? Here is her take on leftovers: "I'd rather open up a refrigerator filled with leftovers than start with a blank canvas. Leftovers talk to me." Or how about this detail from one of her many food-related jobs in college: "I was a waitress at an all-night diner where we had to wear a DayGlo orange uniform and white nurse's shoes." It may have been the uniform, and it may just have been the job itself, but whatever it was, Sara's mother was horrified by her situation, and tried to help her in a way that would only make sense to a parent: "My mother wrote to Craig Claiborne and Julia Child, did not ask me, and asked them what her daughter should do if she wanted to become a chef."

After her many years on television, I was surprised when I found out that Sara was a reluctant TV host. "I thought that was vulgar," she explains. "Being a good WASP, it's like, "Oh, then you're looking for attention." I also loved hearing the advice she'd give to guests on Cooking Live: "Smile constantly for no particular reason."

As for her pioneering days as a young woman chef, Sara has some harrowing stories, but for those you're just going to have to tune into part 1 of her Special Sauce interview.

*Ed note: For those of you wondering where part 2 of my Special Sauce interview with Matt Goulding is, we'll be publishing it in a couple of months.

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The transcript for this episode can be found over at Serious Eats.

Mar 29, 2018

As you can probably tell, I love interviewing people for Special Sauce. That's because we book guests who have compelling food-related stories to share with us. But Roads & Kingdoms co-founder and author Matt Goulding had so many interesting things to say about food and life that I'm going to go out on a limb and say that I probably enjoyed the time I spent gabbing with Matt more than any other interview I've done for the podcast.

Here's Matt on his dad: "My dad, I should say, as many men are, was a great griller and was great with eggs. It seems to be two things that men generally feel comfortable cooking, even in a relatively limited culinary household."

And here he is how he views his debilitating Crohn's Disease diagnosis: "The two ironies of my food life is, one, that I come from a family that didn't really value food, and the other is that I ended up being deeply in love with this world of food but nevertheless have a digestive illness that presents all these interesting challenges."

Matt is just as good about how he got into writing as he is about his personal life. His first editorial job was at Student Traveler Magazine, an experience he describes as definitive: "That was my entryway into actually being paid for writing, at ten cents a word, but it was a check, and it was a drug. Immediately there was this high of seeing your name in print, being able to tell your story. Anyone who's deranged and narcissistic enough to become a writer knows what that high feels like, and I was hooked pretty quickly."

He went on to become the food editor at Men's Health magazine, where he finally got his fellow editors to understand where he was coming from: "Finally at an editorial meeting I think I said something like, "The kitchen is the new garage."

Matt ended up co-writing 18 volumes of the Eat This, Not That series, which grew out of a column he wrote at Men's Health and ended up selling millions of copies. Why were those books so successful? "It was a brilliant four words. The convergence of syllables was extraordinary," he says.

What does he find so compelling about writing about food? "I can't stop moving. So one thing I realized is it's going to be a really lonely life unless I find a way to connect with people as quickly as possible. It's always, every single instance, food, no matter where you are, was just an instant entry point into a culture, into someone's home, into their lives. It happened over and over again, so to be able to share those stories in some way, it would be stupid not to."

And, finally, here's Matt's description of how Roads & Kingdoms, the James Beard award-winning website he co-founded with Nathan Thornburgh, transformed from being something only their mothers would read to the must-read site for anyone who has an interest in the intersection between travel, culture, and food, all because of the power of a single tweet: "We just kept writing these 5,000-word narrative pieces about the most random convergence of culture and politics that we could find. But we woke up at one in the morning on this houseboat after a long night out at Noma, and it was clear looking at my phone, something was happening. The phone was literally pulsating or something. Open up the phone, and it turns out that Anthony Bourdain had just sent out a tweet. It was very simple, but it said, 'These guys do consistently fine work.' It was just a link to the Roads & Kingdoms home page, and that was it."

If you want to find out how that tweet led to Bourdain being the one and only outside investor in Roads & Kingdoms</em> you're just going to have to listen to Part 1 of my extraordinary conversation with the equally extraordinary Matt Goulding.

Find the full transcript of this episode over at Serious Eats.

Mar 22, 2018

In part two of my interview with Andrew Friedman, the author of <em><a href="https://www.amazon.com/Chefs-Drugs-Rock-Roll-Profession/dp/0062225855/?tag=serieats-20">Chefs, Drugs, and Rock & Roll</a></em>, he and I take a really deep dive into the book. Here's Friedman talking about the origins of the American chef culture:

"If you were an American kid [in the 1970s]...it was all but unheard of to come from a "good home" and turn to your parents one day and say, 'Hey, you know what, guys? I think I might want to be a cook'...The reaction of their parents was concern, fear, anger, horror, they thought their kids were throwing their lives away, they thought they were basically entering basically a blue-collar profession, very often having paid for college, or in many cases law school, or something like that." One prominent chef told him, "Cooking was not respected. It was the first thing you did after the Army, and the last thing you did before you went to prison." In fact, Friedman pointed out that in the 1950s the US Labor Department still designated chefs as "domestic" or service workers.

Although the book names lots of famous names and it's full of revealing details about the many power struggles that went on between restaurateurs and chefs (chefs were supposed to be neither seen nor heard right up to the late '60s), there isn't much salacious gossip in the book. While sex in the walk-in is referred to as a commonplace occurrence, Friedman made a conscious effort not to overdo it with the details. "I didn't feel the need to be specific about who was having sex in the walk-in. Now if more people had offered that up, or answered my questions very directly, I would have put it in." He points out, "This book opens up with [seminal LA chef] Bruce Marder, who I never met in my life, telling me about dropping acid in this van in Morocco. I'm very grateful to Bruce. There's a lot of people who wouldn't have even told me that story."

Though Friedman conducted hundreds of interviews with fancy-pants chefs for the book, he admitted to me that even he can't resist the siren call of some of the not-so-finer things in life: "I mean I eat all kinds of garbage. There are nights when presented with the choice between a Big Mac, fries, and one of those disgusting sundaes at McDonald's, I would pick that over anything else on planet Earth."

For more revelations and trenchant observations about the chef culture in America, take a listen to this episode of Special Sauce.

 

https://www.seriouseats.com/2018/03/special-sauce-cookbook-collaborator-andrew-friedman-on-why-chefs-are-like-snowflakes-2.html

Mar 16, 2018

No writer has spent more time working and hanging out with great chefs than Andrew Friedman. So when I heard that his long-awaited book chronicling chef culture in the US—Chefs, Drugs, and Rock & Roll—had finally been published, how could I not invite him on Special Sauce? 

Friedman has collaborated with outstanding chefs on more than two dozen cookbooks, and he's not even as old as me. What intrigues him about this world? "Chefs are like snowflakes. I mean, no two are alike. The way people come to this profession, the way they develop...their style, their palate, their knowledge base, their skill set; I like the sort of peripatetic nature of it. You kind of assemble your own curriculum as you go from job to job, and often that means going all over the country, or all over the world."
 
How does he decide whom to work with? "The most important thing for me... is a point of view. I tell people, I cannot manufacture a point of view... If somebody's just coming to me with a collection of recipes, I can't help them. I mean, I could write the book, but I don't want to write that book. I've done too many books. It'll seem phoned in. I need something that's gonna engage me."
 
If you're at all interested in chefs or the culture that's grown up around them, part one of my interview with Andrew Friedman will definitely engage you. Next week, he and I talk about Chefs, Drugs, and Rock & Roll, his new deep dive of a book. Great title, don't you think? 
 
You can find a full transcript of this episode over at Serious Eats.
Mar 9, 2018

It's been several days since the Oscars, and I'll admit it: I was keenly disappointed when Knife Skills didn't win for Best Documentary Short. But now that I've had a few days to reflect on the Oscars as a whole (go, Frances McDormand, go!), and now that I've listened to part two of my interview with Knife Skills filmmaker Tom Lennon and Cleveland chef-restaurateur Brandon Chrostowski, I've realized that it was a winner regardless of Sunday's outcome. 

Why? Because the film has succeeded in making more people aware of the multifaceted problems recently released convicts face in reentering the community. And that awareness has resulted in positive steps by the restaurant that stars in the film, Edwins, and the related Edwins Leadership Institute. As Brandon notes: "Since the time of the shooting, we built a campus, so there's housing for people; there's a fitness center, a library. There's graduate housing. Got another building, working on a butcher shop. We're [Edwins Leadership Institute] in 13 prisons now." 
 
What makes the film even more amazing is that, as you'll hear in this episode, Knife Skills was shot on a shoestring budget and was turned down by Netflix, HBO, and Hulu—which is why serious eaters can watch it for free on The New Yorker's website. 
 
That's why I think Knife Skills comes out on top, no matter how the Academy voted. The film represents a triumph of determination, artistic expression, and genuinely life-affirming extended-family values.  Watch it, listen to our conversation, and decide for yourself. 
 
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The transcript for this episode can be found here on Serious Eats.
Mar 1, 2018

We don't usually make a big deal about the Oscars on Special Sauce, but when I saw the brilliant Oscar-nominated documentary short Knife Skills, I knew I wanted to talk about it. The film shows what happens when Cleveland chef/restaurateur Brandon Chrostowski opens Edwins, a white-tablecloth French restaurant staffed almost entirely by recently released convicts who are reentering the workforce. As I previously wrote on Serious Eats, Knife Skills is funny, deeply moving, and brimming with humanity. So this week, in anticipation of this weekend's Oscars ceremony, I invited Brandon and the filmmaker behind the documentary, Tom Lennon, a longtime friend of mine, to come on Special Sauce to talk about their extraordinary collaboration.  

For Brandon, a hardscrabble childhood that nearly ended in incarceration was saved by a demanding chef and mentor he worked for in Detroit when he was 18. "I finally found a place that would push back on whatever energy level I would exert.... There was always something to do, and there were so many personalities. It just fit with the way my body and mind are wired." While working for the late, great Charlie Trotter in Chicago, he learned that "you can do anything with what you have, no matter what the situation or how deep or how tough." 
 
With Edwins, and the Leadership Institute he created alongside it, Brandon set a lofty goal: "changing the face of reentry, and that's going to take a couple of lifetimes, but I knew that the right lens could accelerate that." That lens turned out to be Tom Lennon's, and Knife Skills was the result. 
 
Was the making of Knife Skills a political statement? Tom says no: "I didn't have any agenda. I just stumbled into this, it sounded like a good story, and I just filmed what I found. I think that that was an advantage. I'm not sitting here preaching to you about a political assertion I'm already confident in. That's not what it is. I'm just having you encounter a bunch of people in a very, very dramatic and difficult situation at a very difficult stage in their lives...really anxious, vulnerable, complex people who are yearning to not screw up again.... Then you, the viewer, I'm asking you to think about what you saw."
 
Take Marley, who says in Knife Skills that, in the throes of her drug addiction, "I'd wake up and be so mad to be alive." Marley has her ups and downs in the film, but all Brandon can do is provide a path to forgiveness: "I can't tell someone to be ready for this opportunity. What I can do is always leave that door open." Thinking about the process, Brandon told me: "When you're demanding excellence, you understand that maybe someone's not going to be able to do that, but can they do that for a moment, and can we make that moment a little longer each day, so that they can do that for an entire shift?.... If you get the right heart in there, that has the right energy and affection, that will breed hospitality. We'll work on the finer points, but just give me someone who cares and is going to work hard."
 
When you listen to this moving episode of Special Sauce, you can't help but notice how honest Tom and Brandon are, much like the film itself. You can watch the film here. And after you do, I bet you'll join me in rooting for Knife Skills when you watch the Oscars. 
 
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The full transcript for this episode can be found on Serious Eats: https://www.seriouseats.com/2018/03/special-sauce-the-team-behind-knife-skills-the-oscar-nominated-documentary.html
Feb 22, 2018

Back in the day, we used to say that Serious Eats was a website focused on celebrating and sharing our enthusiasm for food with the online community. In Part 2 of my interview with fellow food enthusiast Phil Rosenthal, he reveals that Somebody Feed Phil, his new Netflix show, is really about the same thing, if you just added "travel" to food and substituted "family" for the online community.

Food, travel, and family are at the heart of the show; in each episode, we see Phil interacting with a family he's met in whatever city he's exploring. And, for good measure, Phil's elderly and utterly hilarious parents make appearances in each episode via Skype.

Phil tells me, "What I learned from [Everybody Loves Raymond] is that every show is about a family, and what I mean is, your news broadcast that you tune into every night, that's a family of people that you enjoy being with. Right? That's another reason why my parents are in the show...because that's what makes a television show."

Phil explains that one of the reasons he loves travel is that it forces him out of his comfort zone. Like the time he found himself in Thailand, sandwiched between two elephants as he was trying to leave their habitat. After a few tense moments he was able to leave unharmed, though not before one of the elephants swatted him with his tail. Phil explains, "Once you're through that moment, it's the best experience of your life. It's one of the highlights of your life that you will never forget, and you are so happy that you took that step outside your comfort zone. It's the only way we get anything in life. When you see the pretty girl across the room, will I ask her to dance? If you didn't, you wouldn't have the dance. Maybe you wouldn't have the girlfriend. Maybe you wouldn't have the wife. Maybe you wouldn't have the family...we all have to go outside our comfort zone sometimes."

Then there's the vicarious thrill viewers get when Phil makes a food discovery. Like the crab omelet made by Jay Fai he ate in Thailand. "This is somebody, she's been venerated as one of the best street food vendors in the whole world. She makes a crab omelet, there's a pound, pound and a half of fresh crab meat in this omelet, which she's cooking over a hot wok. It's just again, street food, on the side of the street. She has a few tables beside the stove, but [the] fire is going, real fire. The wok is on the fire. She pours the crab into the eggs that are in the wok, with butter, then as she starts turning it, and the omelet starts to form around the crab, she starts ladling fresh egg over it and turning that. So, it's tender, layers and layers of egg, until you have, really, a football filled with crab....This lady, right after we filmed...she got a Michelin star. For a shack...and just this week, she wants to give the star back. There's too many people now. She's 73 years old."

To hear Phil elaborate on the crab omelet lady, to hear more about the elephant walk and other hilarious situations in which Phil found himself way outside of his comfort zone, check out part 2 of his Special Sauce interview and the full transcript on Serious Eats.

Feb 16, 2018

My friend Phil Rosenthal, the creator and host of the new Netflix show Somebody Feed Phil is as much fun to talk to as he is to eat with. When I asked him how the show ended up on Netflix, he replied, "The way I sold the show...I said, 'I'm exactly like Anthony Bourdain if he was afraid of everything....I mean, I'm the guy watching him, not really wanting to go to Borneo and have a tattoo pounded into my chest with nails.'"

When I sit down with Phil no subject is off limits. We revisited (admittedly at my behest) the moment in 2006 when I asked him to invest in Serious Eats. I just thought that the food-obsessed creator of Everybody Loves Raymond would leap at the opportunity to get in on the ground floor. "By the way," he said, laughing, "my business manager told me not to give you money then. I was ready. I was like, 'This sounds good.' But he said, 'No, no, no, no, don't, don't.'" That's four "nos" and two "don'ts" for those of you counting at home.

If you listen, you'll find that the Phil Rosenthal you hear on Special Sauce is the same guy you see on Somebody Feed Phil. He's funny–really funny–smart, and generously spirited (he always picks up the check, on the show and in real life). And, oh yeah, Phil's also a great storyteller who has somehow managed to maintain an optimistic but realistic outlook on life. Why? Because as his friend Ed. Weinberger, the legendary sitcom director and creator, told him when he was shooting the Everybody Loves Raymond pilot, "Phil, you might as well make the show you want to make because at the end, they're going to cancel you anyway." As Phil pointed out, "Isn't that a great philosophy of life? We all get cancelled one day. Live your life."

So enliven your life, Serious Eaters, by listening to Part 1 of the Special Sauce interview with Phil Rosenthal. You'll be laughing in the first minute. (And for those of you who prefer their interviews in written form, we've included an edited transcript of the conversation on our website.)

Feb 8, 2018
In part 2 of my interview with JJ Johnson, the charismatic chef and co-author of Between Harlem and Heaven: Afro-Asian-American Cooking for Big Nights, Weeknights, and Every Day, I had to ask him to explain the book's lengthy subtitle word by word, and to explain what he and his co-author Alexander Smalls set out to do with it. The book, JJ says, "represents who we are and the food we cook. And there's nothing really out there that represents the African-American culture...who they are and where they come from and the makeup of the food."
 
As for what's next, JJ has big plans and even bigger dreams. First, he wants to open a rice-centric restaurant: "Everywhere in the world, there's a mother grain that represents the culture. Everywhere I've traveled over the last five years, rice has been the center of the table...and I've developed a concept around rice. And you're going to have four, five different rices prepared a different way. There'll be a dumpling, there'll be some roti, two salads. Order from the counter. And it will feel like you're at a Caribbean beach, but the vibe will give you '80s and '90s New York City."
 
But that's not all; JJ has both short-term goals, like starting a brand empire, and more ambitious long-term goals. "Short term goals, my own restaurant like a flagship, where you can come and see me every day. And then I would say a big goal is just developing the JJ brand around the world, where you could eat my food in the bottom of a hotel or in a mall or at a rest stop. Because what I'm doing is just not putting JJ or the name of my restaurant somewhere. For me, it's bigger than that. Like, I'm creating jobs for people that look like me...I'm giving them a safe place to work. Somewhere where they can create their ideas. Someplace where they get an opportunity and a chance." And for the long term? Aside from helping the food of the African diaspora enter the mainstream, JJ says his ultimate long-term goal would be to have his own Nike sneaker. 
 
When our producer sent us the final edit of this episode, he wrote, "Wonderful that such an ambitious man could have such an unpretentious relaxed chat... Will make listeners hungry for both justice and ribs."
 
I couldn't agree more. Take a listen, and I bet you will, too.
Feb 1, 2018

My guest this week on Special Sauce is chef and cookbook author Joseph "JJ" Johnson. When I say he gravitated to kitchen work at an early age, I mean really early. He started cooking with his grandmother when he was four: "I didn't really watch cartoons...I'd step on like a milk crate. She would give me a peeler, which was probably like a phony play peeler, like Fisher-Price, and I would peel vegetables or I would scoop things out." Five years later, when he was nine, he saw an ad on television that sealed the deal: "So I saw a commercial back then for [The] Culinary Institute of America, when they used to run commercials, and I just said one day...I'm going to go to that school." Now that's what I call a really, really early decision application.

After graduating from the CIA and doing a few stints in serious New York kitchens, JJ appeared on an episode of Rocco's Dinner Party, which led to an unlikely introduction to Alexander Smalls, the seminal African-American chef/restaurateur and Tony Award-winning opera singer (that's quite a combo, isn't it?). Smalls invited JJ on a trip to Ghana, and gave him an education on the food of the African diaspora, which was both foreign and familiar: "It also was a lightbulb moment for me because I grew up in the diaspora...So there was these things that would happen and I would say, I remember that flavor or I remember that scent. It really helped me develop who I was."

JJ would go on to open The Cecil with Smalls, and although it is now, sadly, closed, it was named America's best new restaurant by Esquire Magazine in 2014. Since then, J. J. and Smalls have co-authored the cookbook Between Harlem and Heaven: Afro-Asian-American Cooking for Big Nights, Weeknights, and Every Day, and he's done a whole lot more, including cooking for Beyoncé. To find out just what those things are, you'll have to check out both this week's and next week's episodes of Special Sauce.

Jan 25, 2018

Here's how the delightful and brave Jenny Allen describes the food at her family table in Part 2 of her Special Sauce interview: "Such bad food...and so little of it."

As that quote can attest, you can be sure there's no shortage of pithy insights or jokes as Jenny and I talk about everything from the food at gallery openings ("Please, don't invite me to an art opening with the only food being peanuts....I resent that. Terrible. How hard is it to get a little cheese and crackers there?") and our shared love of Mounds bars to the topic of eating alone as a woman, which she writes about in her new book Would Everybody Please Stop: Reflections on Life and Other Bad Ideas: "A lot of women are shy about going out to eat alone. They think they look needy or sad, or they just feel unprotected or something. I don't feel that way."

We also managed to talk about subjects other than food, such as the way Jenny has watched in amazement as her actor-playright-television writer daughter Halley Feiffer has fearlessly blazed her own creative path with no hesitation. For those unfamiliar with her work, by the time Halley turned 21 she had already starred in The Squid and the Whale and won the National Young Playwrights' Contest. Since then, Halley has had her plays produced in leading theaters all over the country, has starred on Broadway, and has written for Mozart in the Jungle. Jenny wants someone to write a book about mothers and daughters in terms of the work they do in large part because she thinks that the fearlessness she sees in her daughter is echoed among her peers. "I feel like, among my friends, more than several of our daughters are doing the things that we do, only sooner, better, braver," Jenny says. "It's just wonderful to watch."

Just as it is wonderful to listen to Jenny Allen talk about anything at all–it's a treat that Serious Eaters won't want to miss.

Jan 19, 2018

Jenny Allen, the humorist and author of the guffaw-inducing new book <em><a href="https://www.amazon.com/Would-Everybody-Please-Stop-Reflections/dp/0374118329/?tag=serieats-20">Would Everybody Please Stop: Reflections on Life and Other Bad Ideas</a></em>, derives as much pleasure from eating as anyone I know. Consider this anecdote she shared with me about her food-loving stepmother: "One day she said, 'I made you something. I thought you'd like it.' It was an entire mixing bowl full of chocolate mousse...It was a huge bowl, and I just took it up to my room and just read and ate it all afternoon. I'm sure I felt sick afterwards, but it was...oh, my God, the best present ever."

The <em>New Yorker</em>'s Andy Borowitz, who is no slouch in the humor department has called Jenny one of the funniest writers alive, and so I had to ask her for the one piece of advice she would give to aspiring humor writers: "Something I say sometimes, which is I think even true for me is, when you think the piece is so eccentric or so idiosyncratic or so neurotic or so weird and so personally your own peccadilloes and anxieties, just when I think, boy, I'm gonna send this in, and my editor's gonna think, this woman is really nuts. That's when it's ready to send. And not before that."

Jenny also happens to be one of the bravest souls I've ever met; her hilarious and moving one-woman play <em>I Got Sick Then I Got Better</em>, which describes her experience as a cancer survivor, is a testament to that. And I think anyone who listens to her in Part 1 of her Special Sauce interview will come away with more than a little inkling of her humor and her wonderful character, and will be left wanting more.

(But that's what Part 2 is for.)

Jan 11, 2018

When Resy's Ben Leventhal, who has been involved in at least five food-related start-ups, speaks about entrepreneurship, I am all ears. Here are just a couple of the pearls of wisdom that came out of our in-depth conversation:

"What I do try to say to people that haven't been through a couple of cycles is you got to understand how hard this is about to be. People say, 'Oh, I want to start a company. I want to do that. I want to go out on my own.' I say, 'That's great, but it's really fucking hard.'"

"It's gruesome. Every day of a startup is gruesome. If it's not gruesome, something is wrong. Something is off...Every day is a battle."

And here's Ben on putting together a team: "Well, look, I mean, you got to understand that you have to have the long view. You're building something from scratch. The people that you're lucky enough to have working with you, the people that take a risk with you, the first ten employees, they're taking almost as big a risk as you are, and in some cases, they're taking a bigger risk because they got to trust [you]...That's really important, and you have to make sure that those people feel almost minute to minute like they made the right choice."

Ben talks about how he's applied these hard-earned lessons to Resy, a two year-old start-up that so far seems to have successfully taken on OpenTable, the granddaddy of online reservation systems. How exactly did he and his partners do that? You're just going to have to listen to find out.

Jan 4, 2018

The members list of the non-existent Digital Food Entrepreneur's Club would be quite small, but it would have to include Ben Leventhal, who is both this and next week's guest on Special Sauce. Ben cofounded Eater in 2005 and is now one of the cofounders of Resy, the popular restaurant reservations app. On this week's episode, he and I reminisce about the good and bad and definitely crazy old days of both Eater and Serious Eats. And even though we really weren't direct competitors then (or even now), it was fun to talk about the battle scars we both suffered in the early days of what was called the Web 2.0 era.

I love what Ben has to say about risk: "I think risk tolerance has got to be one of the three most important things you need as an entrepreneur. I think you have to be willing to take risks. You have to have a real understanding of what you're good at and you should take risks on the basis of what you're good at, and you need enough self-awareness to know what's not going to work. And, as Ben and I discuss, you have to have a real optimistic streak. As he puts it, "You've got to have a strategy to get through those days where it looks like it's the last day."

If you love to go to restaurants (and who doesn't?) or you've ever thought about taking the entrepreneurial leap into a food-related digital business, this episode of Special Sauce is made especially for you.

Dec 29, 2017
This week we've got a special holiday episode of Ask Special Sauce. With Kenji and Stella serving as my co-pilots from the comforts of their own homes, we endeavored to answer some of the questions Serious Eaters and Special Sauce devotees have about holiday cooking and baking. Though we were thousands of miles apart, the exchanges crackled with energy <em>and</em> holiday cheer, with more than a heaping helping of incredibly helpful intel on the side.
 
Kenji and Stella cheerfully sparred on their respective pie crust theories. (My role as the Serious Eats overlord requires that I remain resolutely neutral on this freighted topic, at least publicly.) They also weighed in on tempering chocolate when making peppermint bark, the best way to make fudge, and whether it's possible to make caramel and toffee when it's raining (Spoiler alert: it is, and using the right kind of kosher salt is key). And if you've ever wanted to know what a gizzard is, what its function is in a turkey, and what holiday cooks can use them for, this is the episode of Special Sauce for you. So listen up! I am confident it will make your holidays a little bit merrier and a lot more delicious.
 
Happy Holidays and Happy New Year, Serious Eaters and Special Sauce-ers! See you in 2018. 
Dec 21, 2017
This week we've got a special holiday episode of Ask Special Sauce. With Kenji and Stella serving as my co-pilots from the comforts of their own homes, we endeavored to answer some of the questions Serious Eaters and Special Sauce devotees have about holiday cooking and baking. Though we were thousands of miles apart, the exchanges crackled with energy <em>and</em> holiday cheer, with more than a heaping helping of incredibly helpful intel on the side.
 
Kenji and Stella cheerfully sparred on their respective pie crust theories. (My role as the Serious Eats overlord requires that I remain resolutely neutral on this freighted topic, at least publicly.) They also weighed in on tempering chocolate when making peppermint bark, the best way to make fudge, and whether it's possible to make caramel and toffee when it's raining (Spoiler alert: it is, and using the right kind of kosher salt is key). And if you've ever wanted to know what a gizzard is, what its function is in a turkey, and what holiday cooks can use them for, this is the episode of Special Sauce for you. So listen up! I am confident it will make your holidays a little bit merrier and a lot more delicious.
 
Happy Holidays and Happy New Year, Serious Eaters and Special Sauce-ers! See you in 2018.
Dec 14, 2017

As we came to the end of the first part of our conversation, Andrew Rea had just started producing and hosting Binging with Babish, which I think is the most exciting, engaging, and just plain fun short-form cooking video series out there. Andrew still had his day job, and his obsessive, perfectionist nature meant that sleep was at a premium. (How obsessive is Andrew? He irons his apron at least three times for each episode.)

On today's episode of Special Sauce, we find out just how Binging with Babish became a true viral sensation, and how it became both his meal ticket and his vehicle for realizing all his creative dreams. In addition to Binging with Babish, Andrew now hosts a more interactive show called Basics with Babish (which, thanks to Switcher, allows viewers to cook along with Andrew in real time and even comment) and he's published his first book Eat What You Watch: A Cookbook for Movie Lovers. The way Andrew tells it, it involved a lot of hard work, luck, vision, and more than a little craft.

As to his what he thinks his special sauce is, Andrew says, "I try to do everything I can do to push myself out of my comfort zone. It's rewarded me the whole way. There have been stumbles of course but...The point of the story is that, yes, it's scary, but sometimes you've got to see if you can swim. You've got to jump in the deep end."

So if you've ever been tempted to jump into the deep end with a creative project, or if you just want to hear a unique digital media success story, you'll want to dive into the second part of my conversation with Andrew Rea.

Dec 7, 2017

I have to say that most YouTube cooking shows leave me cold. There's a little too much shaky cam footage and a few too many unfunny asides, and not enough serious, engaged cooking for my taste. So when Kenji told me about Binging with Babish, I watched one episode and got hooked. And I'm not alone: More than two million people now subscribe to the show.

I got so hooked that I had to have its creator, Andrew Rea, on Special Sauce. And I'm glad I managed to track him down: During our chat, Andrew revealed himself to be as smart and interesting and focused and idiosyncratic as the show itself. Which makes sense if you listen to how he puts the show together: "Every episode takes a bare minimum of 30 hours, sometimes up to 60 or 70 because I'm a one man band. I shoot it myself, I edit it myself, I color correct, I do the voiceover, all in my apartment, just me."

Here's the kicker: Up until a few months ago he also had a demanding full-time job, forcing him to work on Binging with Babish in the spare time he didn't really have. So if you've ever wondered what it takes to both produce a YouTube cooking series worth watching and develop a huge audience for it, check out this week's Special Sauce, which is just part one of my chat with Andrew (or should I say Mr. Babish?). When you do, I'm sure you will check out Binging with Babish yourself, and maybe his new series, Basics with Babish, too.

Nov 30, 2017
If you interview someone like Bill Yosses, who was the White House pastry chef for George W. Bush and Barack Obama, you hope and pray that you can shake loose some dirt to titillate your listeners. But when you listen to part 2 of my interview with the ever-thoughtful Bill, the only dirt he dishes is about actual dirt, as in the soil in the White House Garden.
 
Here's Bill on the cruel honeymoon that every garden has in its first year: "It [gardening] is addictive. You get your first year free. You go and you turn over the dirt, and you plant a bunch of things. They come up. It's beautiful. It's magic. But the reason is the pests haven't discovered you yet. The fungus, the bacteria, the pests, the nematodes, I don't know what they are, but they don't know you're there. They don't care. All that was there before was just dirt and grass. They're just trying to get you hooked on gardening. Then the next year, all chaos breaks out. There are monsters everywhere." It turns out that pests don't regard the White House lawn as off-limits, and even the Secret Service can't stop them from doing their thing. 
 
Bill also lays to rest the rumor that he left his gig at the White House because of a disagreement with Michelle Obama. That turns out to be an actual example of fake news. "That whole thing came about because Marian Burros, a great writer, started her story out with a line, "Bill left the White House because of Mrs. Obama" in [The New York] Times. She announced that I was resigning. The next line was, "He was so inspired by her 'Let's Move' initiative that he wanted to have greater impact outside the White House." 
 
Bill returns to President Obama's fondness for pie for his next presidential dish on the podcast: "At the end of 100 days, there's a press conference. That is where all the press come in and they grill the President about, 'Well, this is the 100-day mark. Now, what have you accomplished?' One of the questions was, 'What was the most enchanting thing about your first 100 days at the White House?' I saw him later that day and he said, 'Bill, I swear to God. I was tempted to say the pastry chef.' But he said, 'I knew I'd have to call a second press conference if I said that.'"
 
I think we hit many a sweet spot with this episode, which is only fitting given the title of Bill's new book, The Sweet Spot: Dialing Back Sugar and Amping Up Flavor</em>. 
Nov 24, 2017
When I was mulling over what we could do on Special Sauce for Thanksgiving, I immediately thought about stress reduction. Making the big dinner can be stressful for any number of reasons, and while we design all our Thanksgiving offerings with an eye to making the holiday as hassle-free as possible, I decided to continue with that theme in this special edition of Ask Special Sauce. I invited Kenji and Stella on to answer as many questions from our community as we could, since they know a lot about a lot of Thanksgiving-related topics.
 
The two of them delve into a myriad of tips and tricks, from figuring out what to do with leftovers and accommodating your guests' allergies and dietary restrictions, and they discuss the differences between stuffing and dressing. (Kenji even has an ingenious solution for people who would like to cook their stuffing in their bird without overcooking the meat.)
 
We will also provide a full transcript of our conversation on our website, for those of you who'd prefer to read it, and have included highlights and links to the recipes mentioned in this episode below.
 
There are so many people that I have to thank concerning Special Sauce.  I'm thankful for everyone who makes the podcast a joy to create. Our producer, Marty Goldensohn, our associate producer, Marissa Chen, everyone here both at CDM Studios and the other Serious Eats' Special Sauce home, The Radio Foundation. And a big thank you especially to our listeners, whether you're new to the podcast or tune in weekly.  Without you, there would be no Special Sauce.
 
Happy Thanksgiving, Serious Eaters, from me and all of us here at Serious Eats!
 

-------------------------------

3:23  Kenji addresses a question about make-ahead savory foods for the holidays.

Recipes: Warm Brussels Sprout Salad with Bacon and Hazelnut Vinaigrette, Make-Ahead Roasted Squash and Kale Salad

6:27  Stella’s tips for make-ahead desserts.

Recipes: Pumpkin Layer Cake, Pumpkin Pie, Cherry Pie

8:28  Kenji explains how to get the most out of kitchen space when planning your Thanksgiving menu.

Recipes: Mashed Potatoes, Mashed Sweet Potatoes

10:25  Debate: Should pies be reheated?

11:57  The team debates the differences between stuffing and dressing. Kenji is going to steal Stella’s dad’s idea for including brown butter in a stuffing recipe this year.  

Recipes: Slow-Cooker Sage and Sausage Stuffing, View all stuffing recipes

18:51  Is it possible to make gluten-free pies or other desserts that are actually delicious?

Recipe: Flaky and Crisp Gluten-Free Pie Crust

22:33  Are expensive turkeys better than ‘typical’ turkeys?  Kenji, Stella and Ed discuss heritage vs. organic vs. free-range vs. commercial turkeys. Advice from Kenji: Use a thermometer and don’t overcook. Animal rights issues and farmers.

Video: How to Take the Temperature of Your Turkey

27:50  Kenji and Stella offer suggestions of what to do with leftover pumpkin purée.  

Recipes: The Best Pumpkin Pizza RecipeSpicy Spring pizza, Sweet Potato Pancakes Made With Leftover Mashed Sweet Potatoes, The Food Lab: How to Make Kickass Quesadillas

30:18  Is sous-vide a useful technique for Thanksgiving?  Kenji says yes, it’s great for turkey, leftovers, and heating make-ahead dishes.

Recipes: Sous Vide Turkey Breast, Deep-Fried Sous Vide Turkey Porchetta (Turchetta), Gravy

Nov 16, 2017
When I was mulling over what we could do on Special Sauce for Thanksgiving, I immediately thought about stress reduction. Making the big dinner can be stressful for any number of reasons, and while we design all our Thanksgiving offerings with an eye to making the holiday as hassle-free as possible, I decided to continue with that theme in this special edition of Ask Special Sauce. I invited Kenji and Stella on to answer as many questions from our community as we could, since they know a lot about a lot of Thanksgiving-related topics.
 
The two of them delve into a myriad of tips and tricks, from figuring out what to do with leftovers and accommodating your guests' allergies and dietary restrictions, and they discuss the differences between stuffing and dressing. (Kenji even has an ingenious solution for people who would like to cook their stuffing in their bird without overcooking the meat.)
 
We will also provide a full transcript of our conversation on our website, for those of you who'd prefer to read it, and have included highlights and links to the recipes mentioned in this episode below.
 
There are so many people that I have to thank concerning Special Sauce.  I'm thankful for everyone who makes the podcast a joy to create. Our producer, Marty Goldensohn, our associate producer, Marissa Chen, everyone here both at CDM Studios and the other Serious Eats' Special Sauce home, the Radio Foundation. And a big thank you especially to our listeners, whether you're new to the podcast or tune in weekly.  Without you, there would be no Special Sauce.
 
Happy Thanksgiving, Serious Eaters, from me and all of us here at Serious Eats!
 

-------------------------------

3:23  Kenji addresses a question about make-ahead savory foods for the holidays.

Recipes: Warm Brussels Sprout Salad with Bacon and Hazelnut Vinaigrette, Make-Ahead Roasted Squash and Kale Salad

6:27  Stella’s tips for make-ahead desserts.

Recipes: Pumpkin Layer Cake, Pumpkin Pie, Cherry Pie

8:28  Kenji explains how to get the most out of kitchen space when planning your Thanksgiving menu.

Recipes: Mashed Potatoes, Mashed Sweet Potatoes

10:25  Debate: Should pies be reheated?

11:57  The team debates the differences between stuffing and dressing. Kenji is going to steal Stella’s dad’s idea for including brown butter in a stuffing recipe this year.  

Recipes: Slow-Cooker Sage and Sausage Stuffing, View all stuffing recipes

18:51  Is it possible to make gluten-free pies or other desserts that are actually delicious?

Recipe: Flaky and Crisp Gluten-Free Pie Crust

22:33  Are expensive turkeys better than ‘typical’ turkeys?  Kenji, Stella and Ed discuss heritage vs. organic vs. free-range vs. commercial turkeys. Advice from Kenji: Use a thermometer and don’t overcook. Animal rights issues and farmers.

Video: How to Take the Temperature of Your Turkey

27:50  Kenji and Stella offer suggestions of what to do with leftover pumpkin purée.  

Recipes: The Best Pumpkin Pizza RecipeSpicy Spring pizza, Sweet Potato Pancakes Made With Leftover Mashed Sweet Potatoes, The Food Lab: How to Make Kickass Quesadillas

30:18  Is sous-vide a useful technique for Thanksgiving?  Kenji says yes, it’s great for turkey, leftovers, and heating make-ahead dishes.

Recipes: Sous Vide Turkey Breast, Deep-Fried Sous Vide Turkey Porchetta (Turchetta), Gravy

Nov 10, 2017

This week's guest on Special Sauce is Bill Yosses, who was the White House pastry chef from 2007 to 2014 and is the author of the just-published The Sweet Spot: Dialing Back Sugar and Amping Up Flavor.

Bill isn't your (White House) garden variety pastry chef: He's a James Beard Foundation Who's Who inductee, and he's given lectures on science and cooking at Harvard. He's also the founder of the Kitchen Garden Laboratory, which uses science to teach children about healthy cooking.

Even though Bill is extremely discreet, I did get him to spill the beans about former President Barack Obama reprimanding him for making such delicious pie. "The first thing that President Obama ever said to me... We had all gone to meet him in the East Room, and so we were all circled around the outside of the room. He's going around, shaking hands with everybody. We had already served some desserts, so I was sort of standing there, ready for his accolades. He comes around and says, 'Oh, the pastry chef. You make the pies.' 'Yes, sir.' 'Stop making so damn many pies.' "

Bill's a born Serious Eater and a worthy guest on Special Sauce, and I'm sure you all will agree. Be sure to catch him in a couple of weeks, too, in part two of our conversation.

Nov 2, 2017

One of the many reasons I love doing Special Sauce is I get to talk to many people I have long admired from afar and never met. This week's guest is one of those people: David Tanis, one of the best and most thoughtful chefs and cookbook writers working today. I first heard his name when he was the chef at Chez Panisse. He wrote his first book, A Platter of Figs and Other Recipes, while working there, and for the past seven years he's been the City Kitchen columnist for the New York Times.

Now he's just published his fourth cookbook, David Tanis Market Cooking: Recipes and Revelations, Ingredient by Ingredient. David explains that, for him, shopping for food at open-air markets is about much more than gathering the freshest possible ingredients. It's therapy. "I live not very far from Chinatown [in Manhattan] and when I'm sort of feeling a little blue, I go down to Chinatown, it takes me ten minutes to walk there and walk around the market stands, and oh, I feel better in a minute. Seriously." That's my kind of therapy.

David also takes his ingredients seriously. How seriously? This is how much he loves his garlic soup recipe: "There are some great dishes [in the book], for instance, the garlic soup, which is made with just garlic and water and sage leaves. People need to know about that. I don't mind putting that in every book. It takes 15 minutes to make."

And here's what's happening on David Tanis Day all over the world: "Everyone is eating beans."

When you listen to this episode of Special Sauce, you'll realize that David Tanis is full of beans and so much more.

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