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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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Now displaying: August, 2017
Aug 31, 2017
In part two of my far-ranging conversation with chef, pizzaiolo, and pizza poet laureate Chris Bianco, we talk about so many things, including his reaction to winning the James Beard Award for Best Chef Southwest in 2003. He was the first and only pizza chef to win a regional award. Chris was surprised, to say the least. "I'm incredibly grateful for any recognition from peers," he says, but he also notes that it was unsettling. "I was uncomfortable with it because I never believed in the the best of anything...I'm just a guy that went to work., and I've been fortunate and I've worked hard...It was very humbling and I was very grateful, but it was probably the first time when people came to check me out instead of eating, which kind of broke my heart, you know?"
 
Chris also reluctantly discusses his very public lifelong battle with asthma, which he credits with keeping him grounded as it gave him "a sense of mortality." But his choice of profession and his work ethic exacerbated his condition. "After years of breathing and inhaling flour, it gave me...they called it like a baker's lung kind of a thing." A doctor gave him a rather explicit warning: "Hey, man, you might want to redirect your energies if you want to hang around." 
 
So Chris stepped away from the oven and set out to achieve the same balance in his life that he had achieved with his transcendent pizza. He started growing and canning delicious tomatoes with two partners. He got married and started a family. But working the oven, which he mans like a ballet dancer, still holds a special allure for him: "I worked a double shift on Sunday. One of my guys went on vacation. And it was great fun for me, and I loved it so much to be at the oven. I just can't do it 18 hours a day, seven days a week anymore."
 
What would he do for his last supper? Chris says he'd eat cheese (maybe a Stilton) and crackers accompanied by a great bottle of wine, by himself. As for what would happen all over the world on Chris Bianco Day, there was laughter in his voice when he said, "Probably people are writing their mayors right now saying, "Who okayed this?"
Aug 25, 2017

My guest on this week's Special Sauce is Chris Bianco, the man who makes my favorite pizza in the world. The pies he puts out at Pizzeria Bianco in Phoenix, AZ, would definitely be on the table at my last supper. And while Chris is also the author of the new book Bianco: Pizza, Pasta, and Other Food I Like, which every aspiring pizzaiolo should pick up, I invited Chris onto the podcast because he's the poet laureate of pizza, someone who truly connects the dots of food and life in unique fashion.

The centrality of food and cooking to his identity is evident in everything he talks about, from the lesson he learned as a child at the Bianco family table ("Food was really as important as your breath, basically.") to the reason why he thinks he has gravitated toward cooking: "I think that I've been very insecure just in my existence, like where I fit in. I wanted to make you happy...I wanted you to like me, whoever you were."

And while he's passionate about food, he still has a sense of humor. Consider his description of the way he got started making money cooking in Phoenix: "I was making pasta and mozzarella in my apartment, and I was selling to a couple Italian restaurants at the time. They paid me cash. And I was like, if I got busted, how much time can you do for mozzarella?"

Chris also has some sage advice for young chefs: "What I challenge them to do is take everything out of their apartment, their spiritual apartment, and put it on their front lawn, and to see what they have they want to bring back in, and redecorate their life with or their inspirations with." And as for his poetic bent, Chris once told me, "I'm on a mission. I have a responsibility to do something with integrity and dignity. My menu might be small, but to me, it's the biggest thing in the world. Pizza inspires me, fascinates me, and gives me hope."

To hear more of Chris's wise words you're just going to have to listen to both this and next week's episodes of Special Sauce.

Aug 18, 2017

In part two of my illuminating interview with French-American super chef Daniel Boulud, he and I talk about—believe it or not—airline food. Daniel has designed some business class meals for Air France, and the airline flew me over to Paris to experience his food in the air. While the food was tasty, it wasn't perfect. (Having worked on airline food as a consultant, believe me when I say that "tasty but not perfect" is about as good airline food is going to get.) I asked Daniel how it felt to work within the constraints of airline food preparation, particularly as a self-confessed obsessive perfectionist. "I enjoy the challenge," he replied. "And I hope people appreciate the fact that I'm just trying to elevate the offering."

Daniel also talks about a remarkable older book of his, Letters to a Young Chef, which he has updated and is being reissued in October. I asked him about the qualities a young cook has to possess to become a successful chef-restaurateur. "You have to have the passion for hospitality, the passion for making people happy," he said, adding that that passion has to come through in a "respectful, intelligent way."

Daniel has a whole lot more to say about his career and his success in the restaurant business, and he also lets me in on how he'd like the world to celebrate a hypothetical Daniel Boulud Day, and on which band he'd like to perform at his last supper. You'll just have to listen to the episode to find out.

Aug 11, 2017

My guest on this week's Special Sauce is Daniel Boulud, whom I have known for more than 25 years. We first met when Alex Lee, his longtime chef de cuisine and my regular squash partner, asked me to take Daniel on a New York Eats food adventure (Alex now works for über restaurateur Stephen Starr). Over the course of that afternoon, Daniel tasted everything from Nova Scotia smoked salmon and cream cheese on a bagel at Russ & Daughters to superb Polish ham made by Kurowycky and Sons in the East Village (which, sadly, is no longer with us). I found myself in awe of Daniel's insatiable intellectual curiosity about everything and everybody in the food culture, his devotion to his craft, and his passion for deliciousness. And I think you'll immediately notice all those characteristics on full display in this week's episode.

How devoted is Daniel to his craft? He started cooking professionally at the tender age of fourteen—at a Michelin three-star restaurant, no less. A month later he was plucking pheasants and other game birds in a restaurant basement for 14 or 15 hours at a stretch. Did it phase him? Nah, he'd already been doing similar work at his family's farm outside Lyon for many years.

If you listen to him rhapsodize about learning to make a dish like ecrevisses à la nage (crayfish in a vegetable broth), I promise it will make you hungry. You'll also hear how well his curiosity served him when he ate a breakfast of tête de veau (calf's head) washed down with Beaujolais, with many of France's leading chefs, at the big market at Lyon. That's quite a breakfast, but, then again, Daniel's quite a chef.

I hope all you Serious Eaters will listen to, learn from, and enjoy this week's Special Sauce episode, which is entirely devoted to the culinary education of one of the greatest chefs in the world.

 
Aug 4, 2017
Welcome back for part two of my Special Sauce interview with designer and architect David Rockwell. In this week's episode, David talks about what the initial design process for projects is like, and about some of the challenges he faces when talking to his clients: "One of the catchphrases for clients to say is, 'You know, I'd really like a timeless design.' Well, who would not like a timeless design? Timeless design has to be a result, not an intention. I think if you're afraid to go through timely to get to timeless, you end up with petrified."
 
As someone who was a consultant for many years before I started Serious Eats, I laughed really hard when he said that. And I asked him how he deals with the inevitable ego clashes in his line of work. He quoted Jack O'Brien, one of his favorite theater directors, in response: "'Don't put a hat on a hat.' From a design perspective I take that to mean, you don't want to engage in a project where everyone's going to do the same thing. If you have a client that feels like they know what they want visually, that's a little constricting. I'd rather work with a client who knows what they want emotionally, knows where they want to land."
 
I also got to ask David which person, living or dead, he'd most like to have lunch with (other than Frank Lloyd Wright). His answer was deceptively obvious: "I think Picasso would be more fun to sit and talk with and get him to scribble on a napkin. God, can you imagine?" 
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