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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: March, 2018
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
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