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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: April, 2018
Apr 27, 2018

At the end of part 1 of my Special Sauce interview with Elise Bauer, she had just described starting Simply Recipes in 2004 after coming home to live with her parents in Sacramento to recover from a serious case of chronic fatigue syndrome, and in this week's episode we pick up where we left off. At the outset, Elise says she was making enough money to splurge on movie tickets, but then things started to change. "The more content I added...the more we got picked up in search and the more traffic we got." And back then, as I can personally attest, more traffic meant more revenue.

But then, just as Simply Recipes was starting to take off, Elise suffered a relapse. Was it because she attempted the swim from Alcatraz to San Francisco again? "I didn't go back to Alcatraz but...I actually think it was hot yoga that got me into trouble...I spent the entire summer of 2005 in bed." It would take her another five years to fully recover. "I didn't go on a date for seven years," Elise says.

In addition to talking about her getting Simply Recipes off the ground, Elise and I got into a very lively discussion about the evolution of digital food media, particularly about the impact social media has had on the industry. "It used to be that if you had a blog, a good quality blog, people would then come visit your blog. Now you're expected to have your content show up where those people are, not the other way around," Elise says. "Social media's become a lot more important in terms of having a presence in the marketplace. It used to be it was 80% content, 20% marketing. Now I think it's 20% content, 80% marketing and marketing from social media."

Elise also offers up three important pieces of advice for anyone embarking on a digital food media adventure. But to hear what one of food blogging's true pioneers has to say about that, you're just going to have to listen to this week's episode of Special Sauce.

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

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.

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