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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, 2018
Aug 16, 2018

For the next three weeks on Special Sauce I will be geeking out about pizza with Adam Kuban and Scott Wiener, two of the smartest, most passionate, and most knowledgeable pizza nerds on the planet. Adam Kuban is the founding editor of the seminal food blog Slice.com, which Serious Eats acquired right before we launched in December of 2006, and as part of the deal, Adam became our first managing editor. Adam currently runs Margot's Pizza, a mostly monthly pizza popup in Brooklyn.

Scott Wiener is the founder of Scott's Pizza Tours, the author of Viva la Pizza!: The Art of the Pizza Box, and is in the Guinness Book of World Records for having the largest collection of pizza boxes on the planet.

Of course, I asked the two about their love for pizza. Scott said part of its appeal is that it has a wide reach. "It's the food eaten everywhere, and everybody understands it, and it's just sort of an open invitation for conversation...When somebody says, 'Oh, such and such place is hands down the best ever,' nobody ever says, 'Oh. Okay, cool. Thanks. You want to go play some hockey?' No, it's never like that. It's always a conversation, and nobody's ever right, and nobody's ever wrong. It's like this friendly thing you can talk about."

Scott's love of pizza led to him creating Scott's Pizza Tours, which in turn set him on the path to collecting pizza boxes, and he now has 1,400 and counting. "I just figured, I have to understand every aspect of [pizza]," Scott said. "I was driving out to Long Island to see pizza oven factories, and tomato farms. I needed to know as much as could about everything. When I started noticing beautiful-looking pizza boxes, I had all these questions...Why go through all the trouble of putting this sometimes beautiful art, and sometimes absolutely atrocious art, onto a box that's just gonna get thrown in the garbage?"

Adam's love for pizza has found its expression at Margot's, which is so popular that all the seats sell out in a matter of seconds when tickets go on sale. The pizza is a little difficult to pin down, but it's all Adam. "It's basically an amalgam of many different styles throughout the country that I fell in love with," Adam said. "My first love was basically the Midwestern thin crust pies. It's got that thinness. I love New York pizza. I love how it's crisp and you can fold it still. When I went about making my crust, I made sure that it was crisp but you could fold it." How do people get tickets for Margot's? Go to the website linked above and follow the instructions. The next one is on September 10th at Emily in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn, and tickets will go on sale September 3rd at exactly 10 p.m. Pro tip: You have to be on the Margot's Pizza mailing list to receive the link to buy tickets.

I promise that this special three-part Special Sauce series on pizza will have you craving your favorite slice, no matter where you live. That is, of course, if you love pizza. And who doesn't love pizza?

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

Aug 9, 2018
In part two of my interview with former Obama personal chef and Obama White House food activist Sam Kass, I got schooled big-time about the role visuals play in how you eat at home. "The first lesson that I learned, that I think is maybe most helpful for people, is you eat what you see. How you set your home up can have a transformational impact on what you actually consume. Basically, the things you're trying to eat more of, you should put out in plain sight, and the things you're trying to eat less of, you should put on the top shelf or the back of the freezer, in the bottom of the drawer, because you see the bag of cookies on the counter, and then you say to yourself, 'Oh, I'd like a cookie.'" That's what Kass taught the Obama family, and if it's good enough for them, it's good enough for me and probably for most serious eaters as well.
 
Though he served as one of the leading figures in the good-food movement, via his position as executive director of Michelle Obama's Let's Move initiative, Kass doesn't have time for the purists: "It pisses me off, to be quite honest with you, that we make people feel a certain way about how they're wrong when it comes to how they're eating. This book"—Kass's recently published Eat a Little Better: Great Flavor, Good Health, Better World—"is really an attempt to celebrate progress over the ideals, and also to give people strategies about how to actually do it, 'cause we spend so much of our time talking about what you should or shouldn't do, but no time on how to actually get it done."
 
And ditto for the kind of elitism that tends to be reflected in conversations around nutrition: "If we want to change the food system, you have to change most people. We're too satisfied in the food world with doing it really great for a really small number of people. Scale matters. That's one of the things the White House showed me, is that the world functions on a huge scale, way bigger than we can comprehend and way bigger than most people even have any sense of.... If you want to have an impact, you've got to deal with millions of people and millions of acres and huge supply chains. That means you're going to have to make some compromises. It means you're going to have to make compromises in what you're asking of people. If you can get a lot of people to eat just one or two more servings of vegetables a week, that's a big impact."
 
Sam Kass has a lot to say in his provocative new book, Eat a Little Better: Great Flavor, Good Health, Better World, and he also has plenty to say in part two of my conversation with him on Special Sauce. You won't want to miss it.
 
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The full transcript for this episode can be found over here at Serious Eats.
Aug 3, 2018

All right, I admit it: I've always fantasized about having one of the Obamas as a guest on Special Sauce. And while I haven't given up hope entirely, I realize that Sam Kass, my guest on Special Sauce this week, might be as close as I get to that particular dream.

Sam is an author and food policy activist, and I first heard about him when he was tapped by Michelle Obama in 2013 to be the executive director of her Let's Move campaign, which focused on changing attitudes about food and nutrition in America. By that point in time, Sam had already been working at the White House for about four years, both as a chef and as an advisor.

Sam has since taken some of the lessons he tried to impart there and written the cookbook Eat A Little Better: Great Flavor, Good Health, Better World, which is also something of a gentle food manifesto.

We started the conversation off with what it was like for Sam growing up, and he said that he started cooking for his family when he was nine; part of his allowance was even budgeted for the shopping. But he didn't really use recipes. "I would just make it up," Sam said, "I remember I cooked chicken thighs with a bunch of dried herbs and some onions, and maybe some mushrooms that I just sort of threw together. It came out actually really well...I got lucky, I think. Because then I tried to do it the next time, and put so many dried herbs into it that it was basically inedible."

Such is life as a nine-year-old chef.

As we talked, it seemed like Sam and I were bonding quite nicely. Well, at least until I brought up Chicago's deep dish pizzas, which turned out to be a sore subject. Here's a bit of the transcript:

Ed Levine: How did you feel about Chicago pizza? Were you a lover of deep dish pizza?

Sam Kass: Of course. Are you kidding me?

Ed Levine: I ask that because when I, I wrote a pizza book. A book all about pizza. In it I uttered some blasphemous statements about Chicago pizza.

Sam Kass: I'm amazed you're still alive.

I hope you'll check out both this week and next week's podcast to listen to how the talented and thoughtful Sam Kass became an invaluable member of the Obamas' White House team.

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

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