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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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Special Sauce with Ed Levine
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May 19, 2017
On this week's Special Sauce, Andy Ricker explains his idiosyncratic take on what he does for a living, which he articulated in his book, Pok Pok: "I'm not a chef. I didn't invent this stuff. The food at my restaurants is not my take on Thai food." When I asked him what he meant by that, he replied, "The approach of most chefs is to go and study a food, usually in a cursory manner these days, and then kind of absorb some of the techniques and the flavors and stuff and try to recreate it in their own image somehow. For me, the food that I was encountering [in Thailand] didn't need any help... As good as it was, the food didn't need anything else. It was great."
 
Ricker also speaks reverently about his friend, Mr. Lit, a Thai rotisserie chicken master: "He started out as a salesman for a chicken company and he decided he wanted to do roast chicken. It took him two and a half years to perfect his chickens. He did it for 35 years, and then he turned it over to his daughter and son-in-law and wife, and they've been doing it for a further eight or ten years since then."He pauses and then finishes his thought: "He's retired and they're still making the same damn menu." 
 
As for who he'd have as a guest for his last supper, I will give all of you Serious Eaters a hint about one of them: He was the lead singer of the Box Tops. 
 
May 12, 2017
My guest on Special Sauce both this week and next is chef-restaurateur Andy Ricker, whose Pok Pok restaurants in Portland, Oregon, and in Brooklyn introduced me to the joys of Northern Thai food.
 
We delve into his hippie roots growing up in rural Vermont, his varied professional background ranging from working in low- and high-end restaurants to playing in several bands to house painting, and how his extensive travels helped transform his perspective of cooking from a way to get by into a passion.
 
When it opened, Ricker didn't call Pok Pok a Thai restaurant for a variety of reasons. I'll leave you here with just one of them: He didn't want people saying, "You're a white dude. How dare you claim tradition and authenticity." For the rest of them, you're just going to have to listen to both this week's episode and next week's, as well, when Andy and I take a deeper dive into the issues of authenticity and cultural appropriation. Don't worry. It will be time well spent.
May 5, 2017

This week on Special Sauce features the second part of my far-reaching conversation with Dan Barber, and he and I cover a lot of ground. He defines each of the three plates that are the subject of his groundbreaking book, The Third Plate. I'll let you in on what the first plate is here: it's meat and potatoes, "the classic American dinner," according to Dan. But to find out what the other two plates are, you're just going to have to listen (you can, of course, read his book, too).

Dan and I also discuss his relationship with the late environmentalist and philanthropist David Rockefeller, who built the restaurant that is part of Blue Hill at Stone Barns. And Dan makes it clear he has some strong feelings about corn cultivation in the country. He calls it "the most inefficient use of land resources in the history of the world."

Finally, Dan reflects on how having two young daughters has changed the way he feels about spending so much time in his restaurant kitchens. "It's very hard to be inspired in the kitchen," Dan says, "I just generally feel a bit angry."

I hope you have the time to listen in on our conversation–it's really Dan Barber as you've never heard him.

Apr 28, 2017

I think it's safe to say that Dan Barber, the visionary chef of Blue Hill and Blue Hill at Stone Barns, has led an interesting life. I'm sure you'll agree after listening to this week's episode of Special Sauce.

Barber's dad loved good restaurants, so he was exposed to some pretty great places at a very young age. But, on the other hand, his father was also a practitioner of tough love. He used to say, "You're a humble son, Daniel, but you have a lot to be humble about."

His kitchen career got off to a rocky start at Nancy Silverton's La Brea Bakery, where he got fired for forgetting to add salt to 1,200 pounds of rosemary bread dough, ruining the entire batch. Barber overheard Silverton say, "I can't let this kid ruin me." He was 22 years old at the time.

Barber includes the legendary French chef Michel Rostang among his mentors, noting that Rostang has suffered four heart attacks in the kitchen as he's tried to secure a third Michelin star, an achievement that has eluded the Rostang family for three generations. Barber says that Rostang's commitment and drive affected him deeply, even as it made him wonder, "What is it about this whole restaurant, cooking, chef-ing thing that drives people half-mad?"

And Barber admits that he has his own regrettable moments in the kitchen, which is something he's trying to address. "I had one last night that I regret... I let it loose," he says. "And I'm a little bit cruel... I really am trying very hard."

Barber had so much interesting stuff to say about his early career and becoming an award-winning chef that you're going to have to wait until next week's episode of Special Sauce to get the scoop on his groundbreaking book, <em><a href="https://www.amazon.com/Third-Plate-Field-Notes-Future/dp/0143127152/?tag=serieats-20">The Third Plate</a></em>, and wastED, his pop-up restaurant concept, which just finished a five-week run in London. Until then, I hope you enjoy the first part of our fascinating conversation.

Apr 20, 2017

Last week, I promised that you'd get to hear why Mark Ladner decided to walk away from Del Posto, which was awarded four stars by the New York Times, to open a fast-casual pasta joint, and this week I make good on that promise.  In this week's episode, Ladner and I discuss how he came up with the idea for his start-up, Pasta Flyer, and the challenges specific to figuring out how to make a good pasta that cooks up fast. He also reflects on how the experience is a kind of culmination of all the work he's done and everything he's been through in his life to date, from his first cooking jobs in the 1980s to working for Mario Batali, and how he considers his long and successful career in fine dining "a detour." As Ladner says, "I don't know how I necessarily got here, but this is what I was supposed to do."

But there's more (as there always is on Special Sauce): Ladner lets us in on the answers to some last-supper questions–who'd be invited, what they'd have–and the surprising dish he cooks up for himself after a long day slinging pasta.

Apr 14, 2017

In the first of my two-part interview with chef Mark Ladner, we focus on his indirect yet hard-earned path to helming Del Posto, the New York Times four-starred restaurant he ran for twelve years. And why did the only chef to earn those four stars by cooking Italian food leave that palatial restaurant kitchen to open up a fast-casual joint where the pasta cooks in ten seconds? Framed against this cosmic question, he speaks volumes about where food is headed in America in his typically low-key and thoughtful way. You'll have to wait until next week's episode to hear the answer in its entirety, but it's worth the wait. 

Apr 7, 2017

You probably won't be able to hear it, but I was moved to tears by my interview with dumpling queen Helen You on this week's Special Sauce. Helen is the owner of Dumpling Galaxy, the finest dumpling shop in NYC, and the coauthor of The Dumpling Galaxy Cookbook, written alongside former Serious Eats editor Max Falkowitz. Her dumplings, as good as they are, weren't what got to me, though—it was her remarkable personal story. I won't reveal any more of it here, but my guess is you'll be reduced to tears as well. It's okay. We all need a good cry, especially when it comes with a happy ending.

Mar 31, 2017
"Hot pig Jell-O" may not sound like a draw to most people, but that's exactly how Mario Batali describes the headcheese that he got me to try—and even like!—more than 20 years ago. How he managed that feat, his nose-to-tail approach to cooking (though not exclusive to him), how he hires so many people who start out as line cooks and end up as chef-partners, and what he regrets about giving author Bill Buford an all-access pass for his terrific book Heat are just some of the many tidbits serious eaters will come away with after listening to this, the second installment of my conversation with the superstar chef and restaurateur.
Mar 24, 2017

I have been dying to get Mario Batali, whom I have known for more than a quarter century, on Special Sauce since I first dreamed up the idea for our podcast, more than a year ago. And, when all you serious eaters listen to Mario on this week's episode, you'll know why. The man is funny, smart, hyper-articulate, and both thoughtful and thought-provoking. Mario has so many interesting things to say—enough that we had to make this interview a two-parter. Next week, we'll delve into his accidental television career and chef-restaurateur stardom. 

Mar 17, 2017

Many serious eaters know the pleasures associated with ordering something delicious from the online food retailer Mouth.com.  But not many people know the fascinating backstory of Mouth's cofounder Craig Kanarick. That's where this week's episode of Special Sauce comes in.  How Craig went from telling Fortune 500 companies what to do at Razorfish to finding the next great jam-maker at Mouth is a terrific story of risk and reinvention, and you can hear every detail on this episode of Special Sauce.

 
Mar 10, 2017
I call part two of my interview with Missy Robbins "The Comeback Episode," because we learn what happened when Missy returned from her self-imposed hiatus from her career as a chef. Missy delves into how the time away helped shape her personal philosophy and, inevitably, the development and opening of Lilia, her much-lauded Italian restaurant in Brooklyn and her first as a chef-restaurateur. Contrary to prior emphasis on garnering accolades and critical acclaim, Missy says she wanted Lilia to have no part in striving for Michelin or New York Times stars; she just wanted to cook great food. And, glowing reviews, while good for the ego, are besides the point now. The mantra she tells her staff? "Let's welcome people into our home and make them feel great when they leave here, and let's make them crave the food."  A laudable goal, don't you think?
 
Mar 3, 2017

On this week's Special Sauce I chat with Missy Robbins, the chef and owner of Lilia in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Missy describes her 20-year journey to opening her own place with such sharp clarity that after we finished recording, I was unable to think about anything else for hours. And when we tried to edit our conversation down to one episode we found that we couldn't, so this week's episode is just part one.

 

Feb 17, 2017

In this first of a two-part interview with The New York Times Op-Ed Columnist and former restaurant critic, Frank Bruni, we delve into everything from his earlier days as Rome bureau chief for that same paper, why it feels as if readers of his memoir, Born Round: A Story of Family, Food, and a Ferocious Appetite, have "essentially been in bed" with him, and what he feels are the true qualifications for a restaurant critic.

Feb 10, 2017

On this week's Special Sauce, I continue my far-reaching conversation with great cook and ramen master, Ivan Orkin, aka Ivan Ramen.  What is his recommendation on the best way to eat ramen, how did he make it as an American ramen chef in Tokyo, why did he return to the U.S. after so much success in Japan, and what non-noodle project does he have in the works in New York City?  You'll just have to tune in to find out.

Feb 3, 2017

In this first part of a Special Sauce double-header, Ivan Orkin, of Ivan Ramen and Slurp Shop in NYC, talks about life before he became a celebrity in Japan as a gaijin (foreigner) ramen chef: the Orkin family table growing up on Long Island, NY, how a high school job working as a dishwasher in a local Japanese restaurant helped first develop his palate, his early years teaching English in Tokyo, the restaurant cooking experiences in the U.S. that shaped his philosophy on hospitality, and how he was able to overcome tremendous loss.

Jan 27, 2017

This week's guest on Special Sauce is chef and school food activist Bill Telepan, who is now at the helm of New York's Oceana Restaurant.  Bill shares some particularly insightful observations about why chef-driven neighborhood restaurants across the country are struggling, his mother's reaction to his decision to drop out of college and attend cooking school ("You're kidding, right?"), and why young cooks at a restaurant should think twice before suggesting new dishes for the menu.

But I suppose the most important lesson Serious Eaters may learn about after listening to our conversation is the importance of doing something you love, day in and day out. Now that's some Special Sauce worth listening to.

 

Jan 20, 2017
In part two of my conversation with Marcus Samuelsson, we chat a little about the profound Russian influence on everyday Swedish cuisine, the driving inspiration and ethos behind opening his Harlem restaurant, The Red Rooster, and how he was able to stop obsessing over creating a technically perfect fried chicken recipe and embrace it as "an emotional endeavor"–with a little tough love from a famous singer.
 
Who was that singer, what does jazz have to do with the way he approaches cooking, and which late legendary Motown star would Marcus have loved to lunch with?  You're just going to have to listen to find out.
Jan 13, 2017

This week's Special Sauce features Chef Marcus Samuelsson, whose restaurant, The Red Rooster, is arguably ground zero of the Harlem food and drink renaissance.  I found Marcus's story so inspiring and moving that I decided it merited two episodes. In fact, this is the first interview I've done for the show that has brought me to tears. There's so much to Marcus's remarkable story, so tune in to part one of this extraordinary interview. 

 
Jan 6, 2017

Chef Daniel Rose of Le Coucou, the best new restaurant in New York City, reflects on his career and kitchen philosophy.

Dec 23, 2016
Our first Call Special Sauce with Stella Parks was so nice, we decided to do it twice. Leah from DC wanted to come up with ideas for baked goods that "would just really light people on fire" at her daughter's school's bake sale table—in a metaphorical sense, that is. Both Carol from Connecticut and Kelly from Massachusetts had holiday pie questions, which Stella deftly handled, advising on blind baking, the best fat to flour ratio to keep moisture at bay in a dough, and highlighting salt's role in effective browning.
 
We also talked about the notion that there are "cake people" and "pie people" in this world. Stella doesn't buy it: "I think it's a false dichotomy that's meant to pit us against ourselves. There is cake, and there is pie, and there is room for both in our hearts." I love the way Stella humanizes almost everything in the baking universe. 
 
Want to learn more, including how Stella's "Danger Brownies" got their name? You're just going to have to listen. Happy holiday baking, Serious Eaters. 
Dec 16, 2016

Let's face it: One of the main reasons we look forward to the holiday season is the copious amount of baked goods we get to make and eat. So, with that in mind, I invited our pastry wizard, Stella Parks (aka BraveTart), to take calls on a special holiday baking episode of Call Special Sauce. And I strongly urge serious eaters everywhere to take a listen. Why? Mostly because Stella is so knowledgable and unpretentious. But it's also because no matter what she's talking about–whether it's on the difference between a French tart and a pie ("To me, it comes down to a ratio issue.") or on why she quit making brownies in Kentucky to move to Japan, without knowing a single word of Japanese ("That was when I had my quarter-life crisis.")–listening to her wax down-home poetic on baking and life is as much fun as eating an entire baking sheet of perfect chocolate chip cookies.

Dec 9, 2016
On today's episode of Special Sauce, Kenji and I fielded a wide variety of potentially vexing questions about cooking on a boat (Mike in Cyprus), preparing acidic foods in cast iron cookware (Julia in New York), making the most of small kitchens (Andrew in New York), marinades vs. brines (Kevin in DC), and leaving out food overnight (Philip in Pittsburgh).  This episode was truly all over the map, and we loved every minute of it. I hope you will, too.
 
By the way, don't miss the holiday baking questions we saved for next week, when our very own BraveTart, a.k.a. Stella Parks, will join me on the next installment of Call Special Sauce. 
Dec 2, 2016

In a million years, I would never have guessed Ruth Reichl's guilty pleasure: "Onion rings," she told me during part two of our conversation on Special Sauce. "I can't resist a good onion ring."

That's not the only surprising answer you'll hear on this week's episode from the woman I call the first rock star food journalist. Take a listen to hear her take on the digital revolution in food journalism or her unique choice of guests at her last dinner on earth–you won't regret it. 

Nov 18, 2016

In this week's episode of Special Sauce, Kenji and I field our listeners' call-in questions, and tackle the pressing concerns that plague Thanksgiving cooks (and their guests) around the country.

We trust that our listeners and questioners will be thankful for the thoughtful (and hopefully amusing) answers we provide. We know we're thankful that millions of people trust Serious Eats to make their food lives better. Happy Turkey Day, everyone.

Nov 11, 2016
If you've ever read one of Ruth Reichl's restaurant reviews, let alone one of her books, then you know what a wonderful, natural storyteller she is.  Great storytellers and great stories are the heart and soul of Special Sauce, so when Ruth emailed me to say that she could record an episode with us, our crew scrambled to make it happen.  Her episodes (yes, there will be a part two, taking us through her Gourmet years to the present day) don't disappoint. 

 

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