It’s not uncommon for me to have lunch while reading a restaurant review, rewatching an episode of Chef’s Table, or taking in some random cooking video on YouTube, especially when I’m eating by myself. In fact, I find the experience so pleasurable I’d like to do it all the time. But my wife and I both work from home, and despite the delight, I still feel weird about doing the eating-watching-reading thing in the company of others. Probably has to do with the time an old roommate walked in on me lunching on a sad leftover burrito while watching Top Chef. He gave me one of the most “my heart breaks for you” looks I’ve ever seen in my life. It’s the little traumas, you know?
This is all my way of saying I get a tremendous charge out of vicariously experiencing food through others more attuned to pleasure than I am. Sure, I like food, and I have opinions about it, but there are people out there who have literally dedicated their lives to the capture and communication of gastronomic delight. They provide a frame to access deeper pleasures; it’s in the words they use and how they say it, words like crunch and flavor and smoky. I dunno, my spine tingles. If you blindfold me, strap me to a chair, and proceed to have someone whisper a cookbook into my ear, I can think of worse things to do on a Wednesday night.
Here in podcast land, Home Cooking continues to strike me as the pinnacle of the form, even though the feed is mostly dormant today. Hosted by Samin Nosrat and Hrishikesh Hirway, the pandemic-era podcast is as simple as it could possibly be: two extremely charming people helping listeners navigate their pantries to produce various feats of quarantine cooking. It broadly hails from the traditional food radio call-in program format — “What am I going to do with all these beans?” — but what the show did so well was bottle up a specific feeling: one of pure warmth courtesy of two people who genuinely want to be there with each other and with listeners in an act of communion.
As I said, the show doesn’t really publish any more, having carried out its run in 2020 with two additional episodes dropped randomly in 2021. We haven’t yet gotten a new episode in 2022 … but it looks as though one’s coming soon! I miss the show tremendously and dearly wish we could get more of these, but Hirway and Nosrat are both very busy people, and hey, it’s probably good to have a great thing that’s relatively fixed and finite.
In any case, we’re certainly not short of good alternatives. You have the classics: Francis Lam’s The Splendid Table, Evan Kleiman’s Good Food. Earlier this year, Pineapple Street launched Borderline Salty with Carla Lalli Music and Rick Martinez, which, I’m told, traffics in similar vibes. If you’re looking for a more populist angle, Doughboys awaits you and your fast-food passions. A contact recently turned me on to Recipe Club over at the Ringer, in which each episodes sees Dave Chang, the food and food-media mogul, hone in on a different food thing — spinach, casserole, brownies, gyoza, turkey, and so on — and go to town debating and experimenting with various approaches, techniques, and recipes with a rotation of guests. My mileage tends to vary with Chang projects, but there’s something about the energy with this project that works for me: a little bit of chaos, a little bit of sports radio. (If you’re looking for a more focused recipe dispenser that has less chaotic energy, you might find some joy in the gentility of Food52’s Play Me a Recipe.)
Perhaps you’re looking for something headier: food as a way into culture or science or people or ideas — food documentaries, basically. You’re in luck. Two long-standing shows in my rotation are Gastropod (now distributed by Vox Media, by the way) and The Sporkful, which is over a decade old. The former draws on the science and history of food; the latter channels the weekend magazine radio program. The Sporkful is the show that drew quite a bit of attention with its big “let’s make a new pasta shape” project last year, and it did, indeed, result in a brand new pasta shape: the Cascatelli, which I believe is now available at Trader Joe’s. For regionally specific programming, consider checking out Gravy, which draws from the American South, or the San Francisco Chronicle’s Extra Spicy, which is hosted by Soleil Ho and tends to possess a really striking political edge that I admire, particularly in its latest batch of episodes. Meanwhile, the latest season of Proof, from American Test Kitchen, began last week with the posing of an important question: “Should I Cook for My Dog?” … which I, uh, totally didn’t misread at first glance as “Should I Cook My Dog?”
Of course, the food-as-life show I really ride or die for is the good ol’ Richard’s Famous Foods podcast. An actual food cartoon for your ears (has anybody ever written that sentence before?), Richard Parks III, who single-handedly makes the show, doesn’t publish new episodes very often, but whenever he does, it’s an event. Maybe we’ll get lucky and have another one this Thanksgiving.
➽ My Dad Wrote a Porno is coming to an end next month after eight years of unleashing Belinda Blinked to the world.
➽ Bridget Todd, who hosts There Are No Girls on the Internet and co-hosts the Washington, D.C., edition of City Cast, leads a new series for Cool Zone Media called Internet Hate Machine, which explores the mechanics behind the harassment of Black women in online spaces — and how those things directly shape the political world we have today.
➽ Fans of How to Do Everything (how many of us are there, really?) rejoice: Ian Chillag and Mike Danforth have reunited for a project called In the Scenes Behind Plain Sight, a new celebrity rewatch podcast … of a hit TV show that doesn’t exist. That nonexistent show, called Behind Plain Sight, supposedly stars Chillag and Danforth, and the premise involves a man on the run from the Mafia who decides to hide out in a Floridian nudist colony. Behind Plain Sight ran for five seasons between 2002 and 2007, which I’m personally taking to mean that the show aired contemporaneously with the original run of Veronica Mars. Chillag, by the way, is also the creator of Everything Is Alive, a.k.a. Fresh Air for inanimate objects, so if you’re into that, you’re probably going to be into this too.
➽ Speaking of which, In the Scenes Behind Plain Sight isn’t the only podcast series that plays straight about things that don’t exist. For those interested in digging deeper into this … trend? nascent subgenre? … check out A Closer Look, a “fake documentary comedy podcast” hosted by Nate Fisher and Will Sennett. The first season is about a controversial World Series in the ’70s that was covered up because of the involvement of a cult and the mob, and the second season, still ongoing, is about the most expensive unfinished movie of all time, a ’90s apocalyptic sci-fi film starring Kevin Costner called Cyber Cowboys. Uh, yeah, lots going on here.
➽ It was recently brought to my attention that there’s a song — “Peter Bogdanovich,” by the Irish musician CMAT — directly inspired by You Must Remember This’s Polly Platt season. And, my friends, it is a banger.