Yesterday came the first official episode of Food52’s first podcast “Burnt Toast,” and i must say that I have never been happier to hear the word “ass.” I learned about the podcast on Instagram and downloaded it immediately as I really feel like there is a dearth of good food podcasts out there. But I was very, very skeptical.
My skepticism comes not from Food52’s content, but it’s appearance. The photography on the main site and especially its retail outfit, formerly “Provisions,” now just the Food52 shop, is just too precious. Forks are placed just so, lighting is uniform. A few years ago it was porn to me, but now it feels like 1980s porn; it’s unrealistic and lacks visual interest. It just does not seem to be of or produced by, well, humans. Humans who, if they are really cooking everyday, have multiple different stains on their yoga pants and have counters that are rarely pristine and gleaming.
But wait! To my surprise and audible glee, within the first 15 seconds was uttered the word “ass!” This is not going to be a cookie cutter, perfectly styled, painfully chic foodie parade of self-congratulatory shlock. It’s actually gonna be fun.
The podcast follows a traditional format: sweet opening music underneath an audio collage of random weird foods. The two main hosts, Food52 founder Amanda Hesser and managing editor Kenzi Wilbur are joined by a guest. This time it’s Allison Robicelli of Robicelli’s bakery in Brooklyn. The three women are fabulous and it definitely helps that they seem to be friends, since the interview format can sometimes be a bit starched. The descriptive line they repeatedly employ is that the podcast will contain “what doesn’t make it on the website,” and the topic of the day was “weird food.”
The women start by sharing a peanut butter and kimchi sandwich, representing the sanest peanut butter combo sandwich suggested by Food52 readers. In discussing the sandwich they mocked “artisan $12-dollar Brooklyn peanut butter,” which was more than welcome. The conversation is dusted with little cooking tips, like Robicelli’s instruction to fry all peanut butter sandwiches to get the peanut butter “all melty”.
The triad did not buy into the unanimity of what constitutes “weird food”- a refreshing take for a mass market site. There was dissension about offal, jello, duck tongue, brains, strawberry and black olive ice cream and raw oysters. No one item seemed weird to everyone, which belies the common feeling of consensus in food media on what is weird or uncommon. We are in New York, look harder.
Also delightfully, Robicelli brought up pregnancy, which is a fascinating addition to the discussion of “weird food” preferences. She said some clichéd pregnant craving flavor combos really work – like pickles and ice cream…. briny and sweet? It could work at 3 am.
In another delightful twist, the conversation rambled past Amanda Hesser’s college dorm go-to and referenced an old ad for General Foods Viennese Chocolate Cafe. Then they cut the ad audio in, adding context and bringing everyone along with the joke – which really demonstrates a value add in a very common podcast format.
Later they diss meat from a can, which having eaten quite a bit of mortadella from a can in my college years, I resented – but it really proved the theory that one man’s trash is another’s treasure – confirmed later by all three professing their love of raw or drastically undercooked pasta.
“I like idiosyncratic food,” said Robicelli, referring to the glorious corners of an overcooked lasagna. She said that such things would never show up on Food52, but it would be so welcome! (Prompting me to seriously consider pitching the girls a blog called “Just Burn it!”)
“I wish somebody could figure out how to deliver a pizza that’s just burnt cheese stuck to the box.” said Robicelli.
The whole thing had the pace and direction of a jack russel terrier puppy, and it was just as fun. Amid the recalling of sweet and disgusting childhood memories, the group touched on a couple of excellent themes, such as: there is no such thing as a universally weird food. Also, in the most sincere part of the discussion, Robicelli lamented that it is really hard to get press unless you’re doing something outlandish. So weird is required and often forced. In fact, it was the reason that the Nutellasagna was invented.
If the listener leaves a podcast wanting to know the speakers better, then I deem it a success. And not only do I want to open a bottle of wine with Amanda and Kenzi, I’m excited to hear what they have to say about food. But I can’t help but wish that the Food52 main site had a little more of the unrehearsed reality that Burnt Toast brings to the table.