For some, fall’s biggest assets are football ‘n’ foliage; I say nothing tops the food. This week, I round up little-known culinary facts from recent podcasts, some more digestible than others:
1. THERE REALLY IS A ROOM WHERE FAST-FOOD EXECS TEST WEIRD IDEAS.
On a particularly fascinating episode of This American Life, producer Zoe Chace sits in on a meeting at Hardee’s headquarters where new menu items are pitched, tasted, and debated. Some ideas sound too crazy to succeed—would you eat a burger topped with mashed potatoes and gravy?—but who can predict what'll catch on? Chace also learns about the intricacies of food marketing, and how the success of healthier chains like Chipotle and Panera has forced many fast-food companies to change their approach.
2. OUR MEAT AND PRODUCE IS BLANDER THAN IT USED TO BE.
This episode explores the rise in artificial flavors and the decline of good flavor in “natural” foods. “We’ve really mastered the art of making chicken that tastes like cardboard,” says Mark Schatzker, author of The Dorito Effect: The Surprising New Truth About Food and Flavor. Ick.
3. ASTRONAUTS LOVE SPICY FOOD.
In this ep devoted to interplanetary eats, astronaut Chris Hadfield talks about his favorite space meals. (At the top of his list: freeze-dried shrimp cocktail.) He notes that strong flavors taste best up in the air, since zero-gravity makes one feel “like you have a really, really bad head cold all the time.” He also mentions his upcoming album, which is the first recorded entirely in space (that we know of).
4. WYLIE DUFRESNE DISLIKES THE TERM “MOLECULAR GASTRONOMY.”
In an interview on this Vice podcast, the New York chef—described by host Helen Hollyman as “the LeBron James of the American molecular gastronomy movement”—confesses he never liked the term. “If it’s Friday night and you want to go out to dinner, and you’re like, ‘Do you want to go have Thai, do you want to go have French, or do you want to go have molecular gastronomy?’ there is no chance,” he says. “That doesn’t sound delicious at all, right?”
5. RUTH REICHL REDISCOVERD HER LOVE OF COOKING … AFTER LOSING HER JOB EDITING GOURMET MAGAZINE.
In an appearance promoting her new cookbook, My Kitchen Year: 136 Recipes That Saved My Life, Reichl admits her busy job affected her own joy of cooking. After Gourmet closed in 2009, she says she let herself reconnect with cooking “as a process of enjoying the journey as much as the result.” She adds, “I realized I really lost that. No matter what happens in my life, I will never let that go again.”
6. DON’T WANT THE SHELL TO STICK TO YOUR HARD-BOILED EGG? LOWER IT IN HOT WATER.
Author and “mad food scientist” J. Kenji Lopez-Alt appears on the program to share his scientific findings about cooking pasta, searing meat, and boiling eggs. About the latter: Lower eggs into cold water, the shell will stick. Lower them into hot water, and you won’t have much of a problem.
7. THE NEXT TIME YOU ORDER PIZZA, SAY YOU WANT IT “WELL-DONE.”
This show covers recent food headlines like the LeBron James-McDonald’s breakup and the Peet’s-Stumptown coffee union. Co-host David Jacoby also mentions he always orders “well-done” pizza, which results in a tastier, crispier crust.
8. A HOT DOG IS A SANDWICH … OR IS IT?
Dan Pashman’s latest episode includes listeners’ questions about pancakes and cookies. But what amused me most was a mention of the show’s upcoming event in Brooklyn, wherein Pashman will debate actor, humorist, and podcaster John Hodgman over whether a hot dog should be considered a sandwich. (I say yes.)
9. WHERE DO CHEFS GO FOR FAST FOOD? POPEYE’S.
Author and chef Anthony Bourdain spends most of this interview chatting about punk rock (as he should), but he also tells host Damian Abraham that, if desperate for a meal in the middle of nowhere, he’ll head to Waffle House or Popeye’s. (Damian adds that several of his food-industry friends love Popeye’s chicken, too.)
For more podcast recommendations, peruse the archive.