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Behind the Podcast : Davia Nelson on Cooking By Ear

Lesson 1 of 3

Pre-Production Cooking By Ear

 

Behind the Podcast : Davia Nelson on Cooking By Ear

Lesson 1 of 3

Pre-Production Cooking By Ear

 

Lesson Info

Pre-Production Cooking By Ear

Just to set the stage for this segment we pre-recorded your podcasts because your particular podcast involves being the in the kitchen and cooking and prepping stuff. So we pre-recorded that so we're gonna talk for 10 or 15 minutes here about what goes into creating a podcast and what the process is for you guys. And then we're actually gonna get to watch you capture it. So I would love to hear how you, when the lightning bolt struck and you both decided like, I want to get into podcasting. Well, maybe for you it was probably longer ago than me. (laughs) But for me it was relatively recently with, I was actually on a beer run with a friend of mine. We went to a wedding and they ran out of booze after the first 20 minutes or something. Which we thought was just unacceptable so we went out on a beer run and we were talking about cooking and he told me that it's really hard for him to cook it takes him forever and that was a moment where I said well, I can teach you but lets try and tea...

ch more than just you. Let's make a podcast that we can teach people to cook. Wow, and is he involved in the podcast now? He's the executive producer. Well that works out good. Yeah. (laughs) One of the executive producers. His name's Joaquin Alvarado and Ken Ikeda's the other producer. That's fantastic, how about- For me I actually started doing radio when I was in high school. I'm 33 and so that was a while ago. But and then I came back to it later in life. I was doing public radio and then I liked the power of moving beyond broadcast and they have other ways we can do audio. So, Joaquin actually approached me to do a day long engineering gig. I was like, yeah, totally, I'll just record a day in the kitchen. I don't even know what this is for. And the I realized they probably needed a producer and that's sort of how that started. And how long ago was that? That was about two years ago. Two years ago, yeah. Yeah. Okay, fantastic. And Cal, for those of you don't know, Cal, you were the head chef at Chez Panisse. Yeah. In Berkeley for more than I was, yeah 20 years. Yep. Yeah. And then left there to pursue cookbook writing and to just, as they say, spend more time with my family. (host laughs) And cook for them. I told my wife I'm gonna he her personal chef now. (laughs) Wow. Lucky lady. But I have a love of storytelling and I have a passion for teaching people to cook and convincing them that pleasure can be found in the kitchen. And so this is just one part of my kind of mission to get people not just around the table, but actually in the kitchen and find the pleasure and the connection that can happen there. And before you launched this podcast were there podcasts that were doing this or was this an original idea to actually go and cook with people in the kitchen. I don't think think that there was. I mean I haven't heard one, yeah so. A lot of the pod guests talk about a recipe, like this is how you can make it, but it wasn't a real time situation, somebody guiding you through it. It's more like, this is how you roast a chicken. And just sort of telling you about roasted chicken, but not taking you through that experience. I love that. I don't know if you caught it this morning, Tim Ferris was talking with Chase. And Tim said that you don't have to be better than somebody at doing something, you just have to do it differently and do it and approach it from a new creative perspective and that's what you guys have done. Right, and find your way in. Yeah. And your way to enjoy it. Yeah. So when you guys are planning a season of podcasts or a particular podcast, what goes into that, where does that process start? Yeah, so for our first season we were just thinking of guests that we could possibly get involved that we sort of know. So, Cal knew Frances McDormand for visiting, being a patron at Chez Panisse. And she was a fan of yours and you were a fan of hers. So we was sort of our first guest and so we went from there looking for people that we admire and their work, people who were coming through the bay area for a project and Mira Nair's, in that case Mira Nair was doing a play at Berkeley Sound, the play version of Monsoon Wedding. So we just sort of make a wishlist of our dream guests, of people we wanna talk to. And people who might have an interesting relationship with food. That's not what we hear all the time in main stream media. Are people who, yeah, there's a lot of food media, can get foodie and chefy and like the audio version of food porn in some way for podcasts and we didn't wanna be that. You know, we keep updating our dream list. Some people we've reached out, mostly people have agreed, there's been a few people who have declined because they just don't ever cook or they're just too busy or whatever, but we still have, we maintain a kind of a dream list and Michelle Obama if you're out there, (audience laughs) you're at the top of our list, we'd love to cook with you. That's fantastic. How did, tell the story of how you landed Frances. Well, Frances and her husband, Joel, would come to the restaurant for meals when they were in the area, they have a home sort of in the area. And I was just in awe because I've always loved her ever since, well really since with her first movie where, Blood Simple Blood Simple. And then Almost Famous is a favorite of mine that I've watched many times with my kids and I was just blown away that she was there. We get some celebrities in the restaurant so I was use to being over to people and not ruin their evening, but just say, just wanted you to know, I'm a big fan, thank you for being here and then walk away. But I couldn't quite get myself to go over to Frances and Joel's, maybe I was just too busy, but she came to me on her way out and she stopped in front of my, I was working the grill and she went, pleasure, pleasure, pleasure. (host laughs) And I just knew that she, that we had something in common. The fact that she identified what we were doing so directly with pleasure was a sign to me that she might be into it and, you know, I got in touch with her and she said yes right away. So what was that process like, actually reaching out to her, did you email her, did you call her? It was email Okay. And I forget how I had her, I think she had given me her email. And yeah, she was into it. She told us there was a few restrictions, we were not allowed to talk about where we were and I can tell you that it's a coastal town somewhere on the Pacific Ocean. And that was about it. And you know, it was, it was amazing to be invited into her home and to see her kitchen and cook with her. Yeah. I just wanna add something. That like even of you like Frances McDormand's not like coming into your work place and giving you like a high five. We've cold called like a lot of, or like cold emailed, a lot of our guests. And I think they're interested in doing our show because it's not just where we wanna interview from you, it's like we wanna cook with you and we wanna give you a meal at the end in some way. So it's actually been surprising that people have said yes sometimes 'cause like they don't know me from anyone else. Yeah. So I think, go ahead. And you know we have kind of a sort of lean towards some celebrities, especially in our first season, to just kind of get people's attention and all that, but you know, there's lots of good stories, we need, our ideal guest is somebody who likes to cook, but isn't a professional, would like to learn more, and has interesting stories to tell and wants to engage around telling stories about food and life and art and politics and. So, we're not, we're certainly not confining ourselves to like celebrity types, there's lots of stories to be told. That's fantastic, I think that's a big intimidating step for people that don't know Frances McDormand to go out and actually reach out to that person that they think is too big for what they're doing. So I think that's really empowering. Yeah, if you think about the podcast you hear like a lot of times the guests are somebody that you've never heard of, but then it turns out, wow, this is fantastic. And again, the Kitchen Sisters are a role model for us because they're so good at digging those stories up out of a place where maybe you wouldn't think there was a story. So let's shift gears a little bit. Let's talk about what you guys do leading up to a podcast. Content prep, do you guys build a timeline, are you watching the clock as you're actually recording the podcast? Talk us sort of through that process. So the first step after they've said yes to doing our show, then we decide a dish with them based on if they wanna use a certain ingredient or they want to achieve a goal, like poet Tommy Pico wanted the perfect dish for the morning after so we made a spaghetti frittata that was a very specific request, but applicable for a lot people. And so once we've decided on a dish with them then we go into deep stalker mode and watch every video interview, thing they've ever written and do an extensive prep packet to really, I am living in their world, we're living in their world for three days. I could tell you everything about them off the top of my head. And then if we go beyond that then we look at the industry and the art that they're doing and try to figure out what are some of the conversations happening in their industry that they'd like to talk about or a current event that would mean a lot to them or something. So we'd do a huge prep packet. And for, I remember for Davia I remember it was a little, once we started to, Davia Nelson of the Kitchen Sisters, once we started to kind of dig into that the prep work and, it did become, Kristina had told me already she was a little intimidated because she's a legend in radio. And I didn't quite understand why it would be some intimidating until I started to really, I mean I'd listen to the kitchen sisters, but they go back 30 years and they've just done so many great things that it started to feel like, oh wow, this one's gonna be kinda hard. But it turned out to be not that hard and well, I mean it's a challenge, but that part of it I think added to what we did we were able to, like we were able to, she understood what we were doing. So, that, it can be a little intimidating in a way but you need to find the things that speak to you when you're doing that kind of research and formulate your questions around that. And so that's, does that become the script then sort of? With the narrative that you're trying to build. Yeah, it's like a loose outline of what we're sort of manifesting we want the interview to be. I never wanna be like, okay, next question. (host laughs) And like you wanna really respond to what they're going and be open to sort of following on a journey while also being the director of the situation. Some guests take us on tangents or just, you know, you want to show them that you're also sort of, you're both co-piloting this thing but your, it makes them feel comfortable too that you're directing and they're not in charge of figuring out the conversation. In the case of Davia, her instinct to interview is strong and she just wanted to, so Cal, what's about your new cookbook? Like no, we're not talking about Cal or his cookbook today. (laughs) I mean I wasn't that staunch, but I tried to lead it back, to focusing. Okay. And, yeah, she's radio legend to me and I've been following her work since I was and so it was a really, it's an intimidating meta moment to have someone who's work inspires you to get into audio because her tenants and her values of uncovering certain people's stories and amplifying them in a different way that aren't in mainstream media and then having her witness you do the craft that she's so good at was very nerve wracking for me. To keep her on track was probably really nerve wracking, not turn the interview around too. Yeah, or like if she if I use a tech We're like, we see what you're doing. (host laughs) Yeah. Or if I use a technique that I've learned like technically from her, from her interview style. Uh, is Davia going to be on to me that I'm doing this interview technique? But she was very generous. But we start as far, as much lead time as we have, we start putting together, we actually use an online document that we both edit and we make comments on each other's questions and sometimes some of the questions get deleted because one of us will say oh no, that's already been covered somewhere else. So, and as we get closer to the date of our episode recording that kind of gets ramped up a little bit and we're very much in touch right up to the moment. Ideally we arrive, literally, like we drive to the place together so that we have those last minutes of what are the things we really need to touch on, let's not forget to get the guest to introduce themselves, get a picture. On some of the earlier ones we forget to get a picture. Okay. (host laughs) Make yourself a list. Yep. So you go in with an actual physical list or a mental list or like with the questions, how do you handle that without? Yeah, we have a physical Yeah. Prep, we bring the prep document with us, like Cal likes to write in old fashion pencil marks on his prep packet. So I think it's we don't have it out while we're cooking for lots of reasons, but we tuck it away and return to it later. Maybe after we've sat down to eat to just check, like have we really covered the things that we want. And that includes more technical stuff. I wanna get the sound of Davia singing her favorite song, which is also a technique she uses with her interviewees. So I wanted to really turn it around on her, but we just had a list of things like that. Did she sing a song? Remember I was trying to get her to sing Martha Wainright? Oh, yeah. Anyway. Did she sing it? She was like, oh, not really. But then I did have her. Maybe you'll see it. She did this awesome impression of a sprinkler. You know like one of those. (audience laughs) Oh yeah. I was asking her her favorite kitchen sound. Well I don't have a kitchen sound, but I do love sprinklers or something. And now you're like, make that sound. And then that moment she's like making the sound of a sprinkler and we're both like, yes. (host and audience laughs) This is gold. That's fantastic. What were, this'll be maybe our final question before we actually roll the clip. What was your specific, I guess content goal for Davia? Having done all that research, knowing who she was having been inspired by her for a long time, did you go in with an actual content goal for her? Multiple goals I would say, right? Yeah. Like um. A lot of them are shared by everyone like tell us your, who cooked at your house when you were growing up? What are your food memories, what, how do you think food fits into culture and life? And a lot of those more general questions. And for Davia in particular, I can't remember if we had a particular goal. Did we? I mean I think where I wanted to know more about her process and her craft and things that she's approached and she's been doing this for so long, like how has all of that changed. I think that just questions you can't gather from listening to their work. Like have they an interview that they didn't feel right about? Kind of that behind the scenes stuff. For her we had like 100 questions and there's just no way that you're gonna get to all of those and you don't know which question's gonna send somebody necessarily off a long storytelling path. But, yeah, I think we were going in with a meta approach because, like I just wanted to hear her general manifesto on what makes good audio storytelling. Fantastic. Anything we should know before we actually watch the podcast happen? Davia was nervous that we were coming to her because she's usually on the other side. So she was a little nervous about that. And she also had been traveling quite a lot and she felt like her kitchen was gonna be ill-equipped. And I told her not to worry about it, although we almost got stuck on, we couldn't find a can opener. Oh wow. Yeah (host laughs) Really messed it up. Which isn't, you know, I thought like oh I can like, anything that she doesn't have like a peeler, or the right knife, whatever I can hack it, I can do, but the can opener, we don't have a can opener, it's kind of hard to open a can. Are we gonna see that in the? I think we Maybe. Yeah, I think so. Also something that happened right before this clip happened, this meta conversation, I just felt like I had to get my fan girlness out of the way from the beginning and also take the edge off her, I'd make her, you know, realize that she's legendary and awesome. And so I told her that when I was I was at an audio conference and my first memory of her is tied to food, so I was at this audio conference, I was with a youth radio program out of Portland, Maine, shout out Blunt Youth Radio and Clair Holman which is the radio director. We were at a diner and we were suppose to go eat at the diner and then go see Davia and the Kitchen Sisters reveal their Sonic Memorial Project, which is this extensive thing about 9/ and the people involved in 9/11. Anyway, so we're really late to this show and our director said, we're like Claire we're so hungry and we need to, we're having like, we just wanna eat our chicken nuggets, why are we like going after this thing. Claire said, stuff your chicken nuggets in your pockets girls, we're gonna go see the Kitchen Sisters. Like I will never forget that, so we did and I go to see Davia Nelson in this very meta way and talk about this really important tender work and we're like eating fried chicken in the back, but we were like 16 so it's okay. So I shared that with her so it got my like, I'm a big fan stuff out of the way. And then also I think she reached out and like touched my hand, which you can't hear in the audio but I just, it was just a nice point of connection.

Class Description

After 22 years as head chef at the iconic Chez Panisse in Berkeley, California, Cal Peternell left and teamed up with audio producer Kristina Loring to work on a new venture, a podcast called “Cooking By Ear.” In each episode, Cal visits the kitchen of a famous friend, like Frances McDormand and Alexander Payne, where they talk about everything from food to family to poetry to film. Listeners are encouraged to cook along in real time, so they’ll have a complete meal by the end of the episode.

In this behind the scenes look at the making of an episode, Cal cooks and chats with Davia Nelson, one half of the Kitchen Sisters team, an award-winning radio producer, podcaster, and author whose work focuses on cooking, culture, diversity, and activism.

After 22 years in the iconic Berkeley, California, kitchen, Peternell left Chez Panisse last year and teamed up with audio producer Kristina Loring to focus on a new venture : Cooking By Ear, a podcast in which he visits the kitchens of his iconic friends to cook a dish and chat about everything from food and family to poetry and film.  

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