Select: Feed on history, news and ideas with food podcasts
It can be hard to switch off the brain while cooking, so when you’re distracted by daily dramas, press play on a food podcast
Cooking, for those of us who love it, can be a great release and a path to relaxation. But, just like a frustrating mindful meditation session, if your mind is buzzing with deadlines and gas bills it can be hard to focus on relaxing.
Sometimes, no matter how distractingly beautiful your perfectly diced onions look while bubbling away in butter, it can be hard to switch off the brain while cooking. When I find myself getting distracted by daily dramas, my method is to press play on a food podcast. I listen, I learn and I relax while I stir my simmering tomato sauce.
Gastropod takes a scientific approach to food, exploring a new topic every month, with an aim of discovering the “hidden history and surprising science” behind it. The subjects they have explored include the taste sense of bitter, Chinese food in the US, the versatility of pigs as a food and the scoop on ice-cream.
It has an endearingly homemade feel with nerdy banter between the hosts, radio producer Cynthia Graber and New Yorker contributor Nicola Twilley. Based in the US, Twilley is originally from the US. It may take your ear a while to adjust to her transatlantic accent but stick with it; the content is fascinating.
The Menu by The Monocle
The Menu by The Monocle is suitably Scandinavian in design, with Finnish host Markus Hippi introducing topics over a clean jazzy soundtrack. They focus on the best in food, drink and hospitality around the world.
Topics include Seoul food, the perfect slice of toast and gin. And that’s just in the most recent episode. Past episodes see Markus talking to Honey & Co in London, the geometry of pasta, Dandelion Chocolate in San Francisco and saké.
A few listens in and you’ll find yourself falling for the way Markus breathily says the number four whenever he says Monocole 24. There are more than 30 episodes to catch up on, so get listening.
Farm to Table
Slate has been an online magazine since 1996 reporting largely on politics and culture from New York City and Washington DC. Their food podcast Farm to Table is hosted by Slate food editor LV Anderson and Sporkful podcaster (also worth a listen on sporkful.com) Dan Pashman.
Mostly recorded in 2013, they tackled subjects such as soda, white bread and frittatas, and two years on, the podcasts haven’t lost their relevance.
The Nordic Food Lab
Nordic food has been at the forefront of innovative food movements in the last decade, with Noma in Denmark considered to be the best restaurant in the world. The idea of celebrating local ingredients and what’s special and unique to your place has been taken to the next level, and its influence has spread across the culinary world, seeing a step away from fussy molecular gastronomy towards simplicity and flavour.
The Nordic Food Lab are a non-profit open-source organization that takes a scientific approach to investigating what’s good to eat in the Nordic region. They are a research team on a quest to discover new edibles. Their podcast started earlier this year, and so far they have touched on areas such as seaweed science from the water to the kitchen, honey ants and the complexity of bread. There’s a lot of science and American host Meradith Hoddinott acts as a translator for the experts she interviews.
Irish History Podcast
Closer to home, you can listen to the history of food in Medieval Ireland thanks to the Irish History Podcast episode called Grubs Up – Food in Medieval Ireland. Once you get through the introduction where the historian host Fin Dwyer apologises for his cold and thanks those who helped crowd-fund his book, this podcast episode gives a straightforward, music- free look at food in Medieval times. It was released on December 22nd of last year, and so the focus is on Christmas food such as turkey, cranberries, cinnamon and cloves, and their roles in Medieval Ireland. Pottage, herrings, imported figs and desserts of rice and almond milk are mentioned, and the contrast between the food for the rich and food for the poor highlighted.
She’s not a food podcaster but Terry Gross on NPR is the master of relaxing radio voices. She’s a delicate interviewer who manages to get her subjects, who have included Hilary Clinton and Louis CK (Mind you, she may have gotten a little to personal with Lou Reed, who walked out on her.) A recent episode of her show Fresh Air featured American-Israeli chef Michael Solomonov talking about what Israeli food means to him.
He’s won a James Beard Award for his restaurants in Philadelphia and has strong views on hummus and tehina. Find the episode (and open yourself up to the world of Terry Gross) at npr.org