“There are three things everyone should do every day. Number one is laugh. Number two is think — spend some time in thought. Number three, you should have your emotions move you to tears. If you laugh, think, and cry, that’s a heck of a day.” If you’re a college basketball fan, you know this is what the late coach Jim Valvano said on-stage as he accepted an ESPY Award.
When I was asked to name my favorite Special Sauce episodes of 2019, I immediately thought of Valvano’s words. When I think about my favorite Special Sauce episodes, I immediately think about the best stories my interview subjects told, and how they’re a quick way to experience one heck of a day. It’s not easy to get a listener to laugh, think, and cry during an episode of Special Sauce, but I think my favorites do.
Early in the year I interviewed Homa Dashtaki, the irrepressible founder of my favorite yogurt company, White Moustache. Dashtaki recounts her journey from being an Iranian emigre, escaping persecution because of her Zorastrian faith, to becoming a disgruntled and unhappy lawyer. Then she tells me how she and her father put aside their differences long enough to make and sell yogurt at a farmers market in Southern California, only to be shut down by the California Board of Health.
From there, she managed to establish her business, which is now thriving thanks to the exceptional quality of her product, and the way in which she managed to overcome the many obstacles in her way is required listening.
I had read James Beard Award-winning writer Osayi Endolyn’s writing many times before inviting her on the show, so I wasn’t surprised when her Special Sauce interview became something of an emotional roller coaster. She discusses, among many other topics, fried chicken’s complicated legacy, her focus on the intersection of food and identity, and how much of her food writing involves answering two basic questions: “Is it delicious?” and “What does it mean?”
I also had a heck of a day when I read Tommy Tomlinson’s terrific book The Elephant in the Room: One Fat Man’s Quest to Get Smaller in a Growing America, which details in funny, moving, and thoughtful fashion his lifelong battle with obesity. I found Tomlinson to be such a compelling speaker and storyteller on his episodes of Special Sauce, in no small part because, as someone who has wrestled with my own weight problems, what he said completely resonated with me.
I thought Washington Post Food Editor Joe Yonan was similarly inspiring when he came on Special Sauce and took us on his amazing journey from being an army brat in a small town Texas to spending a decade honing his journalist’s craft as a hard news mainstream journalist and editor in Boston, before becoming one of the most powerful food journalists in America as the editor of the Washington Post Food section.
Riffing about pizza with fellow pizza geeks Adam Kuban and Scott Weiner was so much fun we had to make three episodes out of it. Even if you don’t love pizza the way the three of us do, you will appreciate these episodes. They may not make you cry, but at the very least they will make you laugh and think.
In the last third of year we changed things up at Special Sauce. We added an “Ask Kenji” segment to start the podcast and a final segment that takes the listener inside the Serious Eats test kitchen. In between, we placed a slightly pared down interview with our typically thoughtful guests.
I knew we were on to something a few episodes into the new format when I interviewed Chris Ying and Ivan Orkin, co-authors of The Gaijin Cookbook: Japanese Recipes from a Chef, Father, Eater, and Lifelong Outsider (and old friends of Special Sauce). They are so damn smart, have so many provocative opinions, and make me laugh so often that I could barely contain myself. And surrounding their conversation with Kenji (talking about eggs) and Stella (imparting her inimitable wisdom on brownies) made for incredibly entertaining and thoughtful episodes.
Finally, I am confident that you will laugh, think, and perhaps be brought to tears in our two year-end Ask Special Sauce holiday episodes, featuring Kenji and Stella answering Serious Eaters’ questions about Thanksgiving and Christmas cooking issues. We end up offering as much emotional sustenance as we do cooking and baking advice, because that’s just what people need during the holidays.
Verbally jousting with people as smart, interesting, and knowledgeable as Kenji and Stella inevitably resulted in the three of us guffawing loudly on mic. And that should bring smiles to all of you.
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