We're longtime fans of Dan Pashman's podcast The Sporkful, so we were excited when he announced that he'd be compiling his accumulated wisdom from the show into a new book, Eat More Better: How to Make Every Bite More Delicious. Now that the book is out, we interviewed the self-proclaimed "Scalia of sandwiches" about the way he eats and the way he cooks.
Eat More Better is almost a cookbook for eaters — how to hack your meal. Do you identify with Sally Albright, Meg Ryan’s character from When Harry Met Sally …, who gives famously complicated food orders, and often asks for dressings and other toppings on the side?
I certainly identify with the part of her that believes that putting a little extra thought and effort into each bite makes for a far better eating experience. But I used to wait tables, so I don’t usually annoy servers with a ton of special requests.
What inspired you to start a podcast about eating, and when did you decide that your accumulated wisdom needed to become a book?
I had worked on a number of news radio shows, some of which I thought were really promising, but all of which eventually got canceled. A lot of friends of mine in radio were starting podcasts, and I figured at least with a podcast, the only person who can cancel me is me.
I had never done anything in food but I loved to eat and I thought I had an idea for a different way to talk about food. I like to say The Sporkful (and Eat More Better) aren’t for foodies, they’re for eaters. It’s not about restaurants or chefs or recipes or cooking, and it’s not about fancy food. It’s about eating, with a focus on universal foods we all eat and enjoy.
I always had the idea that The Sporkful podcast could become a book. I wanted the book to be a definitive volume on eating, the kind of book that would relate to so many aspects of the everyday eating experience.
What’s the difference between a “foodie” and an “eater,” and what’s the problem with foodies?
I’m not against foodies per se, I just think the term suggests a certain amount of pretentiousness, so it turns a lot of people off and makes them feel like they don’t belong. I want my work to be inclusive, and everybody’s an eater.
Are there any dishes that you enjoy as is, and have not found a way to improve through food hacking?
I talk a lot about the pursuit of perfection—the perfect bite, the perfect meal, etc. But in truth, I don’t think you ever get there. The journey is the destination. So I’m always looking for ways to make every bite more delicious.
Which of your recommendations have people been the most grateful for?
People are very excited about Vertical Sandwich Plating. When you take a grilled cheese off the griddle golden brown, hot and crispy, then put it flat on a plate, the bottom turns soggy because of condensation. If you slice the grilled cheese in half diagonally and stand the halves up like mountain peaks, you allow air flow and prevent condensation, so the top and bottom bread stay crispy.
(Interviewer's note: Find out more about Vertical Sandwich Plating and six other tips from Eat More Better at Buzzfeed.)
And which of your recommendations are the most controversial, or even flatly rejected?
People get very fired up about what is and is not a sandwich. I’ve laid out a two part test. You must be able to pick it up and eat it without your hands touching the fillings, and the fillings must be sandwiched between two food items. This means burritos and open-faced sandwiches are not sandwiches. But I believe a hot dog is a sandwich, because if you sever the hinge of the bun you’re really not fundamentally altering the structure, so the bun counts as two food items.
When you’re the chef, does it bother you if people rearrange the food you’re serving them? Have you picked up deliciousness tips from your dinner guests?
It only bothers me if they’re doing it mindlessly. If they’re doing it for a reason, because they know they’ll like it better a certain way, that’s fine. And I definitely pick up tips from people all the time. I’m always trying to learn more. I try not to legislate matters of taste. There are some points in the book where I say, “This is the right way, this is the wrong way.” But there are many times where I say, “It’s up to you, whichever way you like it is fine, just understand the factors at play so you can make an informed decision.”
What does it take for a chef to impress you?
I get very impressed when it’s clear that someone has put a lot of thought into a very small detail. Like I was at a donut shop and the guy behind the counter packed my donuts very thoughtfully, so the ones with more delicate frosting were on top of the sturdier ones. That way no frosting was harmed in the packing of the donuts.
We’re fellow fans of deliciousness, though we focus more on food preparation than consumption. And though you define yourself as an eater, you must cook sometimes. What are you like in the kitchen? What are your favorite tips, and your must-have kitchen implements?
I get very focused when I’m cooking, and I don’t like to be interrupted. But I really enjoy it, I find it very meditative, and I love the rush of bringing various dishes together and making them all taste good and complement each other and come out at the same time. My top tip is that people shouldn’t be afraid to fail in the kitchen (or in life really). Taking risks is important. Worst case scenario—your food bombs and you order pizza. As for implements, I like to have a good apron and lots of dish towels because I’m messy. I also have a great Sur La Table silicone spatula that I use almost every time I cook.
Once people read and love the book, and they’re inspired to start listening to The Sporkful, which are the best episodes to start with?
Start with the episode from October 13 or 14 of 2014, the one with Rachel Maddow, Radiolab’s Robert Krulwich, and Slate’s Julia Turner. It’s a real crash course.
Finally, we're with John Hodgman: No, a hot dog is not a sandwich. That’s absurd. But we know it's a debate. Make the case for your side in the comments. Hot dog: sandwich or not a sandwich?