Podcasts are radio at its finest. As such, they should be lauded and enjoyed, and most importantly shared. I am an official podcast connoisseur, listening in only the fanciest of rooms with the fanciest of headsets. These shows come in such varied flavors that anyone can find something to like. While we continue many of my own personal favorite shows, this is about exploring new shows as much as sharing old ones. From the dreadfully popular to the freaky basement recordings of strangers, welcome to Podcap. This week we visit with The Alton Browncast, for the episode “Donatella Arpaia,” released February 14, 2014.

Wait, who’s this food nerd?
I have to admit that this podcast is one I’d been waiting for since Good Eats went off the air. Some way to get more Alton Brown, whether via radio or other media, is something I’d wanted. Alton Brown is one of a few people directly responsible for me now being a sous chef in a from scratch kitchen. As a kid I watched in awe each week as Alton explained, using common sense and some science, how food worked and what made it tick. Alton wouldn’t call himself a chef, he’s a cook. But in my mind, anyone who has the wherewithal to lead people in the ways of cooking is chef material. He may not be a chef, in any direct form, but Alton Brown will always be one of my chefs in my professional career.

Good Eats in Audio Form?
Not even close. That wouldn’t work in any understandable form. Although I guess it would be akin to the style of Comedy Bang Bang with people playing characters. No, The Alton Browncast is a very casual conversation show littered with tidbits from the olden days of Good Eats. Guests are often those known to Alton fans, which means those from Kitchen Stadium, the actors from Good Eats, and others.

The guests are those that Alton knows and finds interesting, so if you like him you’ll like the show. So far, he hasn’t ventured too far beyond his circle of colleagues, except on a few occasions. That makes the episodes feel more like a couple of old friends talking than someone exploring another person. This will have to eventually run out if the Browncast continues on, but for now part of the show’s charm is that you get to hear Alton be candid with people from the Good Eats days.
The Podcap
This episode is a short interview with NYC restaurateur, chef, and Food Network star Donatella Arpaia. While its a woefully short episode, Donatella is a wonderfully honest woman when it comes to who she is in the industry. I couldn’t help but think of her as the Ron White of chefs during the discussion about her Lamborghini. She made the money, she wanted to have one, and while it was an extravagant purchase...why the hell not? If Ron can have a plane, why can’t a chef and restaurateur have a Lamborghini?

Being a chef it’s sometimes hard for me to remember that average folks don’t know what restaurant life is like. This episode begins with a casual question about whether Donatella still cooks, at home or otherwise. Often chefs who become owners or “blow up big” step away from the kitchen, and are notorious for eating shitty frozen crap at home, or takeout. The discussion turns from how the restaurant kitchen is in a real way the chef’s home kitchen to what made Donatella pull back on the number of restaurants she owned.

At one point she was up to nearly 10, but the economy started to collapse, and she got rid of her high end restaurants. She’s whittled it down to just two, although new places may be in her future. Now with her extensive work in Kitchen Stadium with Iron Chef and Next Iron Chef, she doesn’t need to be in the kitchen as much. The business can be grueling and will take it’s toll emotionally on people, so the natural course is to either get out or become an owner and step away from the day to day.

Donatella herself was never supposed to get in the business. She grew up in restaurants and her father didn’t want the life for her, so she went to law school to become a lawyer. But she ended up not loving being a lawyer, and while living above her brother’s restaurant, she knew that being a lawyer at the Empire State Building was not what she wanted. She stepped up on a busy night at her brother’s place to manage the floor, and from that moment on was in the restaurant business.

With a small trust fund, and some help from her father, she purchased a failed restaurant and began her empire. It’s so fascinating to hear someone talk about this aspect of the restaurant business. You look at someone like Donatella and think, she had it all handed to her, or she’s just super rich. Even if that’s true, restaurants are so fickle that you have work your ass off to be successful.

More than that, they’re one of the few places left where misogyny is allowed. Donatella talks briefly about being a woman in a male dominated business. It’s admirable that she takes the “I’m a big girl” stance, and refuses to complain about unfair treatment by the press or colleagues. But Donatella has embraced being a woman, while still being strong and confidant. Because that’s something that you can do. Women who work in kitchens should know that they can be women, and they can be powerful.
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