Dan Pashman didn’t set out to make his living writing and talking about food. But with a popular podcast, a web video series and a new book from Simon & Schuster, his life has become all about eating. His podcast, “The Sporkful,” earned him a James Beard Award nomination and launched a career in food media; when he started it, though, Pashman’s goals were pragmatic.
The 37-year-old from Greenlawn, New York, worked as a radio producer on a number of programs that were canceled, including a stint on the ill-fated Air America radio network’s morning show. A podcast would give him more control. “I figured if I was going to put all this work into it, the only one who could cancel it was me,” he said.
“Eat More Better: How to Make Every Bite More Delicious”
By Dan Pashman, Simon & Schuster, 2014, 352 pages
» Click here to buy the book
It was only after deciding to start the podcast that he began to cast around for a topic. With no culinary background, the food angle of his new show may have been an afterthought. But he’s always been a passionate eater (which, he assures me, is distinct from your typical foodie).
“The Sporkful” is an eclectic mix of conversation about food from outside the food industry. His guests include musicians and comedians, and he can only recall interviewing three chefs in his five years of recording: “It feels like 99% of the food media talk about 1% of the things you could talk about when it comes to food and eating. I feel there is so much more out there that doesn’t get covered.”
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Pashman has always approached eating with an odd sense of certainty about how it should be done. A self-described “strict constructionist” when it comes to making sandwiches, he’s created elaborate rules for how to improve the taste of everything, from the right way to hold a tortilla chip for a given dip to plating a grilled cheese sandwich to preserve its crispness.
His overriding philosophy is to extract a higher level of “deliciousness” out of every meal, whether that means putting the cheese on the bottom of a cheeseburger to be closer to the tongue or turning boxes of leftover Girl Scout cookies into the perfect cheesecake crust. This philosophy has served him well: carrying him into the WNYC-featured podcast, a web series for The Cooking Channel, “You’re Eating It Wrong,” and now his new book.
Framed as a tongue-in-cheek textbook, “Eat More Better: How to Make Every Bite More Delicious” is devoted to the art of extracting deliciousness. It’s a wickedly clever un-cookbook, but it’s also filled with thoughtful and vetted (he with a fact checker and recipe tester) tips, tricks and recipes from his favorite restaurants and even a few celebrities. Rachel Maddow, for example, contributes recommendations for the perfect margarita.
I recently chatted with Pashman about “The Sporkful” and how “Eat More Better” evolved from a snarky satire into a sincere (but hilariously irreverent) treatise on the art of eating.
The book is filled with humor, but also sound advice, useful ideas and fantastic recipes. How did you arrive at a balance between practical, serious information and maintaining that light tone?
That was probably the biggest creative challenge. It was important for me that the book be useful: that it would have information that was, first of all, just accurate, and people would say, “that’s a great idea, I’m going to start doing that.” But I wanted it to be so much more than, “here are a bunch of tips and hacks for you in your kitchen.” I wanted it be a book that people would just pick up and read because it’s funny. I wanted it to be a book that you might read and it would change how you eat, but also it could be a book you just put next to your toilet, frankly, and get a kick out of every once in a while.
Food culture has evolved — people are getting more serious about what they eat. There are televised cooking competitions and maybe even a culture of elitism. Is your book a response to that?
Food is a wonderful common ground. There’s not a single culture or ethnic group that you can learn anything about without pretty quickly hearing about their food.
Whatever your background is, or wherever you’re from, if you think of any holiday or family gathering that you grew up celebrating every year, what’s one of the first things you’re going to think about? You’re going to think about the food you ate. It’s such an integral part of memories, of childhood, of life experiences. And it’s so fun! It’s so much about pleasure.
And so much of the food stuff out there is so serious. I’m not against it, and I consume a lot of that media. But I also feel like there’s this opportunity to cover this whole other world of having fun and focusing on the pleasure and the joy of food and eating.
What’s one thing you’d want readers to take away from your book?
That you can always make your life more delicious. You don’t need a lot of money, you don’t need special expertise, you just need to put forth a little more effort and think a little harder about what you’re doing when you eat.
If you can make every eating experience a little bit more delicious … it doesn’t need to be perfect and you shouldn’t come away from this feeling all this pressure to do it right, but if you could just make it ten percent better, just by putting in a little more effort. Imagine that … three meals a day … if every meal was 10% better, three meals a day times weeks times months times years of your life, it’s like your whole existence just got better. I do hope that in its own quirky way that this book will make people’s lives better.
You have homework assignments at the end of the chapters. Do you ever hear from your readers?
Yeah, I’ve gotten some in. I actually have one in my queue to add to “The Sporkful” blog that was really great. That’s been fun. You can continue to send in your homework submissions. I read every single one if you email me at email@example.com.
You have two small children — has your perspective on eating evolved as a result?
I don’t know how much my perspective has actually evolved, because my perspective was a little bit childlike already. A lot of what I do is about questioning assumptions: “Well, why can’t you do it that way?” And that’s the kind of thing that little kids do all the time.
I didn’t set out to make “The Sporkful” or this book especially geared toward kids. But it turned out that after I launched the podcast I started getting all these emails from parents, especially parents of kids who were 8 to 14, saying, “‘The Sporkful’ is the only thing we can agree on to listen to in the car, and we love listening to it as a family and discussing and debating what you’re talking about.” That was really exciting and not something I expected or planned for.
Pashman admits to having an idea for a second book. But with a surge in podcast listeners after the publication of “Eat More Better,” an increase in frequency of the show, new television opportunities and plans for live appearances at events such as Taste of Chicago and South by Southwest, he’s got his hands full. And when things get too hectic? He just follows his own advice: “No matter how crummy your day is looking when you wake up in the morning, if you have a couple good meals to look forward to, you’re doing pretty well.”
Spoken like a true eater.
Main photo: Dan Pashman hopes his new book, “Eat More Better” will help everyone make and eat food they truly enjoy. Credit: Lilia Cretcher for “The Sporkful”