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This Podcast from a Chez Panisse Alum Feels Like the Best Kind of Dinner Party

Stirring the risotto with Frances McDormand.

What do you do with your extra free time after stepping away from the pinnacle of your profession? It’s 2018, so naturally you...start a podcast. Or anyway, that’s what Cal Peternell did when he left Chez Panisse last year after two decades as one of the restaurant’s head chefs. His new cooking podcast, Cooking by Ear, is extraordinarily ambitious on a couple of counts. There’s the roster of beyond-Berkeley-famous celebrity guests: In one episode, Peternell makes risotto with Academy Award–winning actress Frances McDormand; other episodes feature director Alexander Payne and New Orleans rapper Big Freedia.

Unlike most exemplars of the genre, the podcast doesn’t fast-forward through the parts when you’re just waiting for the water to boil. The show happens in real time, so listeners can have dinner ready by the time the episode ends. And it’s during what Peternell calls the “interstices” that the podcast really comes alive, as Peternell and his guests shoot the breeze. You hear McDormand talk about how the sound of slicing mushrooms with a sharp knife is one of life’s great acoustic pleasures—and then you hear the sound for yourself. Later, she rails against foam-heavy modernist plating and discusses the way cooking for company is similar to live theater. The whole listening experience is like being a guest at a smart, intimate dinner party. Which is a lovely thing for a podcast to be.


Originally published in the June issue of San Francisco 

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