In 1994, acclaimed food writer and cooking teacher Lynne Rossetto Kasper was receiving accolades for her debut book, The Splendid Table, which at that time was the only book to have won both the James Beard and Julia Child Cookbook of the Year awards. Among the many people enchanted by the book was producer and foodie Sally Swift, who thought the time could be right for a radio program on food.
Appropriately, Lynne and Sally met over lunch to discuss the radio idea. They weren't interested in creating a show based on "talking about recipes"; instead, they wanted to explore everything they loved about food: the culture, the science, the history, the back stories and the deeper meanings that come together every time people sit down to enjoy a meal. And so it was The Splendid Table — "the radio program for people who love to eat" — was born.
The Splendid Table began as a live, Saturday-morning call-in show on Minnesota Public Radio. As the program's popularity continued to stretch across the nation, The Splendid Table eventually became the pre-recorded program that is heard on more than 400 public radio stations in the United States, plus SIRIUS satellite radio and World Radio Switzerland.
The Splendid Table has been at the forefront of food issues and policies since its inception. Long before eating local became a catchphrase and farmers' markets became ubiquitous, The Splendid Table was talking about the changes needed in the food system and what was happening on the grassroots level. In fact, when The Splendid Table first went on the air, Lynne had to make sure to define such terms as "organic" and "sustainable" for listeners. Today those terms have become part of the everyday lexicon, and people's hunger for wholesome food and the rituals surrounding it has only increased.
Audiences have continued to grow, and broadcasting peers have taken note as well: The Splendid Table has won two James Beard Foundation Awards (1998, 2008) for Best National Radio Show on Food, a Gracie Allen Award in 2000 for Best Syndicated Talk Show, and five Clarion Awards (2007, 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2014) from Women in Communication. Lynne is also included in the James Beard Foundation's Who's Who of Food and Beverage in America.
Food has a way of creating bonds among people, and that is certainly the case for the people behind The Splendid Table. The program's production team of Lynne, Sally, Jen Russell and Jennifer Luebke have been together since the program's earliest days. Longtime contributors to the program include Jane and Michael Stern, who find the special, unique and idiosyncratic diners and eateries in cities and towns across America; witty wine expert Joshua Wesson; and the unabashedly opinionated cheesemonger Steve Jenkins. (All contributors.)
Special guests are also essential to The Splendid Table's ongoing culinary conversation. The late Julia Child was a steadfast advocate of The Splendid Table and appeared on the program numerous times. Among the parade of outstanding guests are food activist Michael Pollan, author of such books as The Omnivore's Dilemma and Food Rules; film director and writer Nora Ephron; famed Spanish chef José Andrés; the late director Ismail Merchant; food writer Anthony Bourdain; chef Mario Batali; Franz Ferdinand lead singer Alex Kapranos, who is also a food critic; and classical violinist extraordinaire Joshua Bell, who enjoyed an in-home cooking lesson from Lynne.
Always making food come alive in multiple ways, The Splendid Table has recorded programs in Portland, Ore.; in Hawaii; in Spain; and in Mexico City. To commemorate the program's tenth anniversary, a series of shows were produced on site in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy, Lynne's spiritual homeland and the inspiration for her first book.
Lynne's second book, The Italian Country Table, was published in 1999. In 2008, Lynne and Sally collaborated on their first book, How to Eat Supper; both were award nominees. In 2011, they released a follow-up volume, How to Eat Weekends.
In 2015, The Splendid Table celebrated its 20th anniversary. The milestones continued in 2016. The show celebrated its 600th episode, then Lynne received a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2016 International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP) conference. The award recognizes a culinary professional who has made noteworthy and lasting contributions to the culinary industry and who has demonstrated a continuing commitment to the culinary arts as a lifetime career. Lynne joined an auspicious list of previous Lifetime Achievement Award winners: Julia Child, Jacques Pepin, Marcela Hazan, Edna Lewis and Paul Prudhomme. Later in 2016, Lynne received the Lifetime Achievement Ward at the 2016 Charlie Awards. The awards are an annual event celebrating the exceptional contributions of the Twin Cities area restaurant, food and beverage industry. Lynne's deep connection to and advocacy of food and good eating goes far beyond the Twin Cities.
In 2017, The Splendid Table will begin an exciting new chapter. After hosting for 21 seasons, Lynne will retire at the end of the year, with award-winning New York Times Magazine columnist and Top Chef Masters judge Francis Lam becoming the new host. Francis has been a frequent contributor and guest host (and fan favorite) on the program since 2010. Lynne will contintue to contribute to the program until she fully retires at the end of 2017.
From its first mealtime brainstorm to the award-winning weekly program it is today, The Splendid Table continues its celebration of food and the roles it plays in our lives.