Lynne Rossetto Kasper: Nothing stays the same. For some 50 years – and I cannot believe I am saying that – curiosity and outright obsessiveness has kept me going down different paths and exploring food. Now I find myself wanting to follow some new paths and that's led to a tough decision. I'm going to be retiring at the end of 2017.
Mind you, I've been lucky. I've have gotten to wear a lot of hats in the food world, but nothing has surpassed these two decades with The Splendid Table. I have had the best gig in the business, and that gig isn't going anywhere. You'll continue to hear me throughout the year, but you're also going hear more and more of our new host, someone that I brought into the fold seven years ago, first as a guest and then as a contributor. I'm talking about Francis Lam. [Ed. Note: Learn more about this big announcement here.]
Francis is an award-winning food writer. He was a staff writer for Gourmet and an editor at Salon.com. You've read his articles in the New York Times Magazine. He's been a judge on Top Chef Masters. He's a cookbook editor at Clarkson Potter, working with great talents like Chrissy Teigen and Questlove. And he can cook; he graduated first in his class from The Culinary Institute of America. Francis, good to have you with us.
Francis Lam: Thank you so much. It's incredible to be here.
LRK: Are you blushing?
FL: I am. Thankfully we're not on TV. Makeup! Quick, makeup!
LRK: Bring on that powder puff and get the makeup on. I want to ask you, where did this whole thing with food come from for you?
FL: Food has always been important to me. It's a stupid way to answer the question because food is important to everyone; it’s the central thing in everyone's life. But when I say that I mean going back to when I was a kid, it was tied to acceptance and reward from my parents. My parents were the kind of parents that were not shy about telling me in a loving, kind-hearted, and well-meaning way that I wasn't quite as good at certain things as my cousin or my brother.
The one thing they would say about me to their friends and family with real pride was, “Francis knows how to eat.” It sounds like a joke, but they meant it. My family is Chinese, and food is important in our culture; it's a signifier of many things. I remember being at a table in Hong Kong visiting family and I sat with the grown-ups. I was a little kid, and there was a kids’ table where they were having sweet and sour pork and fried rice or something tasty. But I sat at the grown-up table. When the steamed fish came – the whole fish – I picked the cheeks out of the head and ate those. That's when my parents said, “Francis really knows how to eat.” All the other grown-ups at the table were like, “Ohhh.” That was the first time I heard them say something that wasn't along the lines of “You're not as smart as your cousin Albert.”
LRK: Speaking of family, you have a relatively new family. What's it like being a dad?
FL: I figured out early on that every single cliché about parenthood is true. “You're going to miss it before you know it.” Check. “She grows up so fast.” Check. Every single thing that I’ve heard before, turns out that's real. On some level I realize that my baby is just another baby, I am just another dad, my wife is just another mom, and we're all living the same story as everyone else. I work, my wife works, we don't get to spend all day with our daughter. We get her after work and then, pretty soon, it's bed time. We only spend a few hours a day with her, and some of those hours are challenging, but the moment she goes to bed you just turn around and say, “God, I miss her already.”
LRK: You're in love. When you're not into food and you're not a dad, what are the other passions?
FL: When you are a new parent, it's hard to see much else. But when I look back to simpler times, I've always been super into music of all kinds. I used to think I wanted to work in music. I was a terrible musician from the beginning, but I used to think I wanted to work in the record industry and with bands. I was excited by that creativity and the emotions that music can drive in you. Music heightens whatever emotion you're feeling. Music can change the emotion that you're feeling. It can also create a new sense or feeling you didn't even realize you were ready to feel. I always thought that was such an incredibly powerful thing.
I love sports. I've been a fan of almost every major sport at some point in my life. I'm a serious sports monogamist. I went through my baseball phase when I was a kid. I went through a basketball phase when I was a little older, and then I went through a hockey phase. I landed on football about 20 years ago and haven't walked away from it. But it's a rocky relationship; it's a complicated relationship.
LRK: Francis, I'm looking forward to hearing your take. What do you want to do with The Splendid Table?
FL: I've got a bunch of little ideas that have been swirling in my head. I'm sure some will take root and grow into ideas that we'll experiment with; some will just remain there. But the way I want to answer this right now is that I know one thing: I know this show has been so fantastic and so beloved for so long, and there are lots of reasons for that. In my mind, the key reason for it is certainly your curiosity and the broad range of subjects this show touches on. Every time I listen to it, Lynne, I feel such an incredible sense of your generosity of spirit. I feel such a sense of your desire to share that interesting thing you started thinking about, or share a curious question that you wanted your guest to talk and teach you about, or share your knowledge with the listeners who call and write to ask questions. I think the best thing I can do is to keep listeners feeling that there's a generosity of spirit behind the show. And it’s not a one-person show.
LRK: Not at all.
FL: I always knew that and I'm learning it more and more. It’s the whole team, and it's the listeners. It's everyone, this entire community that pipes up in your headphones.
LRK: That's right. There’s much more to be explored, and I'm excited for you. I look forward to listening and finding out where you're going to take us. Francis, I wish you the very best. I'm so glad that you're going to be doing this.
FL: Thank you so much. Thank you for everything you've done.
LRK: You're welcome, but I'm blushing.
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Lynne Rossetto Kasper has won numerous awards as host of The Splendid Table, including two James Beard Foundation Awards (1998, 2008) for Best National Radio Show on Food, five Clarion Awards (2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2014) from Women in Communication, and a Gracie Allen Award in 2000 for Best Syndicated Talk Show.