Special Sauce: Matt Rodbard and Max Falkowitz on What’s Next in Food Media

Special Sauce: Matt Rodbard and Max Falkowitz on What’s Next in Food Media


Two scoops of oatmeal cookie ice cream in a blue bowl

[Ribs and ice cream photographs: Vicky Wasik]

In part two of Ed Levine’s conversation with Max Falkowitz and Matt Rodbard, the three discuss how Falkowitz and Rodbard got started in food media and how their careers evolved.

Falkowitz begins by underlining how intimidating it was when he first started working at Serious Eats. “I can’t really describe the terror upon walking into the office,” he says—though, he observes, that fear was tempered by the frenetic publication schedule, which was both liberating and educational. “It was a great trial by fire,” Falkowitz says. “There was no time to second-guess yourself, and there was no time to dawdle with irrelevancies that weren’t going to move the next story forward.”

Rodbard notes that the early days of his food-media career, around 2006, were an incredibly exciting time to be working in the industry. “It was a great moment for me to cover New York at a time when celebrity chefs were starting to really become a thing,” he recalls. “It was captivating to me to cover this burgeoning celebrity-chef world.”

The two then describe how they eventually ended up where they are now: Rodbard is the editor-in-chief of Taste, an online magazine, and Falkowitz is a freelance writer, consultant, and host for Taste’s podcast.

Ed asks the two of them to expound upon the current state of food media, and what they think has changed. “I think it’s a more diverse world,” Rodbard says, echoing a point Falkowitz made in part one of their interview. “I think editors and editorial directors and bosses are making a really clear and conscious effort to diversify their staff, diversify their freelancers.”

The three of them discuss far more about the future of food media than can be captured in this brief blurb. To hear everything they have to say, you’re just going to have to listen to the episode.

Special Sauce is available on iTunes, Google Play Music, Soundcloud, Player FM, and Stitcher. You can also find the archive of all our episodes here on Serious Eats and on this RSS feed.

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Transcript

Ed Levine: Welcome to Special Sauce, Serious Eats podcast about food and life. Every week on Special Sauce, we talk to some of the leading lights of American culture, food folks and non-food folks alike. Who’s at your last supper? No family allowed.

Max Falkowitz: Living or dead isn’t an issue. I want Attila there.

EL: As in Attila the Hun?

MF: The Hun. So he comes from a part of the world that I’m personally fascinated by and I would love to get his recipe for boiled horse.

Matt Rodbard: I’m going to say Justin Wilson.

EL: Justin Wilson?

MR: The Cajun chef. I’ve watched so much of his YouTube.

EL: Justin Wilson is like this old school TV chef.

MR: I love it. I guarantee. I mean I love this man. I want to know about his story.

EL: This week, we are going to hear about life as a working food journalist from two of its finest practitioners, Matt Rodbard, editor in chief of Taste Magazine. You call it magazine?

MR: Online magazine, do some books.

EL: And the host of the Taste podcast and working stiff, working stiff and successful freelance writer Max Falkowitz. So I want to know when you got your first full time writing gig, you were at Metromix, you were at Serious Eats. What was great about them and what sucked about them and what was the experience like?

MF: Well Ed, I didn’t realize we were going to do a therapy session here.

EL: Yeah. We always do therapy sessions on Special Sauce.

MF: I can’t really describe the terror upon walking into the office and having Carey Jones say, okay, here’s a site that you’re going to run now. You run eight posts a day, seven days a week and these are your traffic goals and these are your contacts, and here’s the schedule that I usually use, but you’ll see what works for you. That was thrilling and liberating and absolutely terrifying at the same time. It was a great trial by fire of you don’t, what I loved about learning to write for the internet is there was no time to second guess yourself and there was no, there was no time to dawdle with irrelevancies that weren’t going to move the next story forward.

MF: And so that was exhausting and we never really had downtime and you were always keeping an eye on the site and moderating comments back when moderating comments was an activity editors would do. It was an all consuming job but it was absolutely thrilling. And Matt was talking earlier about the need to exercise a muscle as a writer and nothing prepares you for that like having to write for a blog because you were just writing, writing, writing all day and you’re thinking about packaging and you’re thinking about headlines constantly. It really trains you to be a really smart critic and reader of other people’s writing.

EL: What about you, Matt.

MR: So I’d worked in magazines before launching Metromix, long forgotten publication but definitely a great training ground for myself. So I didn’t really have that day to day experience editing food stories. So we really, we were hacking it out with Grub Street and Eater and Serious Eats, that other publication. And we were just, it was really, really competitive at the time because what we were trying to do is cover New York City openings. So news was really our game and we were, it was a tough time because Eater had their thing and they had their kind of snark and Grub Street had New York Magazine, the gravity of New York Mag behind it, and we were like the scrappy startup. And Serious Eats, of course, I envied all the work that you did and putting all the products on the tables and having the, your office was so fun and I was like, I have a crappy office and I don’t have fun sometimes.

MR: But really, it was a great moment for me to cover New York at a time when celebrity chefs were starting to really become a thing. And this is around 2006, 2005 I think is what, if I get my narrative right, my timeline. But really treating these chefs as important figures in culture. I come from music journalism, I interviewed many artists. I was like, I can’t interview Lenny Kravitz, he has nothing to say, he’s got a publicist in the room. But I went and like talked to a guy like Jason Neroni, do you remember that name? Jason Neroni, really smart chef. So anyways, that’s the name that popped in my head for some reason, but just like talking to him about his restaurant and what he was into pasta wise. And to me that was just like super energizing and I just, I really, it was like captivating to me to cover this burgeoning celebrity chef world.

EL: So, you were at Metromix then Food Republic. How did you arrive at Taste, which is not much like either of those two things?

MR: It’s actually not. Taste was launched in partnership with Ten Speed Press and Clarkson Potter and Crown Publishing Group.

EL: Random House.

MR: Penguin Random House.

EL: Not a small outfit.

MR: Definitely not. And really not, not the kind of place that that was launching websites. They don’t really do that. It’s not really part of their DNA. Aaron Wehner from Ten Speed Press, Lorena Jones from Ten Speed Press, Doris Cooper from Clarkson Potter and so on, Talia Baiocchi at Punc, they were all really interested in launching a cooking magazine that was, I would say had some DNA in the books program but really was independent and brand agnostic and really got to do what we wanted to do. It’s kind of, we evolved out of that ethic of these are the best cookbooks in the world. I mean, Max and I have published at Clarkson Potter, I really, I covered this world of cookbooks previously and we-

EL: Serious Eats book was a Clarkson Potter book.

MR: Yeah, it was, that’s right. So, we got to do Taste the way, I felt like it was something that I got to do the way I wanted to do it, which was-

EL: Yeah, you were starting with a blank piece of paper for the first time in your life, right?

MR: Truly, truly Ed. It was the first time I was able to launch something on my own terms. I was an author at Clarkson Potter so I knew the team there, so they were very supportive but still it was terrifying because food media is very competitive.

EL: Starting with a blank piece of paper is as Max referred to about something else simultaneously terrifying and thrilling. I can vouch for that having spent many sleepless nights trying to keep Serious Eats alive. And so, you sort of got to be an entrepreneur with corporate backing. But I don’t know, I think you can admit to this, you don’t have a big staff, you don’t have fancy offices, man. You’re kind of like a scrappy startup. You’re more like the Sex Pistols than you are like Genesis.

MR: Oh god, I love both of those bands. Oh Man. Selling in England by the Pound, great Genesis album. But definitely more scrappy and I think it really helped us. I mean it was myself at the start and then Anna Hezel joined about two months after launch in February, 2017. And we’ve had a staff of two and then we hired a third editor, Tatiana Bautista more recently. But I think it allowed us to really kind of do the stories that you wanted to do and really edit this, edit at a frequency that made sense for us, which is one to two stories a day. Nothing more than that.

EL: Everybody, you know, it’s like, the times Max was referring to, that was the conventional wisdom of the moment. You got to post 10 times a day to give people a reason to come back and blah blah blah. It’s like nobody subscribes to that theory anymore. And what is your daily life like now?

MR: Well, we’ve since moved offices, Ed, so we’re no longer in the midtown offices of Penguin Random House. We’ve moved to Greenpoint and we’re working closely with Talia and the team at Punch, and it’s an exciting time at Taste. We’re really kind of carving out, we’re in year three and we’re carving out a more defined visual identity. We’re shooting more and more in-house, which I think is something that we’ve always wanted to do, we just didn’t have the resources. But we always, always, always start with the story. It really comes down to the story. And it can’t be about traffic goals, it can’t be about trends. It has to be about a story that reflects the new home cook. That’s really what we’re looking at.

EL: You know, and people tend to ignore that, you know, but I think they ignore that at their own risk.

MF: And Taste when it, when Taste launched, I was at Saveur, at a very establishment type of publication. And it felt like such a breath of fresh air because it was, and I’m not just saying that because you’re my editor.

EL: Yeah, I saw Matt actually kick you under the table. That was really, really tacky.

MF: It was the only new publication that was principally about telling stories rather than about the grandizing its own mythos. It was very clear immediately what a Taste story was and what the cast of Taste writers were, which was both professionally and ethnically and culinarily more diverse than what anyone else was doing at the time. And it had such an instant presence but the narrative was always at the forefront. And that’s so rare to be able to do that in publishing now.

EL: Matt, I actually have a bone to pick with you because you’re taking up far too much of Max Falkowitz’s time.

MR: Yeah. I was just going to say, thank you Max. I want to hear more about what you’re up to.

EL: Yeah, yeah, yeah. No, I mean, I mean, you know, he doesn’t write as often for us as we would like because some publication called Taste, I don’t know, it’s really annoying us. So Max, what is life like as a successful, extremely busy, maybe that’s redundant, freelance food writer?

MF: Well, as someone with no debt, no dependents and no serious health issues, I’m very lucky. And if any of those things were different, this would be-

EL: A different conversation.

MF: A different conversation. So I feel tremendously fortunate to be able to do this period. But I think it really, it’s really running a business and thinking of yourself as a creative agency. And I do both journalism and consulting work with-

EL: Right. For this company called Snuk, which we’ll talk about. Did I pronounce it right?

MF: There’s a bunch of ways. If we were in Thailand, the word is Sanuk, which means this sense of like, it’s like the Hooga of Thailand.

EL: We are not in Thailand so I’m calling it Snuk.

MF: Yeah. And I like having that balance of working with a few different e-commerce clients and working with editors and sources because you need to have something in the middle. There was a period where last year all I was doing was writing some long lead features and I felt like my head was going to explode.

EL: And, I don’t know if this is still true, I bet it is, you spend as much time as a freelance writer pitching as you do writing. That’s what prompted me to start Serious Eats. Like this ratio cannot continue. It’s not sustainable.

MF: You’re spending time pitching, you’re spending time following up on invoices, which both Serious Eats and Taste fortunately are very good about their payment terms. You’re scoping out new business, you’re tracking down new sources and when new writers ask about how should they, you know, ask for more money or like how should they define their rates to people. So you always have to account for all the time that you’re spending building up to the work that you’re going to be doing, that that has to be incorporated into your sense of value, otherwise you’re devaluing yourself. If you think of it as running a business, then you’re investing time in yourself and that makes sense. If you’re thinking of it as I’m a writer who creates written product, you’re going to get really burned out.

EL: Yes. And you’re going to get really frustrated. So can we talk about anchor gigs? Because anchor gigs when you’re a freelance writer are really, really important, which of course brings me to Snuk.

MF: There’s very few ways I think to make it as a pure freelance journalist in the US, regardless of what your field is. And many of the best freelance journalists I know who are pure journalists don’t live in the US so they can have a lower standard of living.

MR: Independently wealthy.

MF: That too. Which happens a lot more often.

MR: Happens a lot more often in media.

MF: And so, having anchored gigs in writing that force you to think of a franchise, where working with a company where you’re lending an editorial expertise to a company trying to sell things or you’re giving a sense of the market to a new brand that’s trying to figure out its brand identity, it forces you, it doesn’t just give you a stable paycheck that you know is coming every month, but it also forces you to think as an entrepreneur in a way. Working as a freelancer is really about being an entrepreneur for a business.

EL: Yeah. So tell us about Snuk.

MF: So Snuk is a, it’s an online grocery devoted to hard to find specialty ingredients from all around the world. And if you’re, so we carry food principally from the historic silk road, which stretches from Southeast Asia all the way through Central Asia and North Africa to the eastern Mediterranean. And we’re expanding from there. And it’s really about providing people with a mix of the nostalgic foods they have grown up with or that they tasted somewhere else and want to recreate at home and providing people with really high quality versions of things that they might’ve been eating all their lives.

MF: And then, incumbent on a store that’s selling a lot of products that people might not know about is you have to show people how to cook them and how to use them and why they matter, and how they fit to some cultural context. We sell these products but we also really try to tell sort of the historical context behind.

EL: You tell the stories behind them. So we should say that Snuk is however you pronounce it, is spelled S-N-U-K.

MF: Right. So it’s snukfoods.com.

EL: Where do you think food writing and food media are going right now? And I’ll start with you Matt.

MR: Ooh, loaded question. It’s a contentious world out there I think talking about the future of food media I think with our value as food writers maybe being diminished, we can debate that, but I think there’s a lot of economics at play. But I think Max has touched on this in the other episode, but I think it’s a more diverse world. I think that’s what is, that’s the direction that I think publications are going in and I think editors and editorial directors and bosses are making a really clear and conscious effort to diversify their staff, diversify their freelancers.

EL: It is amazing how, I just noticed it when all this stuff started to be talked about, like how white the food writing world has been. Traditionally like for years and years and years, and I’m not talking about 10 years, I’m talking about for a really long time.

MF: And still is for most visions of the food writing world.

EL: We are three food writers, white food writers sitting around and talking. So diversification, you know, diversity, I’m sorry. And what else?

MR: I think in terms of voices, I think we’re seeing mid-career changes to the food world. I think we’re seeing journalists who’ve maybe excelled in consumer electronics or excelled in arts kind of move over to food writing. I’ve seen lots of examples in big publications and small, and in the pages of Taste, we definitely tried to attract all sorts of disciplines, it doesn’t have to be interned at Bon App and then you worked at this place and that place and now you’re writing for Taste. We look for all sorts of diversity so I think that’s happening.

MF: And there’s a pluralism in what people are “allowed to be excited about.” It seems like the rest of the rest of the publishing world has finally caught up to what the two of you were trying to do as journalists all your careers, which was share an earnest love for something good. That’s allowed in a lot of new ways. We’re in this kind of formal revolution where all of these structures of journalism that were tent poles of magazines like the wealth feature and the front of book five product thing. Those products still exist but there’s all of these new templates to create new forms of writing.

MR: Well said.

EL: Yeah, that’s very well said because, and by the way, those paradigms are being shattered in every form of media. They’re being shattered in television, they’re being shattered and film, not just food television, television. It’s like maybe you don’t have to do a 22 minute sitcom to have a television series. You can do 10 minute episode or Jeffrey Katzenberg just raised $1 billion, I forgot the name of his company to basically do high quality short form programming like YouTube with better production value.

MF: $1 billion.

EL: $1 billion. He’s Jeffrey Katzenberg dude. We need to get some of that, don’t we?

MR: I like social only media as well. I think you’re seeing that, you’re seeing magazines that are being presented in social. I think like in Instagram and only Instagram. I think there hasn’t been a breakthrough in food, but in like basketball, I’m blinking on the name of it, but it’s basically just an Instagram account. There’s House of Highlights of course, which is this major media brand that was purchased by Bleacher Report two years ago and it exists solely in the Instagram platform.

EL: Right. And Bleacher Report is owned by?

MR: Turner.

EL: Turner.

MR: But I think we haven’t seen that in food, and maybe that is the next level I think, which is like an Instagram only or TikTok only food.

EL: Yeah. And we see people experimenting, you know, Kenji experiments with formats in social media. I think for a long time I thought the advent of social media was just taking food writing down the toilet. And I think that was shortsighted. And I think it’s, to your point, there are some really good things going on. It doesn’t mean there isn’t aggressively shallow stuff going on because that’s, social media makes it easy to be aggressively shallow, and it celebrates aggressive shallowness. But it doesn’t mean that it’s all bad.

MF: I think that the real danger is really more about consolidation, that social media is becoming increasingly monetized and that’s increasingly controlled by the same old structures that people were using social media to get away from. So, the risk is how do you keep it, how do you keep it still fresh and exciting and feel alive.

MR: I’ll say on the flip side too, I work in the book world and people are buying cookbooks. There’ve been record sales in previous years, and I know we have a book coming out in September, a book about lasagna and baked pastas at Taste called Lasagna, a Cookbook.

EL: You got to come up with a better title than that dude. I mean, talk to the editors. Lasagna, a Cookbook. Sounds like a Saturday Night Live skit.

MR: What are we right now, in July? The pre-orders are coming in, and I don’t know, people are digging it, people are digging it. But I think long form journalism and print journalism in the food world is certainly healthy. I think that there has been consolidation as you mentioned, Max, but I think we’re seeing the leaders are doubling down on print. I don’t think print is going anywhere. And I think books in particular as we have to detox from digital, it’s going to become part of our Rx from our doctor. And a book is what the answers going to be.

EL: Books more than magazines. And there are a couple of newspapers that have figured it out, The Times and the Washington Post, there’s a lot of consolidation, you know, Soleil Ho at the San Francisco Chronicle noted that every one else was pulling out of the restaurant critic biz in the Bay Area because to do it responsibly is a very expensive proposition. So the Chronicle is now the only game in town. I think Eater pulled their critic or she quit and they may not be replacing her. Anyway, she mentioned two or three other people and it was like, yeah, she’s actually coming on Special Sauce.

MR: You got Soleil coming in? She’s great.

EL: Yeah. And she’s a Grinnell Grad and I went to Grinnell. So it’s like, you know, who knew?

MR: Can we talk about what’s happening in LA in terms of the media?

EL: Yeah.

MR: I think that it’s a really cool thing that’s happening to LA Times. I think Peter Meehan is doing a really formidable job in reinventing the daily or the daily newspaper and the weekly food section. I think it has its own identity. It’s different from the times and different from Washington Post. And I really got to give it to that guy and his staff and the critic.

EL: They’re killing it.

MR: They’re kicking ass, man.

EL: But the question is whether the new owner of the LA Times has staying power, you know, and is willing to stick with it because that’s where it comes in. And The Times has been expanding, you know, when they hired Tejal Rao and they sent her to LA to cover California, and now they just hired Brett Anderson, both of whom were people I tried to hire at Serious Eats by the way, over the years, not recently. And so, you’ve got to hand it to them. But other newspapers, it’s contracting. To your point, books are still doing well, cookbooks, and people have to reinvent the newspaper food section. And the Times, think about it, they’ve made it work with an app where people pay. And everything is moving towards paid, which is interesting for Taste or for Serious Eats. I just noticed, I didn’t even know this, that Tastemade is now a paid, did you know that?

MR: Really? No.

EL: Yeah. It says, you know, get your free subscription or your free trial subscription. I was like, Tastemade trial subscription.

MR: I only worry about Tastecooking.com.

EL: Yeah. I know. I know.

MF: The challenge with the internet is there is an extent to which it becomes a winner take all kind of system, that if you have 50 newspapers that are the premier newspapers in those 50 states in the US and they’re all publishing a story on the breaking news of the day, most readers are going to be clicking on the top one in their Google search results and most of the time, that’s now the Times. And so the time successes have been, and as a freelancer occasionally paid by the Times, I’m very happy that they’ve been growing. But does that put smaller papers that can’t compete in the same way at risk.

EL: At risk, for sure.

MF: And books are kind of now occupying this position I think the magazines were where they’re not quite disposable in the same way but they’re so easy to impulse purchase now that they can kind of act the way that magazines did as a more…

EL: So tell us about the daily, you know, like the short form talking about evolution of food media.

MR: Yeah, it’s good point. And Max is very involved in this. We work with a company called SpokenLayer and they have a lot of partners in media and we’re basically every day there’s a feed, it’s like a podcast feed. It can go to your Alexa voice box, it can go to a lot of your, wherever you’re getting your audio content. And it’s a daily story that’s either one of our stories that is read by a voice or it is the Taste food questions, which Max writes and produces. It’s really a pleasure to work with Max each month on the lineup of stories, we kind of get weird I think sometimes.

MF: We get to tackle, it’s a mix, basically, the way we try to present it, it’s one to two minute answers to the burning food questions you never…

EL: That’s funny. Yeah. We’re talking about doing something similar actually that I can’t divulge right now, but that’s cool. That’s really cool.

MR: It’s kind of the way I think voice devices are in so many homes now. Everyone has an Alexa box and it really is that kind of lean back moment where you’re not reading, you’re just kind of letting it wash over you. And I think a lot of people, that’s why we love podcasts I think so much collectively.

EL: All right, so now it’s time for the Special Sauce all you can eat or all you can say buffet. So this is like a buffet like at the best Las Vegas Hotel, but in word form. We’ll start with you Matt. Who’s at your last supper? No family allowed. It can be people living or dead, politicians, artists, poets, musicians. It can be anybody. I need four people.

MR: Oh my gosh, this is great. It’s so trite but Barack Obama, come on.

EL: Okay. All right man, we’ll give that to you.

MR: He’s so, I mean, there’s so much to ask him.

EL: All right, good.

MR: So much to ask him.

EL: I’ll give you a Barack.

MR: Okay. Give me a Barack. I’m going to say Justin Wilson.

EL: Justin Wilson?

MR: The Cajun chef. Remember him? I’ve watched so much of his YouTube.

EL: Justin Wilson is like this old school TV chef.

MR: I love it. I guarantee. I mean, I love this man. I want to know about his story. I’m a journalist, I’m asking the questions. It’s not really about kind of having a back and forth.

EL: So Justin Wilson, Barack Obama. Keep going, you got two more people.

MR: I mean, I think it’s definitely Keith Richards. Keith Richards wrote this book, a memoir, Life, and it is insane. And I want to ask, I have like so many follow ups about, especially this drug bust in Hawaii that was insane.

MR: I got to go with a sports guy and I’m going to say Kevin Durant.

EL: Kevin Durant.

MR: I’m a Brooklyn Nets Fan and season ticket holder. I love Kevin Durant. I really want to pick his brain. I want to find out if he’s going to stay in Brooklyn for 40 years and if he’s going to bring a title to Brooklyn.

EL: No women? Talking about diversity. All right, I’m going to give you one more person.

MR: Oh Man. Fiona Apple. Do you know much about Fiona Apple?

EL: I do. I know Fiona Apple.

MR: She’s one of the most underrated artists ever. I mean, she is an incredible piano player, she’s a jazz musician, and she has lived this life that has been pure Fiona.

EL: Yeah, confessional singer songwriter.

MR: Has gone through some stuff and has just gone through, has seen everything. She’s been a pop icon starting in the 90s. And I just, I love her music, I listen to it a lot and I definitely want to ask her about that weird magician guy she used to date.

EL: All right Max. You’re going to have to, it’s going to take a while to top them.

MF: I need to Google most of the people that you read. I’m so culturally ignorant about things.

EL: And that’s how hip I am. Like I knew everybody, man.

MF: You still know everybody. I still remember when you would email the all staff listserv with have you heard of this band.

MR: You have a great music background, Ed.

MF: I always felt ashamed because I knew none of these things.

EL: All right Max.

MF: So, what do I want at my table? I want Ina Garten and Jeffrey because Jeffrey, we kind of know was a spy.

EL: Her husband.

MF: That’s right. I want to get the Jeffrey story on a lot of things and I feel like Ina, once you get like three or four drinks into her is like a fascinating person.

EL: All right, I like this. Keep going.

MF: I Want Whoopi Goldberg there.

EL: Okay.

MF: Because I’ve always had this love for Whoopi Goldberg and I don’t want to turn this dinner into The View, but I value her moderating experience on the view and would love to get her talking about food. And then I’m going to throw an oddball in there because if we’re doing four, assuming living or dead isn’t an issue. I want Attila there.

EL: As in Attila the Hun?

MF: The Hun. The Hun.

EL: You’re the first person who’s brought up Attila the Hun.

MF: Attila the Hun who is like the father of like 10% of the world’s gene pool or something. His DNA is in so many people. So he comes from a part of the world that I’m personally fascinated by and I would love to get his recipe for boiled horse noodle dishes. I think he and Ina would really get along. That might be a bit of a reach …

EL: That’s maybe a little too high concept but I’m willing to go with it. So what are you eating? What are you eating and then what are you eating, Matt?

MF: Well obviously we’re eating, I forget the name of the dish, but it’s the national dish of Kyrgyzstan, which is these really flat thin wide noodles topped with chopped horse meat and a bit of butter.

EL: Okay.

MF: It’s a beautiful alternative to pasta that you could have forever.

EL: All right, keep going. What else is on the menu?

MF: Well, so I make a lot of ice creams.

EL: Okay, yes, Max is a serious ice cream maker and I’ve been encouraging him to do an ice cream book.

MF: Dana Cree wrote the ice cream book that I can’t even be mad because it’s so good.

EL: So Attila the Hun.

MF: Attila the Hun, Ina Garten, her husband Jeffrey. And I want Whoopi Goldberg.

EL: What are you eating?

MR: Okay. So I started my love of food, I think at an early age with barbecue ribs. Walt’s Hitching Post outside Cincinnati in Covington, Kentucky.

EL: Oh yes, it’s a famous, maybe mediocre, but it’s famous.

MR: It’s absolutely mediocre, Ed, you nailed it on the head. We used to drive down to Florida, but I didn’t know much about food, I was eight years old, driving down to Florida, we used to drive, pretty mediocre place, but I loved their ribs because it’s the first I’d ever had like real ribs coming from West Michigan. So I want a platter of these Walt’s Hitching Post pork baby back ribs covering the table. I don’t want to see table, I just want ribs. I’m sorry, Fiona is a Vegan. I guess that’s-

MF: Don’t, don’t.

MR: Sorry.

EL: That’s hilarious. All right, so ribs is good. And what about, what sweet, are you going to have a sweet?

MR: My grandmother made Jello chocolate pie with whipped cream and Graham cracker crust, Highland Park, Illinois. Somehow that was what we had every Thanksgiving.

EL: All right, Max. Max, what are you eating man? You got to top the Jello.

MF: Oh god, you’re going to make me look up the name of the national dish of Kyrgyzstan.

EL: Oh, that’s right. You’ve already answered this question, don’t worry about it. You didn’t mention a dessert though, dude.

MF: Well, so it’s going to be some ice cream.

EL: Oh right.

MF: We’re recording this in summer. I’m due to make some, I’m due to make a lemon basil ice cream that I make from time to time that’s bright green because you steep a bunch of basil and then puree it. And it’s just like the most refreshing thing in the world.

EL: So what book has influenced your life more than any other?

MF: Camus, his book, The Plague, which is ultimately about a group of unheroic people doing what they have to to keep a little town from succumbing to bubonic plague to me is still one of the most vital human stories.

EL: I love that. I love that Max. This is why I hired Max man because like he comes up with stuff like that.

MR: I know. It’s poetry.

EL: All right. Your turn Matt, you’re not getting off the hook.

MR: I got to say, in terms of journalism, I think Heat really affected me because it taught me that travelog did not have to be about the best possible life. Like it could be, Heat by Bill Buford. It wasn’t this ideal world. There was some struggle in there. There was like a building-

EL: Yeah, it was a great book.

MR: Great book, and it just really, it showed the real way Emilia-Romagna kind of, how food is at the center of their lives and is the first time I read that when I was I think in high school or college, and it was really, I was like, wow, this is a world that I want to be a part of and this is a little bit of a cliche food writer thing to say, but I think Bill Buford’s writing in Among the Thugs was something I’d read previously, but I think Heat over Among the Thugs.

EL: So, it’s just been declared Max Falkowitz Day all over the world. What’s happening on that day?

MF: What’s happening? We’re all watching Iron Chef, the Japanese version.

EL: The Japanese version, you hipster you.

MF: It’s the only one where the extraness really hits home.

EL: I get that.

MF: Ideally with Chef Chen Kenichi who is the Iron Chef Chinese.

EL: Right.

MF: Ludicrously talented.

EL: So everyone’s watching the Japanese Iron Chef.

MF: We’re watching Japanese Iron Chef. We’re all making some ice cream and eating some ice cream.

EL: I like this day.

MF: We’re all getting fairly high, which is another big part of my freelance life.

EL: I love that. All right, that’s cool.

MF: And then we go, it’s basically how I spent Christmas, and then we go to the movies and watch like Star Wars or something. Yeah, this is basically what Jewish Christmas is. I guess that’s what Max Falkowitz Day is.

EL: What about you? What about you? It’s Matt Rodbard Day, man, all over the world.

MR: It is Christmas literally and I’ve watched three NBA Games and we’re on our fourth game, but then I’m teleported to that fourth game and I’m starring in that game and I’m crossing up, I’m being defended by Russell Westbrook, who’s now on the Houston Rockets.

EL: And everybody’s watching you?

MR: I’m crossing it, I’m crossing over and I’m breaking his ankles, he’s flying off. I’m hitting the three and I’m winning the game. And I’ve just shattered Russell Westbrook’s ankles.

EL: And the rest of the world is just watching.

MR: Yeah. It’s like my day because I just shattered Russell Westbrook’s ankle.

MF: Wait, like on the court?

MR: Yeah.

MF: So he’s like lying there bleeding in pain?

MR: Yeah, well, I mean, yeah, basically. He’s lying there and I’m standing over him and I’m kind of giving him this look like I just crossed you up and just tore up your ankles. I’m sorry Russell Westbrook.

EL: That is a unique answer to what happens on your day. So I appreciate that. Anyway, thank you so much for sharing your special sauce with us, Max Falkowitz and Matt Rodbard. Read Max’s first grade writing on Serious Eats, on Taste, and now in the New York Times. Read Matt Rodbard’’s Taste online regularly and listen to the Taste Podcast. And thank you guys so much for coming. This was awesome, it was so much fun.

MR: Thank you, Ed. It was a pleasure.

MF: This is such a treat.

EL: We’ll see you next time serious eaters.

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