It’s been a long time since I’ve made any listen posts. In part, the biggest blocker has been finding time without a commute during the pandemic to listen to much. Another has been the depressing nature of the news. But I find that I miss a lot of the podcasts and shows I used to listen to. They help to make them happy, so I’m going to try to spend more time to get back to them. I particularly miss On the Media and Eat This Podcast. The nice part is that there’s lots of good stuff to catch up on.
For those who are new to the bread world, I highly recommend you listen to Jeremy Cherfas’ excellent podcast series on Bread from 2018. It’s 31 episodes of about five minutes a piece, which makes it a pleasant way to time your kneading process. You’ll learn a lot more about bread while you’re making it!
Drop what you’re doing and immediately go out to subscribe to Our Daily Bread: A history of wheat and bread in very short episodes!
The illustrious and inimitable Jeremy Cherfas is producing a whole new form of beauty by talking about wheat and bread in a podcast for thirty days.
It’s bundled up as part of his longer-running Eat This Podcast series, which I’ve been savoring for years.
Now that you’re subscribed and your life will certainly be immeasurably better, a few thoughts about how awesome this all is…
Last December I excitedly ran across the all-too-well-funded podcast Modernist Breadcrumbs. While interesting and vaguely entertaining, it was an attempt to be a paean to bread while subtly masking the fact that it was an extended commercial for the book series Modernist Bread by Nathan Myhrvold and Francisco Migoya which had been released the month prior.
I trudged through the entire series (often listening at 1.5-2x speed) to pick up the worthwhile tidbits, but mostly being disappointed. As I finished listening to the series, I commented:
Too often I found myself wishing that Jeremy Cherfas had been picked up to give the subject a proper 10+ episode treatment. I suspect he’d have done a more interesting in-depth bunch of interviews and managed to weave a more coherent story out of the whole. Alas, twas never thus.
A bit later Jeremy took the time to respond to my comment:
I’ve no idea how the series actually came about, or what anyone aside from Chris really thought about it. It would be nice to see any kind of listener engagement, but it’s hard to find anything. There are three tweets over the entire series that use the show’s official tags.
Still, what’s done is done, and I doubt anyone would want to support another series all about bread. Or would they … ?
I’ll admit I did spend a few long and desperate weeks salivating with \hope over that ominously hanging “Or would they…?” statement. Ultimately, I let it pass distracted by listening to Jeremy’s regular Eat This Podcast episodes. Then this past week I’ve been bowled over by discovering what has obviously been fermenting since.
I’d love to take credit for “planting the seed” as it were for this new endeavour, but I suspect that the thousands upon thousands of adoring listening fans that Mssr. Cherfas’ podcast has, he’s heard dozens of similar requests every day over the years. Even more likely, it’s his very own love of bread that spawned the urge (he does, after all, have a bread blog named Fornacalia!), but I’ll quietly bask as if I had my very own personal suggestion box to have a first-class production staff at my beck and call to make me custom podcast content about food, science, and culture.
It’s always amazing to me how scintillating Jeremy Cherfas’ work manages to be in these. What is not to love about his editorial eye, interview skills, his writing, his production abilities? I’m ever astounded by the fact that his work is a simple one man show and not a 20 person production team.
I’m waiting for the day that the Food Network, The Cooking Channel, HGTV, or a network of their stripe (or perhaps NPR or PBS) discovers his supreme talent and steals him away from us to better fund and extend the reach of the culinary talent and story-telling he’s been churning out flawlessly for years now. (I’m selfishly hoping one of them snaps him up before some other smart, well-funded corporation steals him away from us for his spectacular communication abilities to dominate all his free time away from these food-related endeavors.)
Of course, if you’re a bit paranoid like me, perhaps you’d find his fantastic work is a worthwhile cause to donate to? Supporting his work means there’s more for everyone.
Now, to spend a moment writing up a few award nominations… perhaps the Beard first?
Perhaps you've heard about IBM's giant Watson computer, which dispenses ingredient advice and novel recipes. Jaan Altosaar, a PhD candidate at Princeton University, is working on a recipe recommendation engine that anyone can use.<br><br>
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Back in February I had retweeted something interesting from physicist and information theorist Michael Nielsen:
“Augmented cooking with machine intelligence”, with interesting remarks on generating food analogies… https://t.co/UluYk6p8TV
— michael_nielsen (@michael_nielsen) February 2, 2017
I found the article in it so interesting, there was some brief conversation around it and I thought to recommend it to my then new friend Jeremy Cherfas, whose Eat This Podcast I had just recently started to enjoy. Mostly I thought he would find it as interesting as I, though I hardly expected he’d turn it into a podcast episode. Though I’ve been plowing through back episodes in his catalog, fortunately this morning I ran out of downloaded episodes in the car so I started streaming the most recent one to find a lovely surprise: a podcast produced on a tip I made.
While he surely must have been producing the episode for some time before I started supporting the podcast on Patreon last week, I must say that having an episode made from one of my tips is the best backer thank you I’ve ever received from a crowd funded project.
Needless to say, I obviously found the subject fascinating. In part it did remind me of a section of Herve This’ book The Science of the Oven (eventually I’ll get around to posting a review with more thoughts) and some of his prior research which I was apparently reading on Christmas Day this past year. On page 118 of the text This discusses the classic French sauces of Escoffier’s students Louis Saulnier and Theodore Gringoire  and that a physical chemical analysis of them shows there to be only twenty-three kinds. He continues on:
A system that I introduced during the European Conference on Colloids and Interfaces in 2002  offers a new classification, based on the physical chemical structure of the sauce. In it, G indicates a gas, E an aqueous solution, H a fat in the liquid state, and S a solid. These “phases” can be dispersed (symbol /), mixed (symbol +), superimposed (symbol θ), included (symbol @). Thus, veal stock is a solution, which is designated E. Bound veal stock, composed of starch granules swelled by the water they have absorbed, dispersed in an aqueous solution, is thus described by the formula (E/S)/E.
This goes on to describe in a bit more detail how the scientist-cook could then create a vector space of all combinations of foods from a physical state perspective. A classification system like this could be expanded and bolted on top of the database created by Jaan Altosaar and improved to provide even more actual realistic recipes of the type discussed in the podcast. The combinatorics of the problem are incredibly large, but my guess is that the constraints on the space of possible solutions is brought down incredibly in actual practice. It’s somewhat like the huge numbers of combinations the A, C, T, and Gs in our DNA that could be imagined, yet only an incredibly much smaller subset of that larger set could be found in a living human being.
The additional byproduct of catching this episode was that it finally reminded me why I had thought the name Jaan Altosaar was so familiar to me when I read his article. It turns out I know Jaan and some of his previous work. Sometime back in 2014 I had corresponded with him regarding his fantastic science news site Useful Science which was just then starting. While I was digging up the connection I realized that my old friend Sol Golomb had also referenced Jaan to me via Mark Wilde for some papers he suggested I read.
I’m now so many wonderful episodes in, that it was far past time to give something back to Jeremy for the hours of work he’s put in to give me so much entertainment, enjoyment, and even knowledge. So I just made a pledge to support him on Patreon.
If you haven’t been paying attention, Eat This Podcast is a fantastic series on food, but it it uses the “foods we eat to examine and shed light on the lives we lead, from authenticity to zoology”. Food becomes his “vehicle to explore the byways of taste, economics and trade, culture, science, history, archaeology, geography and just about anything else.”
It’s unlike much of anything I’ve seen or followed in the food space for some time. As someone who is a fan of the science of food and fantastic writers like Harold McGee, Herve This, Alton Brown, Tom Standage, Michael Pollan, Nathan Myhrvold, Maxime Bilet, Matt Gross, and Michael Ruhlman (to name only a few), Eat This Podcast is now a must listen for me.
Not only are the episodes always interesting and unique, they’re phenomenally well researched and produced. You’d think he had a massive staff and production support at the level of a news organization like NPR. By way of mentioning NPR, I wanted to highlight the thought, care, and skill he puts into not only the stunning audio quality, but into the selection of underlying photos, musical bumpers, and the links to additional resources he finds along the way.
And if my recommendation isn’t enough, then perhaps knowing that this one person effort has been nominated for the James Beard Award in both 2015 and 2016 may tip the scales?
If you haven’t listened to any of them yet, I highly recommend you take a peek at what he has to offer. You can subscribe, download, and listen to them all for free. If you’re so inclined, I hope you’ll follow my lead and make a pledge to support his work on Patreon as well.