Bon Appetit: Listening to Something Delicious

Written by Morgan DeLisle

I am sitting in Panera as I write this, and many of my articles have come from this same booth that’s far from the door and close to the drink machine. I like sitting at Panera because I enjoy the food, there’s no limit to the amount of Dr. Pepper I get to drink, and the atmosphere is entirely pleasant. When I sit here, I’m surrounded by food; I look at paintings of bread and smell all the different soups and fancy versions of mac and cheese people order. But I’m not listening to the food. It isn’t something I hear, which may be why traditional media has historically relegated food topics to visual outlets. We watch chefs on television and read about them in books and admire their creations in magazines. Food hasn’t been an auditory subject, until recently.

I got the chance to interview Emma Wartzman (producer and editor) and Carey Polis (producer) of the Bon Appetit Foodcast not too long ago and learned how they have been moving food into the podcast arena for years. Here’s the story:

Cooking Up an Idea

Before the foodcast was ever a thought, Bon Appetit was creating space for people passionate about food. “Bon Appetit has been around since the 1960’s as a magazine,” Carey explained. The brand primarily existed that way until it entered the digital age and began “taking that very seriously.” Providing its consumers with recipes, restaurant recommendations, and cooking tips in the most visually appealing ways possible, Bon Appetit established itself as a major news outlet in the world of fine food.

Carey started working for Bon Appetit five years ago and occupied a few roles before coming to rest at her position as Digital Director. Because the online elements of the brand were already included in her job description, it makes sense that Carey was one of the founders of the brand’s podcast. When I asked why Bon Appetit wanted to start the show, she was very clear: “We launched a podcast because we wanted to. There was not a business objective for it. There were a few of us who were just really passionate about the idea.”

Passion didn’t automatically translate to skill, though, and Carey said the operation was “very much by the seat-of-our-pants. We got some equipment, recorded in the conference room, had no idea about strategy, we just tried it on for size and really liked doing it.” Whatever they lacked in knowledge the little team made up for in serendipity. “Coincidentally, we ended up launching right around the time the first season of Serial came out (2014)… so we were able to kind of ride the podcast wave when everyone who didn’t listen to podcasts started listening to podcasts.” Not only was Bon Appetit ready for the new listeners, they had staked their claim before any other major food brands came into the industry.

Emma joined the podcast team about a year into the endeavor and slowly took over more and more responsibility as roles in the group shifted. Now she, Carey, and Christina Chaey are the three-woman team working hard to produce the best possible foodcast.

A Recipe for Success

So how do they bring food to your ears? Emma described the show as “A weekly conversation… a pretty casual conversation, about either cooking or the people behind restaurants, whether that’s chefs or restauranteurs. Sometimes we have what might seem like a random person on, be it an actor or a musician or an athlete and the important thing is they’re someone that has something cool to say about food.” The goal is to make a show that opens up communication about a shared passion of food, and the absence of a visual element isn’t slowing that conversation down at all.

When I asked about the move to something entirely auditory, Carey was honest: “We didn’t think about it that hard. We just know that we have a lot of people on staff that really like to talk about food and have a lot of opinions on the subject matter, so we just gave it a try.” Emma also explained that when the show is discussing the people behind restaurants and the stories of the industry, a visual aspect isn’t absolutely necessary. Even when presenting recipes, she said that “you don’t need to see it if you’re good at describing it.” Fans agree, as the feedback has been incredibly positive and the show has consistently grown over the years.

Between the print magazine and the online articles, I was curious if the podcast has exclusive content. Emma explained that “the podcast does it all.” From expanding on stories in the print or digital articles to finding fresh content that no one else is covering, the foodcast fills in all the gaps in industry news and seasonal recipes for its listeners. Like cooking, though, making a podcast comes with a few learning curves. But, once you’ve mastered those, the results are simply delicious.

Getting it Right

“We did two live podcasts last year, which were super gratifying and fun, but it was definitely a different muscle to flex in terms of planning those versus planning a weekly podcast,” Carey said when I asked about the challenges they had encountered in their podcasting journey. Both women admitted that becoming event planners was really hard, “but really fun in the end.” Emma also mentioned that having only three people besides the host working on the podcast has been a difficult ongoing process, but the team isn’t going to be expanding anytime soon so the ladies will have to keep trekking on.

And that’s exactly what they plan to do. I asked about the duo’s favorite part of making the show and Emma said she “loves how many people love it.” She also mentioned that getting to be the person who edits each episode means Emma hears the raw takes of passionate conversations and she loves that opportunity. Carey cited getting to watch her “pet project” go from just a shaky idea to a well-established show as the most exciting part of creating the foodcast.

All of that excitement and passion are carrying the Bon Appetit Foodcast into a new year of growing and getting better in every way. Both women are looking forward to more live shows and the possibility of going on the road to meet listeners. So, if you love food, restaurants, cooking, or great conversations between passionate people, listen to Bon Appetit and be sure to leave a rating and review to let Carey and Emma know what you think!

Behind the Streams is a new series by Podchaser that explores popular podcasts and the brilliant minds behind them. Email Morgan (morgan@podchaser.com) to tell her why your favorite show should be featured next.