Dan Pashman

A podcast visionary dishes on spatchcocking, MSG and Trader Joe’s.

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For the centerpiece photo in this story, WNYC personality Dan Pashman really wanted to emerge from his own fridge. As such, he removed all the shelves, leaving his cold perishables dripping on a table in the next room. For the finishing touch, he sent an Edible writer and photographer on a quest to buy dry ice (in an industrial park on the other side of Long Island).

After all, it needed to look mystical, almost otherworldly, when he stepped out of his refrigerator.

It’s important to note that this controlled circus was entirely Pashman’s idea. He is something of a madcap visionary, with a scrappy DIY approach that’s reminiscent of his first days in podcasting. “I love this stuff,” Pashman admits, beaming. “I do projects with Cooking Channel now and they’ve got fancy props, big budgets. But this kind of thing, man, this is what I know best.”

Pashman is an elder statesman of podcasting— he’s chummy with the legendary Marc Maron—if one can be elder in a medium this new. He started his one-man show, The Sporkful, back in 2010, after a slew of career ups and downs. “If you need help applying for unemployment benefits, I’m your guy,” he deadpans. Pashman’s background is in journalism; he’s worked as a staff writer for alt-weeklies, as an NPR reporter and producer, and he helped launch the Air America radio network.

He calls The Sporkful his last-ditch attempt at finding a job he loved. As a new dad in his 30s, with a career path you might call, ah, inconsistent, Pashman felt like he needed the podcast to succeed. “That’s why I was down in the basement late at night, tinkering on the show until it was perfect,” he says. “If it sucked, what were my options—would I go to law school?”

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The Sporkful was (and is) an uncommon show about food. Though it launched at a time when America was starting to hit its food obsession hard, Pashman steered clear of the common tropes. No chefs. No restaurants. No recipes. No farm to table. It’s not that Pashman was opposed to these things—he just felt like we were oversaturated. “I honestly didn’t think I could improve on what was out there already,” he says.

Instead, The Sporkful deconstructs the eating experience: Its tagline is “It’s not for foodies, it’s for eaters.” A typical episode could be, say, a deep dive on Buffalo wings—how to eat them most efficiently, what makes one wing better than another, reviewing the wing in historical context. The earlier shows could feel unpredictable, sometimes absurd, but they always made sense. Even the nerdiest food fanatic would walk away with something new.

Like the best journalists, Pashman is saddled with deep curiosity. He asks a million questions, and not just because it’s his job. On his Cooking Channel web series You’re Eating It Wrong (soon to premiere on actual TV), he tackles hard-hitting issues like how to best dunk a tortilla chip in guac or how to properly eat a slice of pizza. (Hint: It’s more than just folding.) He sought out a rocket scientist for the chip-dunking episode. He chatted about slice technique with the owner of Grimaldi’s. Why? Because he truly cares about the answers he gets.

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At home, Pashman is primary cook, with his wife, Janie, playing sous—and calming him down when necessary. “When I’m hosting for the holidays, I need Janie to talk me down from my high anxiety,” he says. “We don’t even host that many people, but it’s gotta be perfect!”

Pashman calls Thanksgiving the Super Bowl of meals—you only get one shot at greatness. When he wears the host hat, he’ll try all sorts of novel techniques. Last year, for instance, he went with a spatchcocked turkey, as suggested by his friend and colleague J. Kenji López-Alt (culinary director at Serious Eats). He also loaded his gravy with monosodium glutamate—unsurprising when you learn about Pashman’s MSG obsession.

He dismisses MSG’s naysayers, pointing to the lack of hard scientific evidence that it affects us adversely. Pashman is part of a vocal cadre of food professionals (David Chang among them) who love the seasoning’s potent umami kick. Similarly, he is an apostle of Maggi, a specialty sauce—also a brand of bouillon, dried soups and other prepared foods—that comes with a healthy wallop of MSG. (Pashman wouldn’t let our photographer leave without trying a bowl of plain pasta doused in Maggi and butter.)

But let’s get back to the holidays. Pashman is brimming with ideas for how to hack your festive meals. Cooking stuffing? Bake it outside the bird, in a deep pan, using chicken schmaltz and butter for richness. Or if you make potato latkes—Pashman says they are a perfect food—try pairing them with un-kosher items like pork chops or spiral-cut ham. “Spiral-cut technology is truly glorious,” Pashman gushes.

And let’s not forget eggnog. “Everyone should make it, couldn’t be easier,” he says. “My God, it’s just so f*cking good.” Pashman says he laughed out loud when he found out how decadent it is to make nog from scratch—just four ultra-rich ingredients. His recipe comes straight from the classic home cook’s bible: Joy of Cooking (for the recipe: see below).

For non-holiday meals, Pashman, now 38, isn’t such an atypical suburban dad. His friends expect him to be a snobbish foodie; his fridge is actually stocked with Trader Joe’s essentials. Pashman also has to negotiate cooking for Emily and Becky, his 21⁄2-and 5-year-old daughters. Flour tortillas come into heavy rotation—“You can wrap any left-over in them!”—and lots and lots of chicken. Pashman recently joined a whole-chicken CSA; every week he is presented with the challenge of how to prepare a fresh bird.

For a guy who started a podcast alone in his house, with no income or backing, Pashman has traveled light years since 2010. On top of his podcast, now produced with WNYC, and his Cooking Channel web series, last year he penned a successful cookbook called Eat More Better: How to Make Every Bite More De- licious. And with his first TV pilot premiering this fall, Pashman has succeeded in ways he never imagined.

Luckily fame hasn’t gone to his head— today, during the photo shoot, he remains focused on the important stuff: “Where’s my pickles? Bring me my jar of pickles. I really cannot get into character without pickles!”

Dan Pashman’s Famous Eggnog
(Modified from Joy of Cooking)
Makes about 18 servings
12 eggs
1 pound confectioner’s sugar
2 quarts (64 ounces) heavy cream 4 cups dark rum or brandy
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Freshly grated nutmeg

Read the list of ingredients again and laugh hysterically at the realization that a beverage with only these ingredients exists.

Separate 12 eggs and put whites in the fridge. Beat 12 yolks in a large bowl until light in color.

Gradually beat in 1 pound confectioner’s sugar. Add 2 cups of your chosen liquor(s) very slowly, beating constantly.

(Joy of Cooking says you can use dark rum, brandy, bourbon or rye. I usually use dark rum and brandy but it depends on what I have lying around the house. I’ve used whiskey, too, if i had a surplus.)

Let stand, covered, in the fridge for 1 hour. Then add 2 more cups of chosen liquor(s) and heavy cream, beating constantly. Add cinnamon and vanilla extract.

Refrigerate, covered, for 3 hours to several days.

I usually end up serving my nog over 2 to 3 occasions around the holidays. Before you serve it, fold in a proportional amount of fresh-beaten egg whites. So if you’re serving half the nog, take out half the egg whites, beat them until stiff but not dry, and fold them into the nog just before serving.

Sprinkle each serving with freshly grated nutmeg.

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