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If you watched the Academy Awards, or vaguely paid any attention to entertainment news in recent months (or years!), you’d know that Frances McDormand can act. You wouldn’t, however, know that she can also cook a mean mushroom risotto, or that as a child, her mother would shave iceberg lettuce directly onto her plate.
That is, unless you’ve listened to Cooking by Ear, a new podcast that sees chef and cookbook author Cal Peternell of Chez Panisse fame cooking with luminaries, like McDormand, in their homes. The show fashions itself as an audio cookbook, and the actress is the first episode’s guest.
Upon leaving his position at the iconic Berkeley restaurant after 20 years last July, a conversation with a friend prompted the project: “We started talking about teaching people to cook and thought maybe audio would be a good way. It’s like having a living recipe in your ear. So we came up with an idea of this podcast where you can cook along in real time and then at the end of the episode hopefully you’ve been entertained and edified, and you have a bowl of risotto to eat,” he told me.
The guests run the gamut, but for the most part, Peternell was attracted to people who weren’t known for being culinary figures. Instead, he opts for artists and writers, singers and thinkers. People with relationships to food, just not so public ones.
“How about I come to your house, I show up with all the groceries. You don’t have to do anything, you don’t even have to get out of your pajamas because it’s radio. We’ll cook together. Then I’ll clean up and leave,” he said. Learning to cook from an iconic chef who will also clean? Unsurprisingly, convincing guests to appear on his show has proven easier than expected.
The kitchen at Chez Panisse is known for being a fertile ground for learning—many young chefs pass through the institution before continuing to build successful independent careers for themselves. It’s here that Peternell developed a penchant for teaching, one that he carried over into cookbooks and now podcasts. For him, Cooking by Ear is a marriage of two things he holds close: learning and cooking at home.
Food’s transcendent ability to bring people together, to inspire conversation, is nothing new to Peternell, but this fresh context for cooking and eating has shown the chef just how powerful a vehicle it can be. “One of the things that’s been great to discover—and that I’ve known for a long time—is that food, eating, and cooking can really open people up. They reveal things that they might not otherwise. That’s really nice to see that work: to see people get in the kitchen, get their hands on some food, and really relax.”
Which famous person would you like to cook with? Let us know in the comments section below.