In part 2 of my Special Sauce interview with Sara Moulton, she plunges headfirst into the issues women face as chefs. “When I first moved to New York…I couldn’t get a job. But not only that, about every five years there’d be an article in the New York Times saying, “Where are all the women chefs?” It pissed me off, because I’d be like, “I know where they are. Being kept down or going to California where it’s far easier to get a job, because nobody will give them a job here.”
Here she is on why she thinks she lost her long-running show on the Food Network: “The way I see it is, competition and cleavage took over. I had cleavage, but they didn’t want to see mine. But that’s all right. And that’s not what I was there for. I’ll be honest, I was devastated.”
Sara also talks about checking in with women in the industry periodically: “I always talk to them and try to find out what’s the deal, how we’re doing, how are we moving forward? I mean, I’m no longer doing that. But, how are women chefs doing? What they say consistently is they’re still not getting the same publicity, and they’re still not getting the same real estate deals and backing for new restaurants. They’re still being treated like second-class citizens.”
As for what she would tell a young woman chef about how to proceed: “The advice I would give to them is pretty much the same as what I used to [say]: ‘Head West, young lady. California is so much better a place.'”
As a mother of two children who has been married for a long time, I asked her what she tells women chefs about having it all: “That is still a really difficult question and answer. I have no idea. You either have to have a partner who is willing to stay home…I mean, Jody Adams, you know, from Rialto*, her husband stayed home…If you can set that up, yes, you can make it work. But…it’s striking when you think that this is not an issue for a man to be working 80 hours a week and [have] a family. But it is for most women. That is where I always hit a wall. I have no answers except the one I just gave you. It’s rare to find the person who’s willing to just stay home.”
*Editor’s note: Rialto shuttered in 2016. Adams is now chef and owner of the restaurants Porto, Saloniki, and TRADE.
Sara Moulton is smart, savvy, talented and pulls no punches. Listen in and I’m sure you’ll agree.
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.
Sara Moulton: When I first moved to New York I told you, “I couldn’t get a job.” But not only that, about every five years there’d be an article in the New York Times saying, “Where are all the women chefs?” It pissed me off, because I’d be like, “I know where they are. Being kept down or going to California where it’s far easier to get a job, because nobody will give them a job here.”
EL: Chef and food television pioneer Sara Moulton is back with us to talk about her PBS show Sara’s Weeknight Meals, her radio gig on Milk Street Radio, her column in the Washington Post, and more about her experiences as a woman in the culinary world. How did Sara’s Weeknight Meals come about, which is your show that’s been on PBS for 10 years now?
SM: Yeah. We’re just about to start shooting season eight, but it hasn’t been a consecutive 10 years, because of things that happened in the economy. Well, the Food Network dumped me in 2005, and-
EL: That’s just wrong.
SM: Well, they were heading in a different direction.
EL: Oh that’s right. Then they made the transition to eatertainment.
EL: I remember this.
SM: The way I see it is, competition and cleavage took over.
EL: Competition and cleavage.
SM: I had cleavage, but they didn’t want to see mine. But that’s all right. And that’s not what I was there for. I’ll be honest, I was devastated. I’ve been very upfront about it. I used to say to all of my guests who would come on, because a lot of people were discovered on my show, and they used my shows as a way to find people, because I had guests. Michael Symon for example. There’s many, many more besides who have come and gone. Ming Tsai. I mean, he’s got his wonderful public television show. But any rate, I always used to say to them, “If you get a job on the Food Network keep your day gig, because this is not going to last.” Of course, I kept my day job. But when it was over I was lost. It really took me a couple years, because I sort of drunk the Kool-Aid. I think I was still nice, but when you become that famous, you sort of go around feeling special, even though you tell yourself not to.
EL: Your feet leave the ground.
SM: Yeah. And I had to say to myself, “Wait a second. You’re a mother. You’re a chef. You’re a wife. You’re a teacher. Please, let’s remember these things.” And I had to do that. Almost like a mantra. But, I finally recovered and found myself a fantastic partner, Natalie Gustafson, and we headed out into the public television world.
EL: Which is a whole weird circumscribed universe.
SM: Yes. I love it-
EL: I’ve tried to develop shows there.
SM: But you have-
EL: They have a lot of meetings. They lead the nation in meetings.
SM: Do they really?
EL: Oh my God.
SM: Well, thank God it was really just us. I mean, we do have a sponsor station, WETA, out of Washington, and they’ve been great. But, the real problem is you have to get the money upfront before you can tape one second of anything. And it’s very hard to get the money, because advertisers don’t want to advertise on a show where there’s no product placement, and you can’t say, “I love …” whatever it is.
EL: Planters peanuts.
SM: Yes. You can’t say that. You have to find advertisers who understand the halo effect of being connected with somebody on public television, and also understand what you can do for them in the long run, which to me is actually far more impactful, and elegant, and tasteful than what you can do on regular television. That is the issue every year. We’ve had some sponsors that stayed with us since some had to leave. We love every last one for ever being there with us. But that is the problem. The first show we taped in 2007 aired in 2008. We remember what happened in 2008 economically.
EL: Serious Eats was two years old. It was a great time to start a business.
SM: Yeah, wow. It was just … It was crickets. Everybody hid in the closet. They just would not come out and give you their money.
EL: Not good.
SM: It took until 2010 and we’ve been pretty much doing it ever since. As I said, we just got funding for season eight, we’re going to start taping. I love it. I own it with my partner Natalie Gustafson. We have so much fun together.
EL: You became a producer whether you wanted to be one or not, didn’t you?
SM: Right. Well, I sort of in some ways, way back at GMA when I did all the prep for all the chefs, I actually was sort of producing those segments when the producer couldn’t be there. If they said, “It’s going from five to three minutes.” I figured out how to make that happen. I held the hand of the person on air, slipped them liquor, made them feel better, whatever. Any rate, yes, so I’m now half producer too. I just love it. Love it, love it, love it.
EL: That’s great. What’s interesting is that, it’s a continuation of this thread of getting food on the table and teaching people how to get a tasty meal on the table-
SM: Every night of the week.
EL: You’re right. There’s not one bit of snobbery or pretension in the show. It’s just very straight ahead.
SM: Thank you for saying that. That’s how I feel.
EL: That’s because that’s what’s important to you, not only professionally but personally.
SM: Yes. Yes. What happened was, as a chef I never cooked dinner and then when I switched gears and stayed home, suddenly I was like everybody else, working a job where I had to come home and get dinner on the table at 6:00, which is not easy. I focused on it for the rest of my life. It is a huge challenge. It’s not like throwing happy little dinner parties. It can be a real grind.
EL: Did you have inspirations for that notion? Were there people doing it before you that you admired? Or were you sort of making it up as you went along?
SM: I think it was more it came out of my own experience, because I wanted to have a family meal every night, and I was finding it challenging. I wanted to share what I had been learning both at Gourmet and then on the Food Network.
EL: When you were on the Food Network I almost became the president of the Food Network.
EL: Yes. It was down to me and Erica Gruen. I actually went-
EL: … to the Providence Journal-Bulletin company. I didn’t even have a resume at the time. It was in the ’90s. And then, I found out that they were negotiating with Erica, and so I called the guy who was the temporary CEO and I said, “What happened?” He said, “You scared a lot of people in Providence. You seem to have so many ideas and you were so confident.” And I was like, “Wait? Is that a bad thing?”
SM: I know really, isn’t that interesting? Since when does a woman being less confident win? I mean, that’s so interesting.
EL: It was so weird. Anyways, what do you make of what’s going on in food TV?
SM: I’ll be completely honest, I don’t really watch it. And if I do, I mostly watch public television. When I’m traveling, which happens, I’ll often end up watching some sort of food show, either on a plane or in a hotel room. I never don’t learn something. It’s very personal. I think that people … Well, let me just say this. People love reality shows, so they love the competition shows.
EL: Top Chef.
SM: And I think that continues. I think that’s going to continue for a while, both Top Chef and Chopped, and all those offshoots. I’m not a fan remotely, because to me food is about sharing, not about competing. But I know people love them, so I can’t say much about that. As a member of the whole public television community, I’ve been a judge several times for Create competitions. Create is the second network of public television that airs all the shows after they’ve been on PBS. They have this little competition, I think they’re probably doing it this year … I’m not a judge this year … where they ask people to send in a short video. And if you win, then they’ll pay for you to do a little video that will air on Create. I love doing that, because real people … There’s a lot of fun, young people out there.
EL: But that’s a different kind of competition, because a lot of the competition is off camera.
SM: It’s, will they win to get a show? It’s not them taking eyeballs of newt with schmear of dirt and making some fabulous dessert, which is not possible, which I think is terribly silly. But people love it. But mostly I don’t watch it, so I’m really not the right person to talk about it.
EL: Yeah. There seems to be two kinds of shows. There are the competition shows and then there’s X person shows you the food, and the chefs, and the people they love in the food world, which I guess started with Tony Bourdain. And now, have you noticed everyone does it? Emeril does it. Just noticed Andrew Zimmern’s doing it. David Chang is doing it with Ugly Delicious. There’s just so many ways you can do that thing before everyone … First of all, everyone is discovering the same places,-
SM: Yes, of course.
EL: … is showing people the same places.
SM: Of course.
EL: The most interesting show, or one of the interesting shows that I really like, is Phil Rosenthal’s show, which is on Netflix, because he brings a comedic sensibility. He created Everybody Loves Raymond. And so, it’s more about his take and his take is actually interesting to me. But, I do think it’s weird that there’s all this food television and there’s only two kinds of shows.
SM: It’s all the same. And that same note, or not, how many more tell-alls can you read, novels, or autobiographies about somebody going to the restaurant industry and how awful it was?
SM: I mean, Anthony’s book interestingly enough is counterintuitive. Kitchen Confidential got a lot of people wanting to go to cooking school, which is crazy. But since then, there’s been a million, zillion, and I’m sort of tired of reading them.
EL: And it’s funny because when I read that piece that you wrote for Huffington Post, you talked about a lot of the same things that Tony talks about. Sex in the walk-in, and drugs, and you freely admitted doing cocaine. And was just like-
SM: Oh yeah. Oh no, that’s what we did. And you did do it, because you also wanted … I mean, A) It was fun.
EL: There is that.
SM: No, it really was fun. It is such a stressful job. You need to have outlets, you need to sort of do those kind of crazy things. But B) We all did it. Aside from the chef in France, I never felt that anybody did anything inappropriate. There’s a lot of consensual sex that goes on in restaurants. The thing from chefs to wait staff is a different issue. I think that happens.
EL: Yeah. The consensual sex sometimes takes place in the restaurant and sometimes outside the restaurant?
SM: Exactly. Both.
EL: It was a point of order. How did the radio gig come about?
SM: I have known Chris Kimball for a zillion years. I think I might’ve met him through Julia when he was first forming Cook’s in the ’80s, the first version of Cook’s magazine. And when I was at Gourmet, I wrote a couple of articles for Cook’s. I’ve always known Chris and always kept up with whatever he’s doing. And we bump into each other at different events. And very nicely, when I started at public television, and I went to the APT American Public Television conference, Chris came up to me and said, “Welcome to Public Television,” which I think is so nice. Not everybody’s always as welcoming.
Any rate, I’d seen him the November before he left Cook’s Illustrated, at another ATP conference. We just had a nice catch-up chat. And then that spring, he called me and wanted … Well, he didn’t call me. He wanted to interview me for my book, which came out in 2016, Home Cooking 101. He did a pre-interview and we had so much fun realizing so many things about each other, which you did when you interviewed him, I’m sure.
SM: All the crazy things he did in college and his crazy background.
EL: For sure.
SM: We just really bonded. We’d never had that much of a personal conversation. And then, about a month later he said, “I’m leaving Cook’s Illustrated and everything that I did with them, I’m not doing with them anymore. But it looks like I may be taking over the radio slot. If they don’t want to do it anymore it might become Milk Street. Would you be interested?” I said, “Sure.” That’s how it came about.
EL: What did you have to learn to master radio? Is storytelling storytelling to you? And interviewing interviewing? And it doesn’t really matter the medium?
SM: Actually, I didn’t think I was going to be very good at it or like it very much, because for me I’ve done radio before, and I’m always impressed with somebody who can do a great job in radio, because you have no props. When I’m on TV you’re doing a cooking class-
EL: The visuals can save you.
SM: The visuals. You’ve lost your way and you look over and you see the apple, “Ah yes, I was talking about the apple.” But on radio … Or somebody in the audience will remind me what I was talking about. That happens increasingly. But on radio, there’s nothing to do that. But, what’s fun with Chris is, he has a lot of opinions.
EL: Chris? Chris Kimball has a lot of opinions? I had no idea. He seems so reticent.
SM: It’s back to my Napoleon complex. I’m not going to let any man tell me, or any person tell me-
EL: We should say that Sara says Napoleon complex because of not only the emotional and psychological issues involving Napoleon, but also because Sara is short.
SM: I’m five feet tall, yeah. Well I mean, I hope I’m still five. I don’t know. But any rate, yes, that’s been an issue. I’m fine with it. But any rate, he likes to spar. That is sort of fun.
EL: Yes, he likes to joust.
SM: He does. I feel like I’ve finally spent enough years in the food industry that I come from a position of authority, shall we say. The other thing that I really love about it … What I do on the show … I’m only on for two segments, it’s an hour long show … is we answer questions from callers, which was my absolute all time favorite thing when I did cooking live. And I loved talking people.
EL: Yeah, it’s great. We do that on Special Sauce. We do these holidays call Special Sauces with Kenji and our pastry wizard.
SM: Well, Kenji has all the science answers. Yeah. So he’s great that way.
EL: I don’t know if you’ve ever read anything that Stella Parks has written.
EL: She had a blog called BraveTart that I discovered.
SM: Oh, yes. I’ve heard of that.
EL: Now, she wrote this great book that’s up for a Beard Award called BraveTart: Iconic American Desserts.
SM: Oh, I’ll have to-
EL: She also has the scientific bend.
SM: I should get that.
EL: She’s a great storyteller as well. But, we always do these calls and I love call-ins too.
SM: Yeah. You find out what people are cooking, and thinking, and doing, and what their issues are. And what’s fun for me with Chris is, I sort of take more of the psychological point of views. Somebody recently called in with some God-awful cake they make with mixes, and this and that, and they want to do a more home-cooked version. And as we were talking I came to understand that this is a cake their mother used to make. Chris is telling them all these millions of things they need to do to make the perfect cake, and finally I said, “Let me ask you a question. Every time you make this cake do you think of your mother?” And they said, “Yes.” I said, “Does it make you happy?” And they said, “Yes.” I said, “You should go on making this cake.” I love that, sort of finding out what’s going on.
EL: Yeah, and Chris is not going to get into those sort of psychotherapeutic answers on radio.
SM: No, no.
EL: You are the co-founder of the Women’s Culinary Alliance, 82, which is still going strong. You wrote this extraordinary piece in the Huffington Post. We could do a whole other episode of Special Sauce just discussing that piece. And you mentioned earlier that there were a lot of other issues that came up that you discussed in the Huff Post piece about women in the culinary world. Talk a little bit about those things.
SM: Well, I’ve come to do this charity event every year as a “celebrity sous chef”. It’s called Cher. It happens in the fall at Chelsea Piers. And what it is … I don’t remember how many years old it is. Rebecca Charles from Pearl Oyster Bar started it.
EL: Love Rebecca.
SM: She’s fantastic. Any rate, I always end up being her “celebrity sous chef.” They gather together like 24 female chefs in New York City. And to me, it’s so exciting to be with those chefs. I just help Rebecca, her stand, and stuffing lobster rolls. And it’s fun, because it’s again, like being a grandparent, when you grab the baby and give it back.
EL: Right and you get to go home.
SM: I got to pretend I’m in the restaurant industry, because Rebecca has a high bar. We have to do everything exactly right. Any rate, when I first moved to New York, I told you I couldn’t get a job. But not only that, but about every five years there’d be an article in the New York Times saying, “Where are all the women chefs?” It pissed me off, because I’d be like, “I know where they are. Being kept down or going to California where it’s far easier to get a job, because nobody will give them a job here.” That really pissed me off. And then, now to see these 24 chefs, and they’re all prominent, at this event … It doesn’t even matter if they’re prominent. They’re good chefs.
I always talk to them and try to find out what’s the deal, how we’re doing, how are we moving forward? I mean, I’m no longer doing that. But, how are women chefs doing? What they say consistently is, they’re still not getting the same publicity, and they’re still not getting the same real estate deals and backing for new restaurants. They’re still being treated like second-class citizens. I’ll talk about something else. I saw this wonderful movie, you’ve probably seen it, called Wasted.
EL: Yeah. It’s a great movie.
SM: Really fantastic. By Zero Point Zero Productions and two women producers. And we had a screening of it at a regular theater, so there was a lot of other people, but plus 70 members of The New York Women’s Culinary Alliance. And they asked me to run a panel with them and one of the chefs who was in the movie. It struck me watching it, they took a really distasteful subject and made it fascinating, and really, a call to action. I thought it was A+. Just like they do great work with Tony. But what also struck me was, there was maybe eight talking heads, maybe ten, and there were about a three women, four women. None of them are chefs. All of the chefs are men, and all of the men, they way they talk, they’re smart, they’re very smart. They have very good things to say, but the way they’re presented is with this kind of reverence like they’re Gods. And it really bothered me.
When we did the panel discussion I did not bring it up, because I think they’d made such an important movie. But, I reached out to them afterwards to say, “I want to have coffee, because I would like somebody to stop celebrating the boys quite the way they’ve been celebrated.” I think some of that celebration has also given these boys a license to ill, which is what they’ve been doing. Some of them have been going beyond the consensual sex in the walk-in.
EL: This is where you get back to Bill’s hip hop life, License to Ill.
SM: Yes, yes. The Beastie Boys. These guys, they think they’re larger than life. They’re celebrities, they’re important chefs, so they can take advantage of women. It’s a boys’ club. Amanda Cohen wrote a wonderful article for Esquire, and I quote that in the Huffington Post interview, because I feel like that’s really the point that bothers me more than anything else. The guy who interviewed me, Noah … I forget his last name. He was great. He was so glad I talked to him, because a lot of women wouldn’t talk to him for many reasons, including that this is not the issue they want to talk about. They want to talk about the issue that Amanda talked about, which is what I just said.
SM: Opportunity. There’s not opportunity. We’re treated like second-class citizens. It’s just not based on anything real. That is my problem, is the boys’ club has got to stop. It’s funny, because we were mentioning before the book that Andrew Friedman’s written, which is a fantastic read.
EL: Chefs, Drugs and Rock & Roll.
EL: On Special Sauce.
SM: And having said before, I didn’t want to read another book … It’s such a great read, and for me, it so resonates, because it’s my whole period when I was working in restaurants and also when I was at GMA. I know all the players, and I know some of the intrigue, and I just love it. Andrew, to his credit, mentions and talks about quite a few women and how important they were. I feel like he does his best. But now I want somebody to write the equivalent book about women chefs, and really tell their stories, and what’s happened for them, because they just need to be celebrated more.
EL: Sounds like there are two issues. Number one is, the license to ill, which is they’re swept up in fame and power, and they take advantage of it.
SM: It’s no different than Harvey Weinstein. They just figure they can do it, because they are so important and so powerful. It’s in the hip-hop world too.
EL: For sure. It’s in many worlds. It’s in the corporate world.
SM: Yes, of course.
EL: But also this notion, which Amanda did articulate really well in that Esquire piece, in which you are now too, the fact that the opportunities are still so skewed towards men.
EL: With the same chops, with the same experience, with the same press clippings. You can’t walk in as a woman too, and invest your group and get some money as easily.
SM: Exactly, and that’s just so wrong.
EL: Do you think that thanks to what we’re seeing, that it’s going to change? Do you think it’s going to take a while?
SM: Oh, I think it’s absolutely going to take a while. Some people need to move on and retire, you need new young chefs more open to it. Yeah, I think it is going to take a while. Just like the general sexual harassment’s going to take a while. It’s like anything else. You start at one extreme, you go to another extreme, you come back to the middle to something that makes much … I mean, I think there’s wrong stuff that’s going on in the sexual harassment with women like, “Oh, he touched my shoulder.” Well, tell him not to touch your shoulder damn it. But, don’t shout him out for touching your shoulder.
EL: I have a friend who’s an actress who says that if somebody asked you to take a selfie, as soon as they do that, they’re saying can they touch you?
SM: Exactly. Good point.
EL: She says, “Why are we surprised?” The selfie itself, in and of itself, becomes-
SM: It’s a snuggle. It has to be.
EL: It becomes an instrument of sexual harassment.
SM: Could be, yup.
EL: Yeah, it’s weird. I have to ask you what advice you would give, given what we’ve just discussed?
EL: To young women embarking on a culinary career.
SM: Culinary career is a general term. What dismays me, because I’ve worked with interns for both ICE and ICC-
EL: Those are both cooking schools in New York.
SM: Cooking schools in New York, yes. I haven’t worked as much with the CIA, because they’re not here. But I’ve hired interns to help me with my cookbooks. Mostly I find women are not … They don’t want to go into restaurants. They just see it as a dead end, they don’t see it as an opportunity. They don’t think they can do it. They think it’s too hard. All the stuff that I was told, but didn’t get in my way. I’d like to meet some women who’d like to become chefs. The advice I would give to them is probably, pretty much the same as what I used to, I have for all these years, head West young lady. California is so much better a place.
EL: Or Portland, or Seattle.
SM: Right. To start out in a kitchen as a female than almost anywhere else.
EL: Even still to this day.
SM: Yes, or do your homework and find out something about the atmosphere in that kitchen before you ever even consider applying for a job. You’ll be able to find out, because you don’t want to work in an oppressive situation.
EL: Do you think it’s possible for a young woman to become a chef in a hospitable environment and still end up having a family and a life outside work?
SM: Ed, that is still a really difficult question and answer. I have no idea. You either have to have a partner who is willing to stay home … I mean, Jody Adams, you know from Rialto, her husband stayed home. Other women chefs, their husband stayed home or their meaningful other, if you’re a gay couple. You need somebody to be home. If you can set that up, yes, you can make it work. But, it’s again, it’s striking when you think that this is not an issue for a man to be working 80 hours a week and a family. But it is for most women. That is where I always hit a wall. I have no answers except the one I just gave you. It’s rare to find the person who’s willing to just stay home.
EL: Now it’s time for the Special Sauce all you can answer buffet.
SM: Oh dear.
EL: Who’s at your last supper? No family allowed.
SM: Alive or dead?
EL: Yeah, can be alive or dead.
SM: Oh, you should’ve told me to think about this ahead of time. Well, Julia of course. Jacques. Jacques, another great mentor. I was lucky enough to work with him. You know who I loved too? And he’s the guy who wouldn’t hire me at Lutece. Andre Soltner.
SM: I feel like I just love him.
EL: Now you’ve got three chefs. Any non-chefs?
SM: Any non-chefs? Well, Virginia Woolf. I wrote my thesis on her, although my guess is she’s probably would’ve rather been prickly.
EL: That’s good. One more. One more woman.
SM: One more woman? Oh geez. Madeleine L’Engle. I loved Wrinkle in Time. I’m glad they made a movie out of it.
SM: I don’t know if it’s any good. It was a very important book for me.
EL: That’s great. That’s a good table. And what are you eating?
SM: Well, I’m going to suggest what I want to eat. It involves white burgundies and red bordeaux. Notice I start with the alcohol.
EL: I like that.
SM: Stinky cheese. I love Epoisses. I love duck.
EL: The real Epoisses, the raw milk stuff.
SM: Yes, yes. Duck. Love duck.
EL: Duck a l’orange? Pressed duck? What kind of duck?
SM: I love Peking duck. But I like duck with a good sauce, not sweet. And then, all sorts of carbs. It’s funny, because right now in my present life I love vegetables, but anytime anybody asked me that last meal question, it involved so many carbs. Truffle fries, French fries of some kind, potato chips.
EL: What’s for dessert?
SM: Something with chocolate.
EL: Something with chocolate.
SM: Or a cherry pie.
EL: Cherry pie?
EL: Like a really good fresh cherry pie-
SM: Pie you made with those sour cherries, and not to glupped up.
EL: Yeah, not too much goop.
SM: And some good homemade vanilla ice cream on top. That’d be wonderful.
EL: All right. I like that. What music would be playing?
SM: John Coltrane.
EL: John Coltrane. Now we’re talking. What period of Coltrane, because we could have a whole other Special Sauce about the music of John Coltrane too.
SM: Well, I liked his earlier music like-
EL: Like Ballads and-
SM: Well, not just Ballads. But by the time … My Favorite Things. Okay, My Favorite Things. That’s absolutely it.
EL: Which is a great Coltrane recording of My Favorite Things-
SM: He took the most God-awful song on the planet and made it ethereal.
EL: It’s true. It’s magic.
SM: And also Miles Davis.
EL: And Miles Davis, like Kind of Blue Miles Davis?
SM: Yes, yes. Later when they got a little wilder they lost me a bit. Oh, and also Herbie Hancock.
EL: All right. I like this. What do you cook when there’s nothing in the house to eat?
SM: Well, I go to the cupboard and-
EL: Got to start there.
SM: … usually pasta. Something with pasta. And usually I have some broccoli in the fridge. So you said nothing, but I usually have broccoli. It’s one of those vegetables we have every week. I’ll cut up the broccoli into florets with stems, and then cut off the stem and cut it in thin strips. I’ll brown that all in a pan. Then maybe add a little bit of garlic, some hot pepper flakes, and then I’ll cook the pasta and throw in the pasta, and either some pasta cooking liquid or some chicken broth, and then make it very soupy. I usually do it with angel hair pasta. We have sort of caramelized broccoli, and then the pasta just thrown in, and then a lot of Parmesan cheese, because I always have Parmesan cheese.
EL: That sounds good.
SM: I call it broccoli pasta, but it’s really soupy broccoli pasta.
EL: Soupy broccoli pasta.
SM: And some bread on the side.
EL: Got it. Do you have a guilty pleasure?
SM: M&M’S. Peanut M&M’S.
EL: I’m so glad, because I’m down with the peanuts. I’m not so down with the plains.
SM: No. But here’s the bummer here Ed, that they’ve reconfigured them into party size or large size, and now there’s not enough peanut in there. I like the original version.
EL: It’s the ratio that’s important.
SM: It’s so important, yeah. Yeah.
EL: Well good food’s all about balance. When it comes-
SM: Exactly, whether it’s bad good food or good good food. Yes. Oh, and they have to be frozen.
EL: They have to be frozen?
SM: Yeah, I eat five M&M’S every day for lunch. After lunch, after lunch.
EL: Wait, you eat five frozen M&M’S Peanuts every day for lunch?
SM: After lunch.
EL: That’s awesome. Is there a book or a couple of books that you’ve read that have profoundly influenced your life? You just mentioned Wrinkle in Time.
SM: And To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf, which is what I wrote my thesis on. You know what? I loved the one about the curious incident of the dog that was killed in the night.
EL: Yes, which became an incredible Broadway show.
SM: I never saw it.
SM: But it really got me thinking about what’s going on in people’s minds. For those who haven’t read it, it’s written from the point of view of an autistic boy. I loved that book. I read about a book a week, so it’s sort of hard for me to … You’re asking me to pick a favorite child. Geez.
EL: That’s good.
SM: I liked All the Light We Cannot See.
EL: Oh, Vicky, who went to school with you, my wife, loves that book more than life itself.
SM: Really beautiful book.
EL: She reads for a living as you know, she’s a literary agent. She reads I would say, she probably reads two books a week. She’s insane.
SM: There’s also a series of books, and now I’m not going to remember the name of the guy, they’re dog detective novels. I love detective novels, thrillers, as long as children don’t get killed. Other than that, I can’t read a book with an unhappy ending, but I can read murder mysteries. But there’s this one written … Spencer Quinn … written from the point of view of the dog. It’s a team, the detective and his dog. It’s such a riot reading from the point of view from a dog. It’s wonderful.
EL: It’s just been declared Sara Moulton Day all over the world. What’s happening?
SM: Well, I don’t know what that means. What does that mean?
EL: It means that you have the power to impose your will on the population around the world.
SM: Wow. That is too big. I mean, you can’t redistribute wealth in one day, but that would be what I’d want to happen. I want everybody to be more aware how everybody lives.
EL: But what would they be doing?
SM: I don’t know. Also, the environment is one heck of a … This is too big a topic Ed. I can’t tackle this one.
EL: All right. That’s fair. Well, thank you so much for sharing your Special Sauce with us Sara Moulton. Watch Sara’s Weeknight Meals on PBS. Sounds like she’s just starting to shoot a new season. Listen to Sarah co-host Milk Street Radio with Chris Kimball and read her Sunday Supper monthly column in the Washington Post, which we didn’t even get to talk about. Anyway, thank you so much.
SM: Thank you Ed.
EL: It’s been awesome.
SM: Thank you.
EL: So long Serious Eaters.