Lee Tran Lam on her obsession with podcasts
Author: Lee Tran Lam
Photography: Rob Shaw
12:00AM, Feb 9, 2018
What started out as a hobby became all-out fanaticism for Lee Tran Lam. She hits pause here to run us through the power of podcasts.
You hear some crazy stories when you record podcasts. There was the time Annabel Crabb accidentally baked her laptop. The nine-month period when sommelier Glen Goodwin used his brother's passport to work and travel in Paris. And the odd party trick LP's Quality Meats chef Luke Powell recalls his first boss having (hint: it involved a hand and batter).
I started my podcast, The Unbearable Lightness of Being Hungry, in 2012, before crime blockbusters like Serial and S-Town catapulted the storytelling format into the spotlight. And the idea came long before I first hit record. I'd always loved in-depth interview shows like Richard Fidler's Conversations and Terry Gross's Fresh Air and I wanted to do something similar with food. It began as a DIY project, patched together with the help of friends and a two-minute crash course in recording.
Many mistakes were made. I learnt that echoing rooms were my enemy, as were noisy buses and planes that gatecrashed my interviews. But compared with writing, where word counts can rein in stories, podcasts were liberating, allowing detours in any direction. So I've learnt that a laptop isn't the worst thing Annabel Crabb has cooked - that was a tart she made for Senator Penny Wong, which can only be described as "experimental". I've heard Goodwin admit that he and his brother don't even look alike, just that they have "similar eyebrows". And Powell's boss's trick? It was a one-time gig: plunging his battered hand into a deep-fryer.
Sometimes, the detours can be physical. I've squeezed into a car with Ferran Adrià and his interpreter because the only time slot I could get was on the trip from airport to hotel. That's the lo-fi charm of podcasts: you need only a Zoom recorder, a mic and headphones, and you can record (almost) anywhere.
I also love how podcasts can take you inside the world's best kitchens. Danielle Alvarez of Fred's once described how staff at The French Laundry all shook each other's hands at the start and end of each day - "shaking in and shaking out" - to build camaraderie; Luke Powell told of shivering in the cool room at Mugaritz as he dug out tiny seeds from 10-kilo zucchini - a process so laborious the seeds were worth more than caviar; Ben Sears rated the highlight of his time at Cutler & Co as the night Quentin Tarantino came in and insisted on drinking VB stubbies.
I've uploaded nearly 48 hours of audio and interviewed stars like Dan Barber and Christina Tosi, but my favourite recording was with a local (okay, almost - she's from New Zealand), Analiese Gregory. The globetrotting chef told of trying to stop her car exploding while in Spain (at Mugaritz), running a pop-up in Morocco (where everything had to be carried in and out by donkey) and plating some of the world's most famous dishes at Le Meurice.
As an obsessive, I'm happy to see more local shows on iTunes (from The Vincast to Gourmet Traveller's Set Menu) and was amazed that my show partly inspired local podcasts The Mitchen and Ingredipedia.
It's certainly a demanding habit - I listen to 30-plus shows a week and have 3,906 episodes saved - but podcasts soundtrack my walks, or my chores, and they continue to introduce me to the food world's most memorable characters.