“You see,” said Lynne Rossetto Kasper, “in Emilia-Romagna, they roll the pasta this way.” She drew a detailed diagram of the angled, tubular garganelli on the menu in front of her.
She would know. Her first cookbook, The Splendid Table, hit bookstores in 1992 and quickly raptured food lovers who devoured Ms. Kasper’s pedagogic stories and detailed recipes from the Emilia-Romagna region. Kasper’s book was in front of the trend of exploring Italian regional cuisine and her debut book won both the James Beard and IACP Julia Child cookbook of the year awards.
In 1994, radio producer Sally Swift convinced Ms. Kasper to record a few pilot episodes of a food radio show by the same name as her blockbuster book. Eighteen years later, Kasper and Swift, along with a crew of three “Jennifers” still produce the wildly successful American Public Media show, The Splendid Table, which can be heard on nearly 300 public radio stations across the country.
She is quick to credit her team for the longevity and success of The Splendid Table, but for fans, it is Ms. Kasper’s warm, buttery voice and relaxed conversational tone that coaxes you into believing you’re sitting across the dining room table from her, having a spirited discussion about food, culture and context.
“I feel very fortunate to have landed in this profession where I am constantly learning new things,” she said, “and able to share those discoveries with others.”
At heart, Ms. Kasper is a teacher but she is also a life-long student. Her background in the arts, specifically improv theater for children, has informed her journey from curiosity seeker to culinary professional. At the end of each show, Ms. Kasper invites callers to ask her questions, and listening to her craft her answers is fascinating. Gears in her brain churn through a seemingly bottomless encyclopedic catalog even as she begins to eloquently form an answer.
It takes a full week to produce the hour long show. Monday is pre-interview prep. Guest interviews are recorded on Tuesday, and Wednesday is set aside for script writing, which might spread across 20 pages before it’s finished. The show is recorded on Thursday and edited on Friday. Ms. Kasper says they plan the shows six weeks out. Everyone who is anyone in the culinary field wants to be on the show. Every new cookbook lands on her desk. Sometimes story ideas come from her voracious consumption of news outlets and other publications.
When she’s not in St. Paul, Minnesota preparing for a show, she’s on the road visiting public radio stations and rubbing elbows with fans. Ms. Kasper was in Phoenix this weekend, lending her support to public radio station KJZZ, hosting a cocktail reception at The Palomar downtown Friday evening and a private dinner at Vincent’s on Camelback Saturday night.
After the cocktail reception, I accompanied Ms. Kasper to FnB restaurant in Old Town Scottsdale, where Chef Charleen Badman dazzled Ms. Kasper with plates of pork tongue paired with sweet, pickled Asian pear slaw, hand-pulled mozzarella with green grapes, salty capers, olives and umami anchovies, and that garganelli pasta Ms. Kasper was intimately familiar with, tossed with lobster mushrooms and sweet corn, bathed in a delicate squash blossom butter.
Ms. Kasper is radio royalty, but the whole evening I’m struck by how down-to-earth, warm and engaging she is. We both dug into the plates with relish, reveling in layers of flavors Chef Badman tucked into each dish. Lamb manti, pillows of dumplings crisped in a pan with Turkish pepper spiked butter and topped with a dab of yogurt particularly enthralled her.
As we get to the last one, she looked at me and said, “should we share this one?”
“No,” I said, “That one is for you.”
She popped it into her mouth, and smiled a wicked smile. The kind of smile you see when someone who adores food has once again rediscovered why they fell in love.
Tune into The Splendid Table on KJZZ every Sunday at 2 p.m., or catch the podcast at Splendidtable.org