If you’re looking for an audio alternative to all the virus-related news on the airwaves at the moment – and looking to fill that restaurant-shaped hole in your life at the same time – here’s a handful of our favourite food-focused podcasts.
If you want: to level-up your culinary skills
Try: Home Cooking
The reasons behind Samin Nosrat’s popularity are obvious – her book Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat is all about the science of taste and how it translates to cooking delicious food at home – and she’s a delightfully warm presence on the Netflix series of the same name.
Home Cooking is a lockdown-specific podcast where Nosrat joins forces with friend and veteran podcast host Hrishikesh Hirway (Song Exploder). Readers send in questions in the form of voice memos, and the pair will answer them.
Episode one gets into practical advice for bean-centric pantry meals, with variations on dal and sabzi polo (Iranian herbed rice), and there’s a segment on making latkes. Episode two covers baking when white flour is in short supply, two-ingredient pancakes and more.
There are only two episodes so far, so this is a great podcast to get into if you’re overwhelmed by 700-episode back catalogues, and you’re in the mood for something soothing. The hosts offer not just practical guidance, but a genuine, calming and connecting presence.
If you want: to become fluent in obscure food trivia
There’s a lot to learn from this long-running American podcast, which looks at food through the lens of science and history.
There are 14 seasons whole to get through, investigating everything from the science of vegan cheese to the history of cannibalism.
In a recent episode, journalists and hosts Cynthia Graber and Nicola Twilley look at where the microbes that make up a wild sourdough starter come from. Another episode brings chefs and conservation biologists together to talk about why and how we should be eating more feral species.
For pure entertainment value, try “Grand Theft Food” from season four, which looks at culinary crimes, including the surprising prevalence of cheese theft, and the great Canadian maple syrup heist of 2012.
If you want: to know more about wine (but find traditional wine education stifling)
Try: Natural Disasters
Not to be mistaken for the podcast of the same name for earthquake and tsunami enthusiasts, Natural Disasters is a weekly natural-wine podcast of the two-people-riffing-vaguely-on-a-topic varietal.
It's fronted by Marissa A Ross (Bon Appétit wine editor and author of Wine. All The Time.) and meme-loving bro-sommelier Adam Vourvoulis (aka @natural_whine).
This free-association booze chat is not for everyone – kind of like natural wine. But if you’re happy to learn about making and drinking the stuff from people who occasionally forget the names of what they’re drinking and describe wines as being “like Robitussin” or “like a labradoodle”, this is the podcast for you.
Like a lot of podcasts in the matey chitchat genre, starting from the beginning can be a good way to get on board with terminology, personalities and recurring jokes. Otherwise, jump to either episode 19, the educational if aggressively titled “NATURAL WINE IS NOT A TREND!”, or episode 28, “The Episode About Ordering Wine in Restaurants”.
If you want: a vicarious restaurant experience with good company
Try: Out to Lunch
In Out to Lunch, veteran Guardian UK food critic Jay Rayner sits down with celebrities – mostly British actors and comedians – over lunch in some of London’s best restaurants.
Part vehicle for funny anecdotes, part celebration of the experience of dining out, this is a great listen if you’re desperately hanging out for a long restaurant lunch. Just the sounds of clinking cutlery and waiters describing the specials is enough to set off some nostalgia for recent, simpler times.
Rayner’s well-honed interview skills (and perhaps the relaxing influence of so much good food and wine) mean he’s able to charmingly interrogate his guests and prompt interesting revelations.
There are 26 episodes so far. We recommend starting from the first one, in which Richard E Grant talks about his transition from actor to perfumer over seafood stew with fregola, zucchini flowers and zabaglione at stylish Italian diner Sartoria in Soho.
If you want: smart, snappy stories about what’s happening now in the international (mostly American) food world
Try: Eater’s Digest
There’s no shortage of podcasts in this format – covering news in the restaurant industry through interviews, and deep dives on print stories – and some American shows can sound cheesy and overproduced if you typically listen to Australian media.
But Eater’s Digest is a cut above the competition in this space due to its combination of big-name guests and relaxed interview format.
Get into the archives for excellent interviews with Nigella Lawson, Yotam Ottolenghi and the late Anthony Bourdain. Some recent episodes looking into the impact of Covid-19 on the American restaurant industry might be too US-centric for Australian listeners, but there are parallels.
For a break from heavier content, try the episodes “Why Do People Hate Babies in Bars?” and “The Worst Things New York Diners Do in Restaurants”.
If you want: to know more about the science and culture of food
Try: The Food Chain
In the mood for something more educational than chatty? This BBC show is the obvious choice. While current episodes focus on the impact of Covid-19 on the world’s food chains, six years of back episodes feature BBC journalists investigating food industry phenomena.
Dig in to learn about everything from what happens when a vegetable (like cauliflower or kale) becomes suddenly fashionable, to the development of edible packaging.
In “Aristocrats and Archaeo-Food Nerds”, we learn how a food stylist creates dining scenes for historical dramas such as Downton Abbey. “The Mystery of Mukbang” covers the trend of young women in South Korea broadcasting themselves eating huge amounts of food online. We hear viewers, performers and a psychologist explore the topics of loneliness, online connection and eating disorders.
Each episode is extensively researched and kept to a polished half-hour format, so this is a great option if you’re not a fan of the DIY nature of many podcasts.
If you want: some vaguely food-related banter that doesn’t require too much attention
Try: Off Menu
In contrast to the well-researched programs produced by traditional broadcasters and media companies, this slightly meandering, somewhat shambolic interview show is unpredictable, but often leads to insightful food conversations.
The premise is straightforward. Comedians James Acaster and Ed Gamble interview a (usually) funny famous person who gets to set the scene at their own made-up dream restaurant. Interviewees have included Streets frontman Mike Skinner, Rose McGowan, and the aforementioned Jay Rayner, each one building their ideal meal, choosing their favourite starter, main, dessert, side and drink, and talking the hosts through their choices.
If you want: deep-dives with Aussie chefs, bartenders and other food personalities
Try: The Unbearable Lightness of Being Hungry
One of the longest-running Australian food podcasts, this in-depth interview show was started by Sydney food writer and radio presenter Lee Tran Lam way back in 2012.
Lam chats to all kinds of industry people, but mostly Sydney-based chefs, about their careers and their favourite places to eat and drink.
It’s released sporadically, but there’s plenty to explore in the archives if you’re into insider-y chef-chat.
While the Sydney-centric chat will be interesting to interstate listeners too, check out the episodes with Kate Reid of Melbourne’s Lune Croissanterie, Ben Shewry of acclaimed Melbourne diner Attica, and artist and MONA curator Kirsha Kaechele.
If you want: a low-key look inside the industry that’s as swear-y as a restaurant kitchen
Try: The Mitchen
The Mitchen is hosted by Sydney DJ Andrew Levins and chef Mitch Orr (formerly Acme, now head chef at Cicciabella). It returned last week after a two-year hiatus, and in the first reunion episode the pair reflect on how Covid-19 has affected the Sydney food scene, as well as them personally. It’s a pretty sobering listen compared to their previous, more loose approach.
The Mitchen gained popularity for its low-key and frank approach to the Sydney food scene. It's as swear-y as a restaurant kitchen at 8pm on a Saturday night, and the interviews with (mostly Sydney-based) chefs provide a lot of insight into what's going on in the food world.