SERVANT OF POD WITH NICK QUAH
Episode 13 Transcript: Richard’s Famous Food Podcast
Mon, 9/7 2:08PM • 26:59
episode, podcast, pickle, jimmy, hear, podcasting, convention, france, richard, record, french, people, question, call, story, tangent, sounds, monks, bit, clip
Excerpt, "A Woman's Smile", Nick Quah, Richard Parks III, Excerpt, "Richard's Famous Food Podcast"
Richard Parks III 00:22
I cannot settle on one description. And I mean honestly, I've taken a page from you and others who have written about the show. And so I'll say it's like a cartoon, except you listen to it. I'll say it's a documentary food show. If I'm talking to someone who knows me, I'll say it's like taking a trip inside my mind.
Excerpt, "Richard's Famous Food Podcast" 00:39
Anyways... [Squelching sounds] What's that? [Squelching sounds] You want to go for a walk? [Raspberry] Oh, you think we should do a definition of what a cornichon is, for those who may not know. [Squelch] Good idea, girl! You want a belly rub? [Squelching sound] There's a good girl, there's a good girl. [Squelching sounds] Anyways... [Music]
Nick Quah 01:00
This is Richard Parks III, host and creator of Richard's Famous Food Podcast, which is a pretty hard show to describe. It's kind of a food show. It's kind of a cartoon. But whatever it is, it's one of the most fun and interesting podcasts you'll ever hear. And I think it's the kind of thing that could never be made by a major podcast company.
Richard Parks III 01:22
I was looking to make something that I didn't hear out there in the world, that I felt like would appeal to me. And others, too! Honestly, in the beginning, it wasn't just for me. But that's changed.
Nick Quah 01:35
From LAist Studios, this is Servant of Pod. I'm Nick Quah. On this episode: when making a podcast is just about having a ton of really weird fun. At its core, Richard's Famous Food Podcast is a food documentary. Every episode tackles a different food subject, whether it's wine, truffles, or bone broth. But what you get isn't a simple accounting of a history, or profile, or anything like that. You get wild tangents, weird fictional characters, and a lot of zany energy. The narrative doesn't necessarily follow a linear path. And storylines don't always see themselves through. But honestly, some of it is completely entertaining.
Richard Parks III 02:21
Yeah, I don't know what I'm doing when I make this show, but I've figured out the feelings that I would like to repeat, that I'm looking for, and I've given into what it is. I'm not trying to make it something else anymore. I'm not trying to make it something that fits in and that took some--a lot of hard work. My background is, I guess I would have called myself a journalist at the time. My first thing that I did out of college when I was 22 years old is I went to West Texas, and made a documentary film with some friends, and then, shortly thereafter, I started as a cub reporter at a small newspaper, and then after that, I became the editor of that newspaper. And then I was the editor of two of the newspapers in this small newspaper group in the Bay Area. First day on the job, I was given a Rolodex. The computer was not connected to the internet. And the editor said, you're writing three things today, and I was you know, terrified. But in doing that, I learned a lot about journalism, and so it was always between film and print. But in working on films, I had developed a fluency with audio equipment. And so I felt like "I can do this." There is an explosion in podcasting. Who knows? Maybe you make one really good episode and that's about all you have to do to kind of like--then you're established, and I don't know what I was thinking.
Excerpt, "Richard's Famous Food Podcast" 03:38
Nick Quah 03:40
To really explore the ethos behind the show, I wanted to focus on how Richard thought through one episode: "Cornichon's Quest." In the episode, Richard travels to Paris, literally, to learn more about the history behind a tiny pickle with the extra tart crispiness. But instead of getting the story of the first documented cornichon, or something like that, Richard creates a character, Jimmy The Cornichon, based on his real-life nephew. In order to fully appreciate "Cornichon's Quest," you have to get the backstory from the previous episode. Let's jump in there.
Richard Parks III 04:12
Jimmy and I are in dialogue, and it doesn't really matter what's happening, but the Pod God shows up, who is the deity who is the ruler of the on-demand audio universe in my show. And so he shows up, and there's too much frivolity going on, and he kidnaps Jimmy, and he says to me,
Excerpt, "Richard's Famous Food Podcast" 04:32
I'm going to kidnap little Jimmy Pickle! No, that's mean! If you don't figure out a way to do a real canonical RFFP, with that signature mix of real reporting, sound design, and original music we've not yet heard, I'll serve Jimmy on a piece of a crusty baguette smeared with some pâté de campagne! [Evil laughter] Oh no!
Richard Parks III 04:59
So that's what preceded the episode. Another thing that I think about in storytelling, and particularly where it pertains to the more whimsical aspects of my show and the characters, is something that I think William Saroyan said--I'm probably going to bowdlerize all of this, I hope that people are looking this up and finding that I'm very much wrong--but somebody said, and I think it was William Saroyan, "all of storytelling is just 'get the cat up the tree, and then get the cat back down the tree." That's the story. And so I had this trip planned to France--rare European vacation, first time in 20 years. And I knew if I'm in France, that's a good place for gastronomy and I should probably take my microphone and when I can, as long as I don't completely alienate my vacation companion who is also my domestic partner, record things here and there and maybe piece together an episode. So the episode that precedes "Cornichon's Quest" is me getting the cat up the tree, and just saying you're gonna go to France, you're gonna have to do something because France is the birthplace of gastronomy, modern gastronomy in Western continental food. It's a very important place for food. That's where "cornichon" is from. And so if you go to France, you're gonna find a story, is what I'm telling myself. And in doing that episode, and putting it out, I challenged myself to actually do it. That's what a lot of the fictional aspects of the show do for me. For me, it serves a practical purpose, that there are these external things challenging me to make another episode. Because to be perfectly honest, every single time I make an episode, I think about never making an episode again, because it takes a lot of work. And it takes me--as joyful as it is, it's also psychologically demanding. I am not exaggerating, every time I make an episode, I wonder if it will be the last time but in setting up that episode, I challenged myself: No, now you have to do it. So I got the cat up the tree.
Nick Quah 06:52
And so, one of the more interesting aspects about that episode after you're trying to find the cat in the tree, to stick to the metaphor, is like you do commit to this gonzo bit. You go out into the street and you ask people "where's the pickle," right?
Richard Parks III 07:06
Nick Quah 07:07
I'm just gonna play that clip.
Excerpt, "Richard's Famous Food Podcast" 07:09
[French language clip]
Nick Quah 07:31
I'm just curious as to what possesses a person to ask random people in the street, in a country you're not from, for what is essentially a fictional aspect of a podcast?
Richard Parks III 07:45
Commitment to the bit, you know. [Laughter] Look, I am willing to make myself look ridiculous to fulfill things and create moments that you're not going to hear anywhere else. I care about it that much. I love it that much. And yes, I am willing to go down to the banks of the Seine River, where I literally was recording that. And I asked people in my broken French "Where is Jimmy? Have you heard of Jimmy the Cornichon?" It sounded like somebody responded in Russian. "Nyet," I think he said, but it was a high tourist area. So I knew I wanted to create some moments. I guess in that episode in particular, that's one of the episodes where as a host, and as a, quote-unquote "reporter," I am a little bit more in-character than than I normally am. Because I've written for newspapers, as I said, and I've written about news for the New York Times, and when I go interview for my show, I mean, obviously, the topic is a little bit different, but generally I operate the same way as I always have. If I'm making a movie, if I'm getting quotes for an article. I think it's that early experience as a journalist in a small town when I was 22, and they didn't even give us the internet. You have to go hit the pavement, and it's the most mortifying thing ever to do for the first time. To pick up the phone and call someone, or to go approach someone on the street, or to go chase a fire engine and talk to people. It's scary. But I think that it's probably that experience that I'm reminded of when I hear that tape, and I just knew that I wanted to get some some reactions. Yeah, does that excuse it? I don't think so.
Excerpt, "Richard's Famous Food Podcast" 09:17
[French language clip] Because here it's not just an obscure pickle. It's a point of national pride. [French language clip] I think you have cornichons in every French shop. And like Ludo, everybody knows what makes a good cornichon. [French language clip] Crunchy? Crunchy, yeah. [French language clip] As a pickle-obsessed podcast host whose logo is a mustachioed pickle, I feel right at home. [French language clip] But I'm not here to network. I'm here to find Jimmy, the most special cornichon in the world. And I hear if you're looking for cornichons in Paris, the place to be is Maille. [French language clip] You will find your happiness there, I think.
Nick Quah 10:29
It sounds like a lot of what was driving you creatively with the podcast is this frustration with conventions, a little bit. Wondering if this if the podcast is your way of working through a couple of those frustrations.
Richard Parks III 10:44
I mean, I'm cowed by the excellence of conventions, that I see pulled off in other shows or in things that I really like. A lot of podcasts I really like I don't necessarily take inspiration from, because I'm worried that I can't pull it off, or I can't do it, especially on my own. I don't know. But I do have a very fraught relationship with convention. And I always have, but I think that that sort of manifested itself differently in the 19-year-old me than it does in the 38-year-old me who makes this show. Because you can't just sit down at the piano and be like, "I'm gonna make amazing music, but I don't need notes! I don't need chords! I don't need to hit these keys, I'll just bang on the lid!" That's not really how it works. I think you have to have a reverence when you're approaching a form that takes a lot of expertise, like a storytelling podcast, which I really still kind of am holding on to the belief that maybe my show still is, and I think you have to love it, but you want to play with it maybe because you're a little bit self-conscious when you're doing it, maybe because you don't think you can pull it off, or maybe when you do it, it doesn't come off. It doesn't ring true. And so what does ring true? I think a lot of my show is also--it's sitting here working, and working, and working, and working for days and weeks on end on the sound side of things, and these feelings of self-doubt. And I think it comes from working alone, which you're always working alone when you're editing, and so all these things are just based on my own personal experiences. That's all you have when you're alone here working. You're a monk. You're alone.
Nick Quah 12:21
So it feels like the way you use these characters, they're essentially plot devices that carry out ideas about the stuff that you're reporting on.
Richard Parks III 12:28
Nick Quah 12:29
So how do you make the choice of creating a character within the context of any given episode?
Richard Parks III 12:34
I think generally it is about that relationship to convention. I know at some point that I'm going to have to define what the topic of my show is, but I start to feel self-conscious about "I'm going on too long here and it's too dry, and there's got to be another way to do this." How can I do this convention, or this cliche, in a way that only I can do? What are my ideas? And how do I serve what I'm doing in the whole piece by doing that? If I can do all those things then I've used, I've honored, the convention of other shows, and storytelling in general, by doing the convention, but I've brought it into the world of my show, made it something that you will only hear on my show. And hopefully I put a smile on your face. If I can do those things, then I've checked every box. And I don't always do it. I try to only do it when it serves the story. But you know, Jimmy, Jimmy is the MacGuffin, it's like the thing that propels the story forward, both behind the scenes for me, and also it's just a framing device that, I set up a question in the beginning of the episode--it's very simple--and answer it in the end. But other shows do this all the time. I'm just doing it in my way.
Excerpt, "Richard's Famous Food Podcast" 13:45
A lot of Americans who come to Paris come here... Back at the Maille Boutique in Paris, I feel like I've asked Valentin enough softball questions. Have you heard of a cornichon named Jimmy? Jimmy? No. No, no, no. That's you, maybe? Jimmy is my nephew. Yeah? Okay. No, I haven't. So you don't know where he is? No. We're all pickles. Okay, yeah. Okay, nice. Anyways...
Nick Quah 14:33
So let me see if I got this right. So you have a standard radio story. Let's say it's about a pickle, right? And then the thing about the way a normal radio story conducts itself is that it's sometimes very slow. It has to find excuses to get you interested as the listener, whether it's news hook or something like that. But within your context, it sounds like you could just create a cartoon, lay it over, and it would serve the same machinery of getting the journalistic part forward. Does that sound right?
Richard Parks III 15:02
I think that's absolutely right. Yeah, there's no reason why not. I really--I know that it's off-putting to some people. But I don't understand why there isn't more of this type of thing in the world. So tell me more about that. I'm curious as to--because I'm constantly thinking about that sort of thing that people keep saying about certain kinds of arts. I think some shows--and Radiotopia does this, I think The Heart does this sometimes, Love + Radio does this sometimes--where there's this blending of the fiction and the nonfiction. And there's a kind of sacrilege that happens with that. Right.
Nick Quah 15:32
I'm curious as to why it's off-putting.
Richard Parks III 15:34
I mean, obviously, it's not off-putting to me, so I don't know if I'm the right person to answer that.
Nick Quah 15:41
More on cornichons in a minute. Let's get back to that cornichon episode.
Excerpt, "Richard's Famous Food Podcast" 15:55
Fed up with Valentin's question-dodging, I take my search to a smaller Parisian culinary store [French language clip] I share a snack with the lady behind the counter, [French language clip] and then uncover an alarming truth about the contemporary cornichon. [French language clip] Because here, she tells me, as everywhere, there are two types of cornichons: those made in France--and there are not many of those--and then the ones made in India. [Sound effects] I know! It turns out, these days, due to the high cost of labor and production, most cornichons are produced in places like Eastern Europe and India for a fraction of the price they would be in France. It's a classic story of globalization. For instance, farmers fought it for as long as they could. The frontline in this battle includes miniature pickles, cornichons. I can't believe that public radio got to the story already. Now cornichon farmers are learning to compete with producers from countries like India.
Nick Quah 17:19
So there's the story and information Richard wants to get across, and then there are the cartoonish characters, like Jimmy. But then there's another level of aural chaos going on. Like the "anyways" you heard earlier.
Excerpt, "Richard's Famous Food Podcast" 17:31
Nick Quah 17:33
So why do you do that?
Richard Parks III 17:34
You know, we all say that when we've gone too far, ended up in a place that we don't recognize, or just ended up on a tangent that we hadn't anticipated. I should be saying it a lot more in this interview. But when we say these verbal tics, oftentimes we musicalize them. There's other examples of this. If I said, "Now, I want to tell you about how I make my show." "Now," that's a verbal tic like "anyways," it's a question. There's punctuation points--I'm struggling to think of more examples, but I think "anyways" is a common one. And so yes, as you say, to underline what is kind of absurd about it, and almost to put in bold letters what I'm doing here, I just went on a tangent, this is not important, let's get back to the matter at hand. I said it again, and I put a little vocal harmony on it. And then after that, I was like, "Well, I'm not going to do that again, because I can't repeat myself." So in making subsequent episodes, I was like, "I'm not gonna make 'anyways' as a part of this," but then I gave into it in editing them, and it's become a signature of the show. I call it a catchphrase, because there are a lot of them, but they're not catchphrases. They're just normal words said differently in a way that I say them on the show, typically in silly musical ways, like "poodcast" and "eektually," and "anyways," and these are things that, to take a cue from music, what they would call in opera a leitmotif. God, I'm just talking about opera and Orson Welles. Someone smack this guy.
Excerpt, "Richard's Famous Food Podcast" 19:07
Well, I'm back from France. Empty handed. Empty house. No Jimmy. Empty fridge. See what we got here... Got some sauerkraut, homemade yogurt, rye starter. Hmm. cornichon, of course. Guess I might as well. [Sound effects] Uncle Richie? [Record scratch] Jimmy! Whoa, you're making your poodcast! Poodcast? Woodcast. Wouldcast. [Record scratch] Yeah!
Nick Quah 19:37
As much as there's a frustration with convention and the formality of a lot of the medium, it seems that there's some--I hear a frustration with, the industrialization of capitalism in general.
Richard Parks III 19:52
Nick Quah 19:53
And my understanding of you, at least through this conversation, and from what I've heard on the show, and from what I've read, you seem like an artist at heart, like one of the rare real diehard ones. And I'm curious as to what your relationship is with the notion of the marketplace, as we call it, and the notion of what's been happening to podcasting more generally?
Richard Parks III 20:12
I mean, I don't know. I mean, I have a job, right? And I make my money. And the situation with the show right now is, like the monks do in Buddhism, it's like "chop wood, carry water." Or like the monks that make cheese in Kentucky, and beer. You got to sell that stuff, and then you keep the monastery clean, and you meditate. Because the whole point is to meditate on God or whatever, you know? If art, or a passion project food podcast, also falls into that same category, in terms of the reasons for doing it and how it is outside of the marketplace, then I'm lucky that I am able to make it at all, right? Because it fulfills me. But I disagree with--I've talked to people who have jobs in podcasting and stuff, and there's this notion that like, "Oh, it's an art project, and as long as you can do it at all, that's it, just think of it like that." And I just disagree with that. I think that obviously, what's going on in podcasting overall, and you've talked about it on this show, I've listened to this show, and there's been discussion about this, and I kind of can sense where you fall on this, a little bit. And maybe we do think the same way about certain things. I mean, I'm worried that it's not friendly to creators, of course, and in ways that are historic and endemic, certainly in America. I mean, my father is a musician. He came up through the greatest time in the music industry, when, as he likes to say, the sale of record albums were second only in America to the sale of legal drugs, in terms of the money that the economy, in the late 60s. That was the case, I guess. I mean, anyway, he says that. And I know things from him about how contracts are written, and how when you get money back on an album that you made that you owe the record company for making. You don't get it all, you get a percentage of it. And it's a percentage of a percentage, because of things like the breakage clause in record albums, which still exists. Breakage is something that was established when the technology was Bakelite, which was this this stuff that would smash. If you weren't careful with a box of Bakelite records--78s--they would break. And so they had this clause the record company did for--they reserve 10% to cover the cost of reproducing those albums, that's called breakage. Breakage is still in digital contracts today. That's nuts! [Laughter] What are we talking about? Vinyl fixed that problem in the 40s, or whatever. So, I'm familiar with how the industry is unfriendly to the artists. This is nothing new. But I would hope that there would be some room for different kinds of business models in podcasting than the ones we have now, where ads are sold on a CPM basis, per thousand impressions, or there are these sort of these, what I call the "podcast Medici." And it's like if the podcast Medici blesses you, then that's another way forward. Or public media. But I think that a lot of public media organizations are looking at what they're doing. "Why have we been doing podcasting? What's coming back?" And at the end of the day, all of these places are businesses, right? But I think it takes creativity on the business side to figure out how shows like mine, and a lot of other shows that are independent right now, will survive or be sustainable. Or come out more, which they have to. I can't make this show every week. I mean, I would if I could.
Nick Quah 23:42
One last question, just to wrap it up. What are you listening to right now?
Richard Parks III 23:47
Oh, yeah, that's right. I knew this.
Nick Quah 23:50
[Laughter] You knew this was coming.
Richard Parks III 23:51
I know, and I did not, uh... [Laughter] In terms of podcasts? We're talking podcasts, right? Okay. [Laughter] I mean, I really like A Woman's Smile, but... do you know that show?
Nick Quah 24:02
I do, but talk to me about that.
Richard Parks III 24:04
Last year, actually, after you wrote about my show, obviously, it was like all of a sudden, I heard from a lot of people about my show, and I kept on hearing in the same breath about A Woman's Smile and Have You Heard George's Podcast. And A Woman's Smile is just aggressively strange.
Excerpt, "A Woman's Smile" 24:20
The world is filled with different beliefs, cultures, people, but one thing is unclear. Where do we go when we die? What is there beyond when we cross over? Is there anybody in the sky? Today we'll be talking about these things and more. I'm Patti. And I'm Lorelei. And this is "A Woman's Smile Explores The Paranormal."
Richard Parks III 24:58
And completely fictional, but then it was even an episode that I was listening to a while ago, that I think was from the second season, where there was a series of ads, like as if there were three mid-roll ads in a normal podcast, but I think two of them, I'm pretty sure were fake. And I think one of them was real. And I was like, "Oh, I gotta use that," I really liked that. It's very bizarre in an off-putting, but somewhat charming way. And it's like that kind of thing where if you put it on, you do not know what's going to happen, or where you're going to be taken. The first episode I listened to, I had to pull over the car, I was laughing so hard five minutes in, but then I was deeply disturbed like five minutes later. And so I appreciate the effort to make something like that.
Nick Quah 25:43
Richard, thanks so much for doing the show. I really appreciate it.
Richard Parks III 25:46
Thank you for all of your thoughtful questions. And for all you've done to bring attention to this weird little show. I appreciate it so much.
Nick Quah 26:07
Servant of Pod is written and hosted by me, Nick Quah. You can check out more episodes at laist.com/servantofpod. The show is produced by Jessica Alpert and John Perotti at Rococo Punch. Web design by Andy Cheatwood and the digital and marketing teams at Southern California Public Radio. Logo and branding by Leo G. Thanks to the team at LAist Studios, including Kristen Hayford, Taylor Coffman, Kristen Muller, and Leo G. Servant of Pod is a production of LAist Studios.