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Sounds delicious: the food podcasts you should be listening to

It turns out you don't always need to see and taste meals to make them interesting.

Leaving aside certain swanky Riviera spots, beaches are, as a rule, not great places for the food lover. For a start, sand is no respecter of your carefully wrapped sandwiches, and more importantly, it’s hard to work up much of an appetite when all you’re doing is lying around hoping to eventually turn from pale gammon to crispy duck.

One thing that does travel well, however, is the podcast; as good for whiling away a few quiet hours with your eyes shut as it is when you’re stuck in traffic en route. Though audio might seem an unlikely medium for a topic that’s best experienced through taste and sight, the food category is booming, with hundreds of different series devoted to every detail of production and consumption, including an increasingly healthy homegrown crop to rival the wealth of weird and wonderful content from the United States.

Dan Saladino, series producer of Radio 4’s long-running and multi-award-winning Food Programme, credits its success to the fact that, because of the limitations of the medium, the story has to be about more than just the food on the plate. “As a nation we buy more cookbooks, watch more television programmes about food and go out to restaurants more than our parents did,” he wrote last year. “However I’m not convinced we all know as much as we need to about how our food is produced, what the consequences of our buying decisions are and what impact any particular food has on our bodies. Our mission statement is ‘Investigating every aspect of the food we eat’ and that pretty much sums it up.”

Gilly Smith produces the Delicious magazine podcast, the only non-BBC shortlistee in the best radio programme or podcast category in this year’s Fortnum & Mason food and drink awards. She tells me that, although she’s also worked in print and television, “audio is the best. It’s so immediate… the stories I got from the former drug addicts who make the award-winning cheese at San Patrignano in our July episode would have been a nightmare with a camera, but it was just me, a Zoom recorder and genuine empathy.”

These lower production costs (Smith often records links underneath a duvet to improve the sound quality) allow for more diversity in the market – she compares them to pop-up restaurants: “The same spirit of adventure, getting in there and on with it… it’s about immediate, easy-going chat and real connection with people. Most successful podcasts are a bit quirky… and certainly treat the listener as an equal. It cuts out the middle (wo)man.”

Olive magazine’s Janine Ratcliffe agrees: “Our whole podcast is made by the editorial team – it means we can be really reactive to getting guests we are interested in. If that means travelling to a festival or going to a new gin bar at 11pm for an interview, we’ll do it. And when it’s random chat between the team it’s more like listening in to an entertaining talk with friends who are as food obsessed as you are.”

Their 61 episodes to date have covered everything from the Olive staff’s favourite sandwich fillings to the green arguments for eating insects. Whether you’re interested in the geopolitical history of hummus or where to get the best burger in Brooklyn, cultural appropriation in western food media or the surprisingly lewd history of the peach emoji – like the hotel breakfast buffet, there’s something for everyone. Including, of course, podcasts about hotel breakfast buffets.

Felicity Cloake is the New Statesman’s food columnist. Her latest book is The A-Z of Eating: a Flavour Map for Adventurous Cooks.

This article first appeared in the 10 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, France’s new Napoleon

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Bertie Carvel's diary: What would the French think about infidelity to Doctor Foster?

The joy of debuting a new series, Rupert Murdoch's squeamishness and a sting in the tail.

According to the adage, the first thing an actor does when he gets a job is to go on holiday. And so, having finished our sold-out run of James Graham’s Ink at the Almeida and with the show (in which I play a young Rupert Murdoch) about to transfer into the West End, I’m packing my bags.

But before I can skip town, I’ve one more professional engagement: the press launch of series two of the BBC drama Doctor Foster, which we finished filming at Christmas. I’ve now seen the final cut of all five episodes, and I’m excited to share it with an audience. There’s no substitute for seeing other people’s reactions at first hand, especially with a show that got people talking so much first time around, and it’s electric to sit in a cinema full of expectant journalists and commentators and feel the room respond. Nothing beats this: to put so much into making a thing and then experience an audience’s unmediated, reflexive reaction. When it goes well, you feel that you’ve shared something, that you’ve all recognised something together about how things are. It’s a unifying feeling. A sort of bond.

Cheating spouses

Handling the interviews has been tricky, when there’s so little one can say without giving the plot away. (The first series began with Suranne Jones’s character Gemma, a GP, suspecting her husband Simon of having an affair.) What’s more, lots of the questions invite moral judgements that I’ve tried my best to avoid; I always think it’s really important not to judge the characters I play from outside, but simply to work out how they feel about themselves, to zero in on their point of view. There’s a sort of moral bloodlust around this show: it’s extraordinary. People seem to want to hear that I’ve been pilloried in the street, or expect me to put distance between myself and my character, to hang him out to dry as a pariah.

While I’m not in the business of defending Simon Foster any more than I’m in the business of attacking him, I am intrigued by this queer mixture of sensationalism and prurience that seems to surface again and again.

Shock horror

Oddly enough, it’s something that comes up in Ink: many people have been surprised to find that, in a story about the re-launch of the Sun newspaper in 1969 as a buccaneering tabloid, it’s the proprietor who considers dropping anchor when the spirit of free enterprise threatens to set his moral compass spinning.

I’ve never given it much thought before, but I suppose that sensationalism relies on a fairly rigid worldview for its oxygen – the SHOCKERS! that scream at us in tabloid headlines are deviations from a conventional idea of the norm. But what’s behind the appetite for this sort of story? Do we tell tales of transgression to reinforce our collective boundaries or to challenge them?

For me there’s a close kinship between good journalism and good drama. I’m reminded of the words of John Galsworthy, who wrote Strife, the play I directed last summer, and who felt that the writer should aim “to set before the public no cut-and-dried codes, but the phenomena of life and character, selected and combined, but not distorted, by the dramatist’s outlook, set down without fear, favour, or prejudice, leaving the public to draw such poor moral as nature may afford”.

So when it comes to promoting the thing we’ve made, I’m faced with a real conundrum: on the one hand I want it to reach a wide audience, and I’m flattered that there’s an appetite to hear about my contribution to the process of making it; but on the other hand I think the really interesting thing about the work is contained in the work itself. I’m always struck, in art galleries, by how much more time people spend reading the notes next to the paintings than looking at the paintings themselves. I’m sure that’s the wrong way around.

Insouciant remake

En route to the airport the next morning I read that Doctor Foster is to be adapted into a new French version. It’s a cliché verging on racism, but I can’t help wondering whether the French will have a different attitude to a story about marital infidelity, and whether the tone of the press coverage will differ. I wonder, too, whether, in the home of Roland Barthes, there is as much space given to artists to talk about what they’ve made – in his 1967 essay, “The Death of the Author”, Barthes wrote that “a text’s unity lies not in its origin but in its destination”.

No stone unturned

Touring the villages of Gigondas, Sablet and Séguret later that evening, I’m struck by the provision of espaces culturels in seemingly every commune, however small. The French certainly give space to the work itself. But I also notice a sign warning of a chat lunatique, so decide to beat a hasty retreat. Arriving at the house where I’m staying, I’ve been told that the key will be under a flowerpot. Lifting each tub in turn, and finally a large flat stone by the door, I find a small scorpion, but no key. I’m writing this at a table less than a yard away so let’s hope there won’t be a sting in this tale.

Ink opens at the Duke of York Theatre, London, on 9 September. More details: almeida.co.uk

This article first appeared in the 17 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump goes nuclear