The Great Fire of London. Khrushchev's visit to Cedar Rapids. The origin of computer viruses. Muhammad Ali's skirmishes with the U.S. military. The creation of the peace sign. No, these facts aren't from a Jeopardy! audition drill, but instead trivia you could be learning from the Dinner Party Download, the Los Angeles-based podcast that cares equally about serious food and about clever chitchat. It turns out that L.A. isn't just a one-food-themed-radio-show-town, after all.
Locally crafted, national in scope, and produced by Minnesota-based American Public Media, the Dinner Party Download launched in July of 2008 and ever since, co-producers and co-hosts Rico Gagliano and Brendan Francis Newnam have filled each show “with the awesome stuff we love.” Food is the consistent thread and default topic.
The Dinner Party Download has been on an every-other-week schedule until today, when it officially goes weekly.
“We were two guys who were doing stuff at 'Marketplace',” but we have interests that go outside of economics,” Gagliano explains. “We were trying to put together a show that would encapsulate all our other interests. It suddenly occurred to us, why don't we structure it around a dinner party?”
In addition to being bundled with “Off-Ramp” on KPCC, the DPD starts airing on 39 network Minnesota Public Radio stations on Fridays through September. It's one of the rare programs to make the move from podcast to traditional radio.
Subjects change every episode but, much like a seamless meal, there's a method to the madness. First the Icebreaker brings a little straightforward, cheesy humor to the party. A recent riddle is courtesy of Anthony Bourdain: “So why did Jesus cross the road? Someone nailed him to a chicken.” Ludo Lefebvre has shown the world that he can tell a joke, too.
“Marketplace” staff members share lesser-known stories of the week, and then there's the History Lesson with Booze segment followed by a talk with a bartender that includes cocktail recipe. The mic is turned over to the Guest of Honor, a seat which has been occupied by L.A. author Marisa Silver, writer and Daily Show correspondent Larry Wilmore, and the late historian Howard Zinn. The Main Course then brings food back into the mix, whether it's a discussion about restaurant design with the Weekly's Jonathan Gold, chef Jason Kim's foraging program, or Abel Gonzalez's extreme heart-attack inducing creations he serves at the Texas State Fair. And music is always a big part of this gathering, with a Song of the Day that's shared via the Facebook page and Twitter.
Newnam takes a big picture view of how the Dinner Party Download fits the zeitgeist and their generation. “The idea of a dinner party is an interesting idea realm of adulthood,” he claims. “Our show fits into the community and fellowship.” It also “captures what [the audience] wants to learn about food,” meaning context, history, and of course, good times.
It's a packed few minutes — alternating between the standard 15-20 minute segment and the new shorter 8 minute edition posted on Fridays — put together in a way that leaves us wishing only every social interaction could feel so smart without smarminess. Not to mention thinking about what to make for dinner, along with that perennial nagging question of whom we'd want to invite to our dream dinner party.