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The Sporkful turns the decade

Dan Pashman’s award-winning food podcast — or podcast about food, rather — celebrates its tenth year anniversary this month, and the team is marking the occasion with a few things. Over the course of this week, the show is publishing updated re-releases of three episodes chosen by its listeners: Searching for the Aleppo Sandwich, Katie’s Year in Recovery, and Notes From a Young Black Chef. And on Saturday night, they’re staging a virtual party over Instagram Live, which will feature appearances by special guests Carla Hall and Sohla El-Waylly.

I like The Sporkful quite a bit, though as podcasting has become a lot more crowded lately and the pile of new releases I’m supposed to get through grows with each passing week, I don’t get to pick the show up as much as I used to. Anyway, this is presumably the point of a write-up like this where I very briefly go over the history of The Sporkful: when Pashman created it, where he was in his life, why he did it, how he and the show has changed over the years, and so on. But you know what? I’m just going to point you to this essay that Pashman wrote himself as part of the tenth year celebrations instead. It’s a fun read, laying out how a show can evolve and shift as it figures itself out from stage to stage. It also features a bunch of familiar names, which underscores just how small the podcast world was back then. Like, really small.

The end of the essay hints towards big plans ahead, which I asked about when we jumped on the phone last Friday to talk about everything that’s happening this week. Pashman tells me that plans are in place to develop a Sporkful spin-off with Stitcher, which had been co-producing and distributing the show since 2017. No concrete details just yet, and he points out that Stitcher’s acquisition by SiriusXM might influence the timeline here and there, but there’s nevertheless a process in place, and the thinking is that all this will result in a new show that he will help produce and create but not host. This new show might be the start of an imprint, or it might not. Pashman’s hesitant to oversell the announcement; that’s just his way. Point is, he tells me, he wants to help launch a spin-off show because there are all these interesting food writers and journalists that could benefit from a bigger platform, and maybe this show could be that platform.

Here’s another thing that’s in the pipeline for Pashman: he’s developing a TV show with Zero Point Zero productions — the studio behind the late Anthony Bourdain’s television programs, among other programs — that’s about to be shopped around. He sounded excited when we talked about it, but again, he was reticent to oversell the news. That’s the thing you generally need to know about the guy: he’s somewhat modest to a fault, apologetic even when made to acknowledge the fact that what he’s doing sorta kinda amounts to a media company. “I wish I could say I had some grand strategic vision,” said Pashman. “It was more like a few different things that came together at the same time.”

Indeed, when pressed, Pashman was fairly eager to dismiss any sense that what he’s doing — what he’s building — is pretty well-timed, given the empires currently being crumbled by the on-going reckoning in the food media world. When the prospect was raised, he hesitated, made a worried sound, and pushed it aside. He’s extremely wary about the notion, no doubt feeling slightly strange and guilty about his standing as an older white dude trying to make more media about food. Besides, he’s always had this vaguely Gen X-ish flippancy about overtly capitalistic endeavors. When The Sporkful originally launched in 2010, he slapped a joke on the website saying that someday he would form “Sporkful Omnimedia,” a gag making fun of how Martha Stewart’s media company — Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia — has always had this weirdly ominous name.

Besides, he’s not really interested in all that. No Dan Pashman food media empire, no investors, no heavy staffing up effort, no big plans to sell to the Food Network. Not yet, anyway. Maybe not ever. For the most part, he’s just hoping to be helpful and thoughtful where possible, and he just wants to keep doing more stuff in his own way.

He tells me about a moment that he always thinks about from the first episode of Startup when (now multi-millionaire) Alex Blumberg meets with Chris Sacca and makes that painfully awkward pitch, and they talk about the idea of a lifestyle business. Sacca isn’t interested in such businesses, of course, given that the mandate of a venture capitalist is to fund stuff that yields manifold returns, but Pashman was stuck fixating on how Sacca described a lifestyle business in that context.

“He basically describes it as a business that works well, treats its employees well, pays people well, and makes people feel good about their work,” he said. “You know, that sounds really good to me.”