If you’re not listening to podcasts, you’re late to the party. According to National Public Radio, NPR podcast downloads for shows like Up First and Planet Money skyrocketed from 5.4 million in 2017 to 7.1 million in 2018.
For chefs, podcasts have also become a way to achieve a more targeted interaction with the dining public, because the most effective podcasts are specific to a topic. Consider that there are nearly half a billion blogs and just 700,000 podcasts, yet there are nearly one hundred million people listening to them on Apple, NPR, and iHeartRadio alone.
Eric Chiappetta, host of the popular podcast Chef or Death, began sharing his thoughts through a vlog. He switched to audio because video production can be tedious and time consuming, but Chiappetta also learned the listener numbers were better for podcasts than video.
“I always wanted a talk show because my heroes were David Letterman and Johnny Carson,” says Chiappetta, who named the podcast in honor of Eddie Izard and a play on the ‘give me liberty or death’ phrase.
As for the kind of conversations Chiappetta wants to foster, he sees the food and beverage world as its own planet. Nothing is off limits, and everything is relevant.
“We want to include everyone from pastry chefs to wine makers, restaurateurs to real estate people who help chefs find property, and everyone in between,” says Chiappetta, who has devoted significant podcast time to mental health and addiction issues rampant in the chef community. Chiappetta kick-started the show when Anthony Bourdain died.
“I took his death to heart and he was a hero to me, so I said, we have to do this – we have to start a conversation,” says Chiappetta. “We started the show for and about food and beverage entrepreneurs with the mindset of getting all of these smart, talented and successful people on the show as a resource.”
Chiappetta is especially excited about reaching young chefs before they make mistakes they can’t take back.
“Early in your career, you don’t really know at that point what your soul wants to do and age distills down what you want,” says Chiappetta, who wakes up to emails every morning from people who listened to the show and identified with the topic. “Food and beverage is a lifestyle, not a nine-to-five where you do what you want on the weekends.”
The Colorado chef was awarded an Insight Award for Outstanding Media Professional from the Colorado Restaurant Association, which he says came as a complete surprise. Podcasting has helped Chiappetta grow his brand in a short amount of time.
“This summer was filled with appearances and judging events, plus fundraising events, including one for We Don’t Waste, during which people came up and mentioned my podcasts – so I am honored to have stumbled into it,” says Chiappetta, whose next step is seeking growth expansion, branching out to reach an even bigger audience.
Chiappetta’s podcasts have done more than just help him professionally.
“We tell people’s stories, internalize them, and use the advice we receive to show people that they are not alone,” says Chiappetta, who doesn’t charge or pay anyone to be on his show. “Before this, I was only looking out for how the decisions I made only benefitted me, but I took a hard look at myself and what I could give.”
Chiappetta remains humbled at what can happen. He fields frequent offers to partner or go back to being an executive chef again, but the show and how it is helping others has become his primary focus.
“Once you decide to do something that’s bigger than yourself, it changes you,” he says. “This show is bigger than I am or ever will be.”
Like Chiappetta, the husband-and-wife team of Katy and Ricardo Osuna have found that what they and their guests have to say are resonating. Their Copper & Heat podcast is a James Beard Award-winning show about the unspoken rules and traditions of restaurant kitchens. The show is narrative essay-style of 30- to 40-minute episodes exploring topics relevant to food industry professionals.
“Our first season, Be A Girl, was about women working in fine-dining kitchens and received the 2019 James Beard Media Award for Best Podcast,” says Katy Osuna, who transitioned to doing podcasts after years of working in restaurants and managing a butcher shop.
It’s easy to assume podcasts would be limited to chefs who cut up a healthy helping of acerbic wit, for which life on the expediting line is known. But people who listen to podcasts want substantive content, and Copper & Heat delivers, even on tough topics.
Among the more difficult episodes revolved around the #MeToo movement and pervasive sexual harassment in restaurant kitchens, while others detail emotional and physical tolls of restaurant jobs.
“In the kitchen you push through anything, including derogatory comments, which are often gendered,” says Katy Osuna. “We also addressed finding balance within the demands of the hours, being in a commercial restaurant kitchen all the time and what that looks like for families and people who have lives outside the restaurant.”
The Osunas are halfway through producing season two, which will include dealing with the financial realities of being a cook, and for operators and owners, an episode on the labor crisis and the importance of immigrant labor, among others.
“We also go into the cost of producing a meal and why the margins are so low, talking to cooks and chefs and sometimes owners to share what people are doing to innovate,” Katy says. “We are speaking to the front of house, to the back of house, and to managers about providing a good culture.”
The Osunas are still in shock over their James Beard win. Capitalizing on the success of their first season, they hope the second season will be fiscally profitable via advertising spots pre-episode, mid-episode and end-of-episode. They supplement and fund the podcast with branded content for food media companies and are looking at revenue streams going forward.
Another reason the Osuna’s podcasts have been so successful is its technical quality.
“Not a lot of food podcasts allow people to listen to the entire podcast in 30 minutes on the way to work, which captivates them in a way that a longer conversation may not,” Katy says.
Ricardo has worked in digital content and website production, so he’s an ideal fit to take charge of the technology that makes Katy’s podcast sound as professional as it is poignant.
“I have a background in music and audio engineering, so we also compose our own music for the podcast,” he says. “We really wanted to focus on speaking to cooks and give a platform to elevate these voices, so a lot of it is the editing process, recording interviews with multiple people and editing the comments together working with our editor.”
The sound snippets the Osunas use are familiar to any listeners who have worked in a kitchen with clanking pots and oven doors opening and closing. Unlike video, in going with the podcast format, they must recreate that environment or sample those sounds.
Chiappetta records his podcast in a professional studio in Denver.
“Our podcasts don’t sound like they are being done in my mom’s basement, and we don’t edit it, but by the time I get home I have a finished MP3 in my inbox,” says Chiappetta who is looking into mobile podcasting opportunities for future episodes. “We get listeners nationally and internationally and are working on sponsorship deals with airlines and hotels to fund that.”
Pro Tips: Broadcasters have multiple options for podcast hosting, including Buzzsprout, Captivate, Transistor, Simplecast, Podbean and Castos, among others. Chefs can avoid turning viewers off by avoiding rants and raising the production value as high as possible. Too many amateur podcasters simply want to hear themselves talk, but that won’t generate listeners. Instead, engage with the audience and make it interactive, asking for feedback and answering their questions.