Lynne Rossetto Kasper, host of NPR’s The Splendid Table, always introduces her foodie program as, “the show about life’s appetite.” Or, alternatively, as, “the show for people who like to eat.” The latter description makes me laugh every time I hear it. Just about anyone loves to eat, and the entertainment business has cashed in on that obsession through endless cooking shows and reality food television. A successful radio program, however, is a more difficult venture. Does stripping the visual component – the juicy burgers, gooey pecan pie, or robust tomato sauce – diminish the pleasure? Not necessarily. It definitely requires a listener’s willing and active imagination to indulge culinary cravings via the radio. But with Kasper, the gifted wordsmith, at the helm, Splendid Table works.
On televised food programs, we, the viewers, must “live” vicariously through the hosts’ expressive reactions – an exaggerated smile or a shimmy of the shoulders. The verbalized responses often doesn’t muster the same impact. “Boy, that’s a mean chowder!” While scripts supply some informative dialogue, beyond that, non-intelligible adlibbing prevails: “oooh,” “ahhh,” or, better yet, “I can’t put into words how good this tastes.”
Lynne Rossetto Kasper can and does make the visual audible. She and her expert guests – chefs, wine enthusiasts, noted writers and critics, and more – fill an hour with discussions, interviews, reviews, recipes, and call-ins.
Each show begins with husband-wife team of Jane and Michael Stern offering their road food pick of the week. The eateries they profile – from burger joints to fine dining – are recreated on-air, bite by bite. On a recent program they recounted their visit to Mabel’s Lobster Claw in Maine. Their narration made this desert rat long for some cool ocean breezes and a lobster roll.
Just listening to Kasper reveals her enthusiasm toward all things food-related. Her distinctively warm voice paints her as authentic and knowledgeable, the type of person that you’d want to take to the local farmer’s market and have map out inventive uses for each piece of produce.
The last portion of the program showcases Kasper’s improvisational skills. A caller tosses an oddball ingredient her way, and Kasper must construct a meal using typical pantry or refrigerator items. Kasper deftly juggles the challenge of conceptualizing a menu while sounding lucid on-air. Her instructions, those clear descriptions of the process, her recreation of the flavors through words and vocal inflection – she does it all. The Splendid Table truly offers a culinary treat for the ears.