Though they have been around since 2004, the 2010s was the decade of the podcast. Most forms of media are experiencing turbulent times (the threat of blogs and social media to print; streaming to TV; Netflix to cinema), while the podcast, which is going from strength to strength, poses a threat to traditional radio. Recent statistics suggest there are around 900,000 different podcasts available on iTunes – that’s almost double the April 2018 figure of 550,000.
From politics to sport, true crime to music, mindfulness to film reviews, practically no subject is left unmined for audio content. Food is no different. Often, food is used as a medium to delve deep into hot topics; it could be the vehicle for comedy; it can offer pure escapism, to another country perhaps; or, to paraphrase restaurant critic Jay Rayner, the best, most revealing interviews tend to happen over lunch. Meals, after all, perhaps with some added wine, are a time to let loose.
A quick listen on the morning commute, an episode over a long drive, on a run or plugging in while cooking dinner offer the best opportunities. Keeping up to date is difficult at the best of times. Juggling tens of podcasts (I have about 12 football and six music ones I try to squeeze alongside the food programmes) is no mean feat, which means episodes are inevitably missed.
Why not take advantage of the lockdown, then, by catching up with your favourite shows, or picking up some new ones. Here are my picks of the best British food podcasts, in no particular order.
The Kitchen is on Fire
The Kitchen is on Fire, known colloquially as Ticky Off, is hosted by James Ramsden and Sam Herlihy, who run London sandwich joint Sons + Daughters and the restaurant Pidgin. They offer revealing insight into the London restaurant scene and beyond, interviewing chefs, restaurateurs, journalists, PRs and more. It’s funny, sometimes goofy, with a personal favourite weekly feature the ‘overrated, underrated or correctly rated’ quiz at the end of each podcast. Ramsden and Herlihy have taken themselves off the payroll to help support their staff during the coronavirus crisis – so, while it’s free to listen, you can contribute by signing up to the Patreon account.
Off Menu with James Acaster and Ed Gamble
Comedians James Acaster and Ed Gamble have created the funniest – and undoubtedly the weirdest – food podcast around. The singular hosts have unparalleled chemistry – they are best friends: see the YouTube series Just Puddings, in which Gamble, “The UK’s premier type 1 diabetic” samples desserts vicariously through the sweet-toothed Acaster.
In Off Menu, each week a guest is invited into their magical restaurant for their dream meal. Guests choose between still or sparkling water, “POPPADOMS OR BREAD?” (shouted by Acaster, a genie of course), a starter, main, side, dessert and drink. Nothing is actually eaten, but the emphasis is on the hosts unpicking (often furiously disagreeing with) the guest’s choices – most memorably when comedian Greg Davies chose “pass” as his starter. Top episodes include Cerys Matthews, Victoria Coren Mitchell, Tom Kerridge and, a personal favourite, Krishnan Guru-Murthy.
Table Manners with Jessie Ware
In 2017, singer Jessie Ware teamed up with mum Lennie to start the Table Manners podcast. Each week a famous guest – Jamie Oliver, Sadiq Khan, Ed Sheeran – arrives for a Friday Night Dinner (not always held on a Friday). They are cooked up a treat, usually by Lennie – her chicken soup and matzo balls is legendary – followed by loosely structured chat. Table Manners offers proof of the axiom that the best conversations are had over dinner. The recently released Table Manners cookbook is a treat, too.
Out to Lunch with Jay Rayner
Restaurant critic Jay Rayner was a reporter before he became a reviewer. His podcast marries the two, with famous people from all walks of life interviewed at a different one of Rayner’s favourite restaurants each week. The interviews are always fascinating, and not just on the topic of food. The best episode may be when Rayner took food-obsessive Stanley Tucci to Locanda Locatelli, but other brilliant interviews include Nadiya Hussain, David Baddiel, Grayson Perry and, in the podcast merry-go-round (many subjects pop up in all the shows), Jessie Ware.
Farmerama is wholly different to the podcasts mentioned so far. It isn’t comedy, neither is it an interesting conversation over lunch. Rather, Farmerama delves into the farming stories that are often overlooked. The monthly podcast seeks to highlight what small-scale producers across the land are doing, with a particular emphasis on sustainability. A brilliant mini-series, ‘Cereal’, charts, through six episodes, the resurgent British bread scene, from farmer to miller to baker to customer.
Honey & Co: The Food Talks
Itamar Srulovich and Sarit Packer run the Honey & Co restaurants, a pair of superb Middle Eastern spots in London. On the side, they host this eponymous podcast. Each week, in front of a live audience, someone they admire from the food world is brought in to chat, eat and drink wine. Srulovich and Packer often take a back seat, allowing guests like Olia Hercules or Stephen Harris to tell their stories. Sometimes, episodes focus on topics, like chocolate, butter or olive oil. The latest mini-series, Who Run The World? celebrates women in food – Fay Maschler, Andi Oliver, Claudia Roden and more.
The Food Programme
BBC Radio 4’s The Food Programme has been running since 1979; it’s staple early Sunday afternoon listening for many British households. It takes a broader approach to food, looking at topical issues such as farmed and wild salmon, childhood obesity, eating food after cancer, the impact of coronavirus on the food system, or whether the Cornish pasty is actually Cornish. Incredibly eclectic, erudite and informative, the podcast offers those who’ve missed the live broadcast a second chance to listen.