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Dining by Ear

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Award-winning cookbook author Lynne Rossetto Kasper has a voice like rich caramel, both soothing and addictive. As host of American Public Media's "The Splendid Table," Kasper takes her listeners on a culinary voyage each week, interviewing famous chefs, explaining unfamiliar ingredients and advising her call-in listeners how to create amazing meals out of what they have at that moment in their pantry.

"The Splendid Table" now airs in Richmond on WRIR 97.3-FM on Mondays at 1 p.m. This month's Saveur magazine features a lengthy piece about the show's annual live Thanksgiving Day call-in program, which helps callers deal with holiday emergencies and the anxieties that bedevil all of us cooking the year's biggest meal. It will air for the first time in Richmond from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Style spoke with Kasper at her home recently.



Style: How did the show get started?

Lynne Rossetto Kasper: I had written a book that had won some awards, and I was one of the flavors of the month. "The Splendid Table" was symbolic of where I was and in many ways where I still am, in looking at food as a much larger issue. If you've never walked into a kitchen, so much about it is still fascinating from the science, from the history, the humor and everything else you can imagine food embraces. And that's what I wanted to do, if I did anything in the media, was to find ways of addressing that. We started on Minnesota Public Radio in 1995, and they took us national.



There are a lot of different things going on in each show -- interviews, travel pieces, recipes — how much reading do you do to prepare?

I'm reading all the time. … As much as I think I have a very, very broad interest and always love to scan, looking for the off-the-wall material, having other eyes, having people who come from different places in their lives is really important. And I think that's one of the great strengths of the show . . . we just have to keep reminding people that this is not the kind of stuff you genuflect and cross yourself for. We can't take ourselves too seriously.



What are we going to be hearing about on the show?

You know, all these single-subject history books are fascinating. It's one of those things that's so interesting to me. Just the idea that we've seen a food history book ["Salt: A World History"] on the best-seller list of The New York Times — who would have believed it? There's even a new history of the toothpick ["The Toothpick: Technology and Culture" by Henry Petroski]! And there's a lot of stuff coming up even more bizarre, but some serious stuff as well. One book I'm liking a lot is Jonathan Waxman's "A Great American Cook." It's lusty, and even though he's a chef, it's not terribly "chef-y." James Oseland's "Cradle of Flavor," about Indonesia and that part of the world, fascinates me. Along with "Memories of Philippine Kitchens" by Amy Besa and Romy Dorotan, who we interviewed at the beginning of the summer — these are some of the books that have my mouth watering.

My curiosity keeps me digging into all the changing roles food plays in our lives — it entertains us, sparks our imaginations, puzzles us, frightens us, makes us laugh, nourishes us, and food opens us up to the people and worlds around us. There's a new awareness of food today, and it's taking people who don't live and breathe the subject down paths we couldn't have imagined even a decade ago. S



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