From Newsstand Studios at Rockefeller Center: Cooking Issues
One conversation with Dave Arnold and Nastassia Lopez, hosts of the “Cooking Issues” podcast, and it’s clear the two are longtime friends and collaborators. The pair hold multiple titles, too numerous to mention, individually and together. Arnold is the Founder and President of the Museum of Food and Drink (MOFAD); author of Liquid Intelligence: The Art & Science of the Perfect Cocktail, which won the 2015 James Beard Award for Best Beverage Book; and is working on a second book, Cooking Issues: The Miracle of Moist Management. Lopez is a former restaurant owner, cook (which she learned by living and working in Italy and Switzerland), and also a former food blogger. Together, they own Booker and Dax, a “food science development company dedicated to inventing culinary products of the highest quality.” They partnered with celebrity chef David Chang of Momofuku fame to launch Booker and Dax, named after Arnold’s two sons. A look at their photos and social media accounts shows they don’t take things—except food and drink, of course—too seriously. Arnold describes his title as “head nitwit” at Booker and Dax, while Lopez’s title is “heir apparent.”
A former Arnold food blog, “Cooking Issues” eventually became a radio show with both Arnold and Lopez as hosts, featuring deep-dive technical discussions on everything from carbonation to hydrocolloids (gums)—with a sense of humor. “Cooking Issues,” now among several podcasts broadcasting from Newsstand Studios at Rockefeller Center, will mark its 11-year anniversary this month. The hosts have also added Patreon to the podcast: For a $5 monthly fee, listeners get early access to the shows and exclusive behind-the-scenes video. The Center Magazine spoke with Arnold and Lopez about their newly relocated podcast, which also features Jean Nihoul (also of Booker and Dax) and a roster of regular guests.
So how do you go from first meeting to doing a podcast together?
NL: Dave [then Director of Culinary Technology at the French Culinary Institute] needed an assistant shortly [after we met.] I started to do that for him. Then, two years into that, we decided to leave the French Culinary Institute and started our own business… so we got an investor, started the business, and, within that startup time, we started the show.
DA: No, we started the show when we were still at FCI, remember?
DA: Yeah, because I had this blog called “Cooking Issues.” We were doing all of this really cool, fun work at the Culinary Institute, but the only people who knew about it were the chefs that we were teaching and the students. We weren’t generating anything for our program, so I started this blog. It was well received. We started this radio show answering people’s questions about technical cooking… same as if they came and took a class with us. Our listeners were mostly all working cooks, now it’s a mixed bag of working cooks and people at home and whatnot.
So tell me more about “Cooking Issues.”
DA: People ask a lot of bizarre questions and because I’ve done a lot of bizarre cooking, I can answer them. When people say it’s been helpful, I’m super stoked about it. [Lopez laughs.] The goal is we want to be the “Car Talk” of technical cooking. I can go pretty hard into the weeds, into the technical weeds, Nastassia beats me back from that. [Lopez laughs and nods in agreement.] You don’t have to understand or care about technical cooking to listen.
What is one of the most bizarre questions you’ve ever gotten and one which threw you for a loop, if one did?
DA: All of our questions are either crazy or just so technical that they’d be even difficult… do any stick out for you, Stas?
NL: The only ones I can think of are the ones I’d talk about at a party. “I killed a deer on the side of the road…”
DA: Yeah, “I ran into a deer with my car, can I eat it?” Legally, no. Even if you kill one, you can’t take it unless you have tags and you’re a hunter. We once had two hunters in the Dakotas who were listeners. They sent frozen doves, frozen pronghorns, and frozen elk for me to cook. … We also got a question about using human breast milk to make cheese. After watching my wife deal with that, I’m like, that stuff is too precious. Come on, man, come on.
What’s it like to host “Cooking Issues” from Rockefeller Center?
NL: [Rockefeller Center] has been my favorite part of New York City. It’s always been my favorite part. When I was 18 and a student at Stanford, I came to New York for some modeling thing. It was my first time in New York, and my mom came with me, and she only wanted to stay within the radius of [Hotel Edison], so we went to Rock Center every day. I just love the vibe, and I lo-o-ove the history of the NBC Studios and Radio City Music Hall, and I love Saturday Night Live. I just love everything about it. I love the tree lighting, I love the skating rink. It’s my favorite place in New York.
DA: And she always wants to live within walking distance of it so she can go back to that hotel story. She moved too far south once, and she flipped out and broke her lease so she could move back… My feelings are almost irrelevant on this because Nastassia loves Rock Center so much that it doesn’t even matter what I think. If we get to do this at Rock Center, you’re living the dream, so I’m living part of the dream.
Any new changes to “Cooking Issues” on the horizon?
NL: We switched to a Patreon model. A lot of people signed up and commented, “This is so worth it because it enhanced my cooking life.” We’d like to have more diverse guests and hopefully more events. Rock Center gives us the opportunity to use more spaces, maybe have more of our listeners come drink, participate, watch us through the window. We’re also bringing back our call-in number, where listeners can call in with their questions. We had to get rid of it during the pandemic.
DA: I don’t want to change the core of what we do, but the new location lets us reach out to a new group of people. We’re still going to be us, but hopefully a better us. Us 2.0.
NL: [Laughs.] We’re excited to be there. It’s such a joy to be back in the studio again after doing it from home for a year.
DA: The show’s a lot more fun when we’re together.
Tune in to the podcasts recorded at Newsstand Studios at Rockefeller Center, located at 1 Rockefeller Plaza.