“The food geek preceded the chef or the cookbook author,” said Evan Kleiman about her life and role as the happy host of KCRW’s weekly radio program Good Food for 17 years. That’s longer than she ever imagined. “I tend not to look very much ahead, which could be a problem,” she said with her bubbly laugh, then quickly admitted, “I hope I never have to stop doing it.”
Now she’s got more places to do it, ever since KCRW’s recent launch of its new 88.7 FM frequency in Santa Barbara. “We always knew if we were going to go up there, it would be a natural for Good Food, with all the farms,” explained Kleiman, though she’ll focus on seafood first by throwing a three-course brunch at The Hungry Cat this Sunday all about sea urchin, including a conversation with diver Stephanie Mutz and others. “Uni is such a local product, it seemed like a no-brainer,” she said. “We get good urchin in Los Angeles, but how many of us get to have the opportunity to have uni that fresh, cracked open in front of us?”
The joy of discovery clearly motivates Kleiman. “I get to read everything, get every great cookbook, and then get to talk to whomever I want,” she said of her Good Food responsibilities. “The hard thing now is doing topics that everyone else hasn’t done.” You can’t swing a whisk without hitting a food blogger today, but when Kleiman started in 1997, the food revolution was just stirring. She believes the show remains distinctive thanks to “our quirky viewpoint, as we’re not a plate-focused show but a human-focused show, through the lens of food.”
As founder of L.A.’s first Slow Food chapter 20 years ago, Kleiman has always been concerned about food justice and sustainability issues. “It’s about linking ecological interests with gastronomic,” she asserted. “All the greatest joys of the world and all the ills of the world are in that space. The older I get, the more I learn, the more I feel I’m becoming a big old hippie again.” In addition to educating her listeners, she’s also a member of the Los Angeles Food Policy Council and the Stewardship Council for Roots of Change.
Along the way, she’s worked kitchens, written cookbooks, and, in 1984, opened her own restaurant, Angeli Caffé, which closed in January 2012. “There are many parts I don’t miss: worrying about making the payroll, telling everyone to make their beds — that is, do the things they should know to do,” she said. “But I do miss a venue to host people. There really isn’t a substitute for my place — so moderately priced, which is why it’s probably closed now. I miss production cooking, too. I think I was a witch in a previous life. I like stirring caldrons of things, soups, stew, sauces.”
She’s also seen plenty of change, much of it positive. “Since the coming of age of my generation, there’s been a full other generation that has been raised — with the caveat if you’re middle class and have access to farmers’ markets — and their point of view is fascinating to see,” she explained. “It’s more complex; it’s much more personal. They’re not chronicling authenticity as much as themselves, depending on what experiences they’ve had in their lives. Kids, who are barely in their twenties, have so much knowledge because of the Internet while, for my generation, that required travel and years of study.”
She points to L.A.’s Grand Central Market’s “little jewels of passion projects” as evidence. “It just makes me happy,” she said. “It feeds my mind as well as my stomach, and for me that’s really important.”
KCRW’s Evan Kleiman host an uni brunch on Sunday, November 16, 11 a.m., at The Hungry Cat, 1134 Chapala Street. The $75 ticket includes a glass of prosecco and one-year KCRW membership. See events.kcrw.com or email email@example.com.
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