Adam Rapoport knows good food when he tastes it. As the editor-in-chief of Bon Appétit magazine, it's his job to track trends in the culinary world, eat at the finest restaurants and debunk the myth that "foodie" is a complimentary term for the world's gourmands. It's also necessary to be opinionated. Rapoport has strong feelings about what he loves (Italian food, simply cooked), hates (pontificating about wine), and feels absolutely wrathful toward (the website Yelp).
With the latter in mind, we challenged Rapoport to an Ask Me Another game in which he had to identify major restaurant chains based on their real-life Yelp reviews. For an extra dash of competition, we brought back Major League Eating's Eric "Badlands" Booker, a professional competitive eater, to play as Rapoport's opponent.
This episode originally aired on September 12, 2013.
In the video below, Adam flexes his skills in the kitchen and teaches you how to whip up some Ligurian pesto.
OPHIRA EISENBERG, HOST:
Welcome back to ASK ME ANOTHER, NPR and WYNC's hour of trivia, puzzles and word games. I'm Ophira Eisenberg, and joining me is Bon Appetit editor-in-chief, Adam Rapoport.
EISENBERG: Welcome to ASK ME ANOTHER.
ADAM RAPOPORT: Well, I'm glad to be here.
EISENBERG: So my first question is about the word foodie because I thought it was fine, but it turns out on the show, I asked people about being a foodie, and they said it was insulting and outdated. What's going on?
RAPOPORT: It's annoying.
EISENBERG: It's annoying? All right.
RAPOPORT: It's annoying. It's kind of - and also people are always like oh my God, my friend is like a total foodie. Or my friend is a huge foodie. It's never just foodie. It's always like a huge foodie. Oh my God my cousin, such a foodie. Yeah, why can't you just eat food. Like I like to eat food. No way, I eat food every day also.
EISENBERG: What do you call someone with an adventurous palette?
RAPOPORT: You know, literally I started at Bon Appetit a couple years ago, and I was like all right, we're not using the foodie ever again. And everyone's like, well, what are we going to use? And I'm like, hmm, I don't - food lover?
EISENBERG: Food lover? Blech.
RAPOPORT: Food enthusiast? So the irony is that there's not a great alternative.
EISENBERG: OK, we're still working on one.
RAPOPORT: Yeah, you're a person, you eat food every day. You know, what's wrong with that?
EISENBERG: Do you think it's an exciting time in food right now as a country?
RAPOPORT: It's insane how far we've come and how sort of high the standards have risen in terms of A, the quality ingredients that you can buy - I mean growing up, there was no such thing as arugula growing up, you know. Like wild mushrooms didn't exist. You know, there's so many things we take for granted now, and like good coffee, all that stuff.
And not only is it much more accessible, but because of the Internet, it's - you can, no matter where you are, you know what's going on elsewhere in the country in terms of if you're a cook or a chef, you know what's going on at different, you know, food blogs, restaurant menus. It's - yeah, you have no excuse not to be eating well these days, I think. And it's kind of fascinating, and I think it's awesome.
EISENBERG: So how does it work with food trends? Now you used to be the fashion editor at GQ.
RAPOPORT: Style editor.
EISENBERG: Style editor.
RAPOPORT: Yeah, in the men's business, we call it style. We don't call it fashion.
EISENBERG: I get it, no foodie, no fashion, I get it.
RAPOPORT: Big, big difference, yes.
EISENBERG: So does - food trends, does that work in any similar way to fashion trends? Is this...?
RAPOPORT: Yeah, you know, I think it always starts somewhere, and I think maybe sometimes with food it's a little bit easier to trace who sort of like was the first person to put something on the menu, whether it's Brussels sprouts, for instance, that you see everywhere.
EISENBERG: Pork belly, that exploded.
RAPOPORT: Pork belly. Yeah, you can generally trace it back to a particular chef, most of the time. You know, the pork everything, for instance. You know, and I think a lot of it is just I think it - because people like it. I think there's certain things, like pork belly and Brussels sprouts, that they're good. There are other trends, like the whole foraging thing, and it's like OK, it's interesting. Do I really want moss on my plate?
EISENBERG: Right, how many people enjoy this?
RAPOPORT: Yes, it's one thing for the foodie elite and us food writers to write about something, but, you know, does it really catch on on a much broader scale?
EISENBERG: Now are you more of a classic, you know, just give me like a rustic piece of bread and a great bowl of pasta, or do you like people injecting needles into their...?
RAPOPORT: No, you know, honestly it's like I always - you know, if I had to eat one cuisine, I always say it would be Italian because if you eat Italian food, I never think of it as a cuisine. It's like all right, let's take good ingredients, whether it's tomatoes, whether it's mushrooms, whether it's pasta, where it's bread, whether it's steak, whether it's fish, and cook it simply with some olive oil and salt.
And that's good ingredients that are speaking for themselves, and I think I've always sort of leaned that way.
EISENBERG: Right, so you don't like the laboratory, if I had Bunsen burners and some (unintelligible) flasks in my kitchen.
RAPOPORT: No, no, I mean, that annoys - especially when - I don't want like a waiter to lecture me, to have to explain to me how to eat something. And it's just like oh dude, just like stop. Like I'm trying to have fun here. Like stop telling me what to do. Like that drives me nuts.
EISENBERG: OK, so now based on that, when we were trying to think of a prize that you would provide the winner of the show, the grand prize winner....
RAPOPORT: One million dollars.
EISENBERG: One million dollars, you said yes. But the prize we had before that, we were like oh, maybe the winner could call you from a restaurant and tell you what they're eating, and you would suggest a wine pairing. And you were like absolutely not.
RAPOPORT: Yes, I have a problem with pontificating about gravelly undertones and raspberry overtones.
RAPOPORT: And I'm like oh God, just order the bottle of wine you like.
RAPOPORT: Thank you. Apparently I struck a chord.
EISENBERG: So you're in a new place, you've never been to some city, and you're going to go out for lunch, let's say. Are you - would you just go out there and take shot and make a mistake, or would you go on Yelp? Are you a Yelp lover?
RAPOPORT: No, definitely not Yelp.
EISENBERG: No Yelping.
RAPOPORT: No. I don't want to - like I went to this place for my anniversary, and it was just, they served us - I was like dude, what are you - get a life.
RAPOPORT: I mean, I don't understand people who comment on Yelp. I don't understand people who trust Yelp. I'm happy to go on the record of, like, I do not like that site. Quote me on that one, please.
EISENBERG: I can tell you have strong opinions, Adam.
EISENBERG: I like it. Which makes me think that you're going to be a very good contestant, competitor.
RAPOPORT: I might not have good knowledge, though.
EISENBERG: That's OK. I think you'll be surprised. Are you willing to take a little ASK ME ANOTHER challenge?
RAPOPORT: Yes, ma'am, I am.
EISENBERG: Fantastic. How about a hand for our VIP Adam Rapoport.
EISENBERG: Let's welcome back our one-man house band, Jonathan Coulton, and our puzzle guru Mary Tobler.
EISENBERG: Sad news, unfortunately Crazy Legs Conti ate too many fried clams during the break, and he had to bow out of the contest. So we're happy to welcome back from our game We're Not Gonna Bake It competitive eater Badlands Booker.
ERIC BOOKER: What's good, everybody?
EISENBERG: So Adam, you regularly eat at the fanciest restaurants in the country, but what do you know about how the 99 percent eat?
EISENBERG: We're going to find out. Jonathan and I are going to read reviews from yelp.com.
BOOKER: Oh wow.
EISENBERG: And they are of major restaurant chains across America. You have to guess which ones these are, and we've condensed the reviews significantly, but they are actual reviews. And we should say that the opinions in these reviews in no way reflect our feelings, or NPR's for that matter, about food or the restaurants mentioned.
The breadsticks are good, of course. Their television commercial is misleading because with any entrée you get either salad or soup, not both. Only the salad is unlimited, not the soup. This is a travesty. That person knows the definition of travesty, clearly. Also their unlimited soup and salad deal is a bit of a sham because you can get unlimited soup but only of one specific flavor.
EISENBERG: This is also a crime against humanity.
(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)
RAPOPORT: I'm going to go with Olive Garden.
EISENBERG: But just to let everyone know, we called The Olive Garden, and they said officially that you can switch soups in the unlimited deal and that you can technically get unlimited soup with any entrée, even though they don't advertise that.
JONATHAN COULTON: This place is basically just a glorified Arby's, where the nice lady in the red and white shirt with flair brings you your food and refills your iced tea. But yeah, I am a fan of the stuffed potato skins. I'm not ashamed to admit I enjoy the occasional sesame jack chicken strip. To be honest, I celebrate the entire appetizer catalogue.
COULTON: In the words of my man Kanye, I don't care what none of you all say, I still love her.
(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)
BOOKER: I'm going to take a stab and say it's Wendy's.
COULTON: No, it's not Wendy's.
(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)
RAPOPORT: I'm going to say (unintelligible) TGIFridays.
COULTON: That's right, TGIFridays.
The red and white striped shirt, man, come on.
BOOKER: That's right, that's right. And so it's cool. It's Fridays.
EISENBERG: Yeah, the appetizer catalogue. This place was perfectly fine. I really wanted their Aussie cheese fries, which are so good you don't need to eat anything else. Sandra(ph) got some sort of lobster-steak combo deal, and I got a California chicken salad. We had a kind of big-dude Southern waiter. I tried to joke around with him, but he wasn't really having it.
It was St. Patrick's Day. Somebody had to be wheeled out on a stretcher when we first came in.
EISENBERG: So maybe he was stressed out about that.
(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)
BOOKER: That's Outback Steakhouse.
EISENBERG: That is Outback.
RAPOPORT: I love the authority, it's Outback. It's like there was no doubt on that answer.
COULTON: All right, this is your last question. Our server McKayla(ph) was dressed in a sailor's costume, and her timing was perfect, but the food here is absolutely awful. My date and I just let our food sit on the table and enjoyed an exciting football game. When I got home, my mother couldn't believe I took a date there. That's the saddest sentence in the world.
COULTON: Neither can I. However, there's something so appealing about drinks, bar food, scantily clad waitresses and a great game on TV. God bless this restaurant.
(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)
BOOKER: It's got to be Hooters.
COULTON: It sure does.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
RAPOPORT: Oh man. He's too quick, too quick.
COULTON: Mary, what happened in that game?
MARY TOBLER: It was so close, it was actually a tie. Are you gentlemen ready for a tiebreaker?
BOOKER: Yes, we are.
TOBLER: Here we go. This place is good, but I hate the cilantro rice. You can ask for plain white rice instead. I had the fajita burrito. It was the size of my head.
(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)
TOBLER: Adam? Oh boy.
BOOKER: I know it's one of two, and the question is - Chili's?
TOBLER: No, I'm sorry. Badlands for the win.
EISENBERG: Badlands, do you know what it is? (Humming). What's that doggone place?
COULTON: He's finding his way. He's finding his way. He's got a method.
(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)
RAPOPORT: Can I butt in? I don't know. Can I try another?
EISENBERG: I don't see why not.
COULTON: Badlands, maybe do you want to make a guess first?
BOOKER: It's not Chi-Chi's, is it?
TOBLER: No, it's not Chi-Chi's.
RAPOPORT: Cilantro rice?
BOOKER: Oh, wait, wait. It's not - Chipotle.
RAPOPORT: Cilantro rice. I like the cilantro rice there. It's good.
EISENBERG: I think we can say in all fairness that you're both winners. But that was a blast. Thank you so much, Badlands, for being a fantastic competitor.
EISENBERG: And have a huge round of applause for our VIP Adam Rapoport.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)
COULTON: (Singing) Nibbling on spongecake, watching the sun bake, all of us tourists covered with oil. Strumming my six-string on my front porch swing, smell those shrimp there beginning to boil. Wasting away again in Margaritaville, searching for my lost shaker of salt. Some people claim that there's a woman to blame, but I know it's nobody's fault.
EISENBERG: Jonathan Coulton. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.