Full Exclusive interview with Steven Raichlen

Grill-master Steven Raichlen’s various barbecue shows continue to air on the KLCS Public Media Saturday afternoon cooking block; this is a great source of information and inspiration in a city where its “grilling season” all year-round! We last spoke to Steven before the pandemic and thought it’d be a good time to catch up about what life for him is like now. A hint: You can still expect that he is spinning several grill plates in the air keeping “Raichlandia” fun and interesting.

Steven, what have you been up to since we last spoke?
I think I’ve done two books since we last spoke; “The Brisket Chronicles,” it’s about brisket barbecued and cooked every way you can imagine around the world. That was followed by a book called “How to Grill Vegetables,” which is straight grilling mostly vegetarian, but not completely. In the TV arena, we taped a total of four seasons since “Project of Fire” and this year airing as we speak is a brand new series called “Steven Raichlen’s Planet Barbecue.” That is a show with a little bit more international influence, with a lot of guests from foreign cultures and countries that come on the show. In journalism, I had a big story in the New York Times this past week called, called “5 Dishes Everyone Should Know How to Grill.” My Barbecue University; I have a new home for that and it is the Alisal Ranch in Solvang, a magnificent property. Solvang is very cute, it was settled by Danes and looks like a little Denmark. The ranch is a 10,000 acre ranch, 100 horses and we taped two years of my TV shows there, the last year of “Project Smoke” and the first year of “Project Fire.” So it’s a home coming of sorts.

How was filming your new shows since 2020 been like?
Well, 2020 and 2021 were obviously quite challenging, locked set, social distancing, everybody on the crew in masks, except for me, Covid tests daily. It was quite rigorous. Ditto for 2021; 2202 was a little bit more relaxed and this year was no masking and very relaxed. That was nice and refreshing. We taped in January and February. The show started airing Memorial Day weekend.

What’s a typical day like for you now, post 2020?
I’m a very early riser, so I’m usually up 4:30 or 5 o’clock. A little calisthenic routine, followed by an hour long walk, or bike ride somewhere. We’re on Martha’s Vineyard at the moment, our summer residence. So this morning it was a very early morning walk and then I hit the computer and correspond with my European partners and associates. I try and write from six to nine in the morning because the phones are quiet. And depending on the day, it might be reviewing rough cuts, like I was doing yesterday. I might be doing voiceovers. I might be working on a new book; I’ve got a couple of new book projects in the works. Aside from that, trying to sleep, but that doesn’t happen very much or very often. I try and take the first hour of my morning to do some sort of motion exercise and while I’m doing that I’m listening to Italian radio and French books on tape so I can keep up with languages.

I tried to learn French and I think I’m too old; I don’t I have time to learn another language, I feel like time is not my friend.
I’ll give you a hint, there’s an app called Pimsleur and it’s based on how a child learns a language. Simply by hearing and repeating, I used it to learn Italian. I’m conversant. I want to come back to what you said about time, because that was very interesting, and my feeling about time is to do all this when I’m riding bike or doing my walk, so I’m just engaging my mind awhile I’m engaging my body. It’s killing two birds with one stone, so I don’t feel like I’m taking time out of the day to do that.

Has 2020 changed you, have you learned anything from it?
Hm, that’s a very good question. I think Covid, in a funny way, affected me less than most people because I work at home and I’m sort of a loner anyway. I would say I got a lot more dexterous with Zoom and Google Meet and all that stuff. For somebody whose professional and social life was built around being in an office, I’m sure that was very traumatic, but for me, I wrote two books during the period.
I was incredibly lucky to be able to make my TV shows, which was not guaranteed. The production right after mine, three people got Covid on the set and the production got shut down. Just gratitude that everybody in my circle was healthy and we didn’t lose anybody.

The one thing everyone I talk to with a PBS show is how hard it is to find sponsors. Has that also been tough f or you now?
Sure, and it gets harder every year. I’ve been lucky in that I’m fairly niche. If you’re a grill company or a charcoal company, a knife company or meat company, and you want television presence I’m where you want to be, but it’s hard. But there’s a plus on the other side, in that you own your content; you own your show, and you don’t have anybody breathing down your neck. I like being on PBS for many reasons, first of all it’s a smarter show, it’s not mean spirited, nobody gets cursed out or kicked off my show. It’s educational. I see myself as an educator as much as an entertainer, maybe even more so than an entertainer. And I like the control over it. If you were with a network, I can’t imagine someone handing me a script and saying, “Here read this,” I write my own material.

I recall last time you said you also have shows in Italy and France. Still doing those other shows?
I did one season of a show in Italy that’s still on the air, were talking about another one, and my shows were not in France but in Quebec; but they were in French because I have a degree in French Literature, and I speak French. I did 10 seasons of that, we’re in hiatus now. I’m, actually, trying to put a show together for France, but at the moment that’s still in the gestation stage.

What keeps you going and doing what you do? You could retire if you wanted to, you’ve already done so much.
I love what I do and I’m very curious about many things and I’m definitely not somebody who would enjoy playing golf everyday. The thing I love about my job, as it were, is that everyday is different. You never know, maybe next week I’m in Chicago, the following week I’m in Turkey and Israel. I’m about to start on a new book. Every day is different.

When you don’t feel like cooking, what’s your go-to easy healthy dish?
Easy dish is grilling, because grilling is easy. Pretty much anytime I cook it’s grilling. If you think about it, the mess is outside, you turn on a grill. It’s a simple rub or seasoning or not so simple rub or seasoning, that’s how I eat. And I’ve set up my life so all year round I’m in grilling weather. Up north in the summer and down south in the winter. We’re in Martha’s Vineyard now, so very often it’s seafood. My dream dish, it’s just fresh swordfish grilled over a wood fire with capers fried in butter on top. That’s my go-to dish. You fry capers in butter and when they’re crispy and sizzling, you pour that over grilled fish. That’s a three-ingredient dish where you have one ingredient being the main protein.

Do you have a favorite place in L.A. to dine at?
I love LA., I think L.A. is the best restaurant city in the country by far, by far. Every time I’m in L.A., I try and eat some place different. The last time I went on a ramen crawl in Japantown, and that was just spectacular beyond belief. There’s a restaurant called Chi Spacca, it’s one of the Nancy Silverton’s Mozzaplex places and it’s an Italian grill. That’s a place we return to often.

I find the challenge with cooking is cleaning. How often do you clean your grill?
The beauty of a grill is I usually work over very high heat, so in a way, it’s self-cleaning. I have this little three step mantra, it goes – “Keep it hot, keep it clean, keep it lubricated.” That means start with a hot grill grate, clean it with a scraper or stiff wire brush, and then lubricate or oil it with a folded paper towel and dipped in oil and drawn across the bars of the grate. And if you do that before your grill, and then when you’re done grilling before you turn your grill off, your grill will always be ready, the grate at least will always be clean and ready to roll.

Is there anything you’d like to add to our viewers?
The last two shows are interesting. The next to last show is a show called “Planet Barbecue,” it focuses primarily on grilled vegetables. And the last show, I’m channeling my inner carnivore and that show is focusing on brisket. So that’s two extremes in Reichlandia. The plant-based and the meat-based.

Steven Raichlen’s Planet Barbecue airs Saturdays at 4:00 PM on KLCS. Steven Raichlen’s Project Smoke and Steven Raichlen’s Project Fire are airing on KLCS’ Create TV; visit klcs.org/schedule for a complete listing of air dates and times.

You can learn more about Steven, his show and his other endeavors by visiting his website: barbecuebible.com. You can follow Steven on social media as well: @stevenraichlen on Facebook, Instagram

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