Writing makes up a large portion of my 9-5. Specifically, food and travel writing. Over the years, I’ve met and interviewed a lot of notable chefs (you can listen to me attempt to interview a completely ADD Guy Fieri here). Before I begin, I am almost always nervous. However, I’ve discovered when you’ve prepped good questions and have a decently quick wit, you can usually get your interviewee doing the majority of the talking. Most people LOVE talking about themselves. I’ll be honest and admit that I, too, love being interviewed.
As far as I know, I’ve never had an interview completely tank. And because I am a writer, if things get awkward, the only person who typically ends up listening to it is me during transcription. My podcast isn’t live, so uncomfortable pauses can be edited.
Though my safety net is huge, I still sweat profusely prior to interviewing someone “important.” Recently, I had two interviews with iconic chefs on consecutive days. The first was Lidia Bastianich— everyone’s favorite Italian mama who’s a driving force behind some of the country’s most well-known restaurants (Del Posto, Felidia, Eataly). I mean, this is the lady that birthed Joe Bastianich AND discovered Mario Batali (and his big orange Crocs). She’s serious business. The next is Elena Arzak, a phenomenal Spanish chef who’s considered to be one of the best in the world (and not that a “female chef” is different from a “chef,” but she is considered to be the world’s best “female chef.”).
It’s not very Lean In of me to admit this, but interviewing two legendary women completely freaked me out. It’s hard to explain. I think it’s partially because women in the food biz need to be tough. I also thought they might be hard on me. I know, just looking at their photos it’s difficult to believe either of these women could have a mean bone in their body (those smiles!), but I was scared shitless. Oh, and let’s not forget I wasn’t even sure how well one of them spoke English (and trust me, my Spanish sucks). I dreaded these interviews.
Lidia was up first. I was running errands, but in anticipation of her call, I parked in a huge lot in Minneapolis’ North Loop and waited. She called at 2pm on the dot. I asked her about her start in the restaurant business and she told me her absolutely fascinating story, which included her fleeing Pula, Italy as a child to escape the Communist Yugoslavian regime. She lived with her extended family in a refugee camp before heading to the US. Uh, wow. We had a fantastic conversation about cooking and connecting through food. She’s big into family, as well as mentoring and promoting young talent (ie Mario Batali). When we finally hung up 25 minutes later, I couldn’t believe how sweet and charming this woman was. I wanted to give her a hug (and then see if she’d maybe invite me over to her house for dinner).
The next day, I waited for Chef Arzak’s call. I sat at my desk, armed with my recorder and a Google translate window open on my laptop. When she called, she immediately thanked me for thinking to include her in the article I was working on. You’re welcome, woman who’s currently running the 8th best restaurant in the world (!). She spoke English quite well, and was so incredibly down to earth and kind. We somehow got on the topic of my upcoming wedding and I mentioned that we might do a Spain/Italy trip for our honeymoon. She was all, “If you do, you must come visit us! We’d love to have you!” Really casually, like she’s running an Applebee’s or something, not a restaurant serving once in a lifetime kind of meals. I love this woman.
The big lesson here: Accomplished, “important” people are still just people. And in this case, they’re both especially awesome people.