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Preeti Mistry on the Enduring Whiteness of Food Podcasts

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Chef Preeti Mistry browses the produce at a farmers market stall
Preeti Mistry browses the farmers market during their Juhu Beach Club days. (Alanna Hale)

No one would ever accuse Preeti Mistry of being shy about offering a hot take

The outspoken chef is best known for their California-Indian Oakland street food restaurant, Juhu Beach Club, whose vada pavs and doswaffles (a waffle-and-dosa hybrid) were the toast of The Town until it closed in 2018. But Mistry has gained just as many fans over the years (and enemies, probably) for the ways they’ve spoken out about the experience of being a queer, brown, immigrant chef—and the fearlessness with which they’ve called out the ways in which chefs of color and non-Eurocentric cuisines tend to get marginalized in the broader restaurant world, tangling with establishment figures like Thomas Keller and Andrew Zimmern along the way. In a 2017 profile, the food writer Mayukh Sen called Mistry “the avatar of a more outspoken, young, rebellious class of chefs who threaten the restaurant industry’s historically white, straight, male-dominant guard.”

Now, Mistry says they’re taking on the establishment again via a new platform: a new podcast called Loading Dock Talks, launched last week, in which Mistry interviews other chefs and assorted food people about their lives, food and social justice — and, as Mistry puts it in the show’s introduction each week, “we do a little shit-talking too.”

Preeti Mistry in the kitchen with her channa, eggs and sausage.
Preeti Mistry in the kitchen with their channa, eggs and sausage. (Vic Chin/KQED)

Mistry says they created the podcast to stand in contrast to the largely white backdrop of the overall food podcasting world—a world in which very few of the prominent hosts and interviewers are people of color. Last week’s premiere episode featured Asha Gomez, the Atlanta-based superstar chef, who talked with Mistry about her childhood in Kerala, India, and the frustrations of being pigeonholed as an Indian chef. This week Mistry chats with San Francisco’s own Nick Cho, aka Your Korean Dad, the coffee guru turned global Tik Tok celebrity, about everything from Cho’s love of Taco Bell to the importance of calling out racism, sexism, and homophobia on social media.

Mistry spoke to KQED about the podcast from their newly adopted home in Guerneville, where they’ve been cloistered away since the start of the pandemic, first snipping basil leaves as an intern on a small family farm in Sebastopol, then making a memorable appearance on Waffles and Mochi, the Michelle Obama- and puppet-led food show for kids. 

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This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

KQED: Why did you decide to start a podcast? 

Preeti Mistry:  I’ve always been good with talking. Whether we’re talking about Waffles and Mochi or the podcast, it doesn’t feel like a stretch to me the way it might for other folks, where that’s not in their wheelhouse. And I have been interviewed on so many podcasts—I’ve been very lucky that people want to hear what I have to say. But I just give that away. When you’re a guest on a podcast, you don’t get paid. So the idea is taking something I already enjoy doing and actually trying to monetize it, in a world where everything I was planning to do to make money last year fell apart in March.

How did you come up with the name Loading Dock Talks?

The only time I see other chefs is at events. It’s always, like, you work your ass off, and it’s always that moment when it’s all over and everyone’s having a beer that we can actually hang out with each other. I think so many of us chefs cherish that moment and the spirit of that moment. I have spent many hours on a loading dock after dark, just hanging out. 

More from Preeti Mistry

But there’s a lot of people for whom that is not at all part of their world. The [podcast] listener is like that gap: They’re leaving the restaurant, they look over and they see these chefs all hanging out talking to each other, and they’re like, “Oh, I wonder what they’re talking about?” But then they need to get in their Uber. [laughs]

Why do you feel like it’s important to have this platform as a queer, brown, and immigrant chef?

I think it’s great that in this last year, a lot of the successful food podcasters out there—who are mostly white—have prioritized interviewing more BIPOC folks. But they’re still the ones in positions of power. Aside from a few that are willing to take risks, the white hosts generally pick people of color that are “safe,” that are not going to threaten them or make them feel uncomfortable. Now they’re like, “We’re going to talk about cultural appropriation, but we’re going to bring on guests that don’t have a strong opinion about the issue.” And then they get patted on the back for talking about a controversial issue and for adding so much diversity to their programming. 

To me, that just feels like so little so late. It’s still never going to be the same conversation. The conversation is still being managed by the white gaze. We’re taking the position of power and ownership and saying, “This is how I want to tell the story. This is what we’re going to focus on.”

Preeti Mistry eats a radish while at the farmers market.

Can you give any specific example of how your identity and background change the dynamic between you and  guests? 

I’m sure Asha [Gomez] has been interviewed a gazillion times, but I don’t know how often she’s been interviewed by another Indian woman who’s also a chef. [During that interview], we’re talking music and she says it might seem strange that she grew up listening to Led Zeppelin [as an Indian person raised in Kerala, India]. And I was like, what’s so strange about that? I was right there with her. And I was able to relate it to people telling me we should play more Bollywood music at Juhu, and being like, “Nah, dude.” 

With [this week’s guest, Nick Cho], we talked about how our fathers are both physicians and we were both immigrants to this country. I think we both went very different paths than our parents had expectations of us going, so we were able to bond about that and find common ground. 

My entire roster for the first season is all BIPOC folks, and most of them are immigrants. So, it’s just like any other thing: If it were tennis players talking to tennis players, the conversation is going to be different if it’s Serena talking to Sharapova versus Serena and Naomi Osaka. You know what I mean? 

I reached a point a while back in my career where I would be like, “Hey, this thing should exist”—and if no one else is going to do it, maybe I just have to be the one to do it, whether that’s making California-Indian street food or doing this podcast.

During your interview with Asha Gomez, she talks about how unsustainable the traditional restaurant model was for her—and how she hated every moment of running her first restaurant even though it was receiving a lot of praise. Did those sentiments resonate with you as a former restaurant chef? Do you think you’ll ever open a brick-and-mortar restaurant again? 

I didn’t hate every moment of it [laughs]. I’m a restaurant person. I went to culinary school and worked in a whole lot of restaurants, and I bought into the whole thing. Throw me on a line right now and make me expedite, and I’d be like, “This is fucking great!” 

A lot of what we’ve experienced in the past year during COVID is seeing how unsustainable the restaurant industry is in its current state. When I first closed [Juhu Beach Club in January of 2018], I was really focused on opening a new Juhu that’s just a little fancier, with a little more space so we can do more with the menu—like, I wanted a proper dessert program. The problem, ultimately, was I was not going to do it in a way that was not going to be sustainable for me and anyone on staff. 

I don’t know that I need to keep scratching that itch, or that I have anything to prove anymore. I’m not saying I wouldn’t do anything again, restaurant wise. I suppose I just don’t necessarily feel as much like I have anything to prove. I think if I do something, it’s going to be something that’s somehow more collectively owned. It’s going to be focused on having other social missions beyond just, “Look at me and this delicious food.”

I love cooking for people. But I don’t need to do it in the sense of, like, “This is my fancy restaurant. Come spend money here so that I can make money.” I need more than that.

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New episodes of Loading Dock Talks go live every Tuesday morning. 

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