“The last thing Paul McCartney wants to discuss is rock ’n’ roll,” says Ruthie Rogers, C.B.E., chef and owner of the River Cafe in London.
Such is the proposition behind Rogers’s first podcast, River Cafe Table 4. The name is a nod to the most requested seat in her celebrated West London restaurant, where many of her guests in the series have dined. It’s also a reference to the classic hostess line “A table for … ”—uttered when patrons enter.
“If I’d asked Al Gore about sustainability or David Beckham to talk about football or Paul McCartney about the Beatles, they probably would have said, ‘No, I’ve been there and done that,’” explains Rogers. But when it comes to food, she says, “they look back on those memories in interesting ways.”
The idea for a podcast first came to Rogers about 10 years ago. “Ian McKellen did a charity event in our house, and he read a sonnet from Shakespeare, an essay by Proust, he sang a song, then he told an anecdote, and at the end he read a [River Cafe] soup recipe,” she recalls. “It was so beautiful to listen to that we thought, Well, what about the idea of reading a recipe?” The podcast incorporates plenty of those, in addition to banter between Rogers and her guests about food, culture, travel, and more.
For Rogers, food is about so much more than nourishment—it’s a window into our values, passions, and worldview. To this end, Rogers often uses questions about comfort food to spark provocative conversations.
“Did your mother cook for you, or did your father cook? Did you have family meals, or did you, like Pete Davidson, cook for himself because his mom had a job as a nurse?” asks Rogers, rhetorically. “Food is about memory.”
Instead of focusing her attentions on fellow chefs and restaurateurs, Rogers looked to the high-profile actors, musicians, artists, and athletes who frequent River Cafe. Michael Caine, Beckham, Norman Foster, and Cary Joji Fukunaga are all among the guests in River Cafe Table 4’s first season. And all of them find plenty to dish about.
A new episode of River Cafe Table 4 is released every Tuesday
Bridget Arsenault is the London Editor for Air Mail