Omaha’s dining culture has only grown as rich and vibrant as it has in the last decade because of the relationships the chefs, cooks, front of house staff and owners have managed to build with local diners. While every effort is being made to safely bring these elements back together, many are looking for new ways to hear from the other side.
Serving as a medium, podcasts are becoming increasingly common, and cover a variety of perspectives. This month, The Reader is highlighting three of our favorite local Pod People. If you have a local podcast you think we should check out, email Sara@TheReader.com for a mention on our Instagram.
For the Discerning Diner
Restaurant Hoppen https://restauranthoppen.com/
Dan Hoppen actively refers to himself as “not a food critic”, and it would be fair to agree with him. Rather than criticizing the work, staff, style and service of any particular restaurant, Hoppen uses his platform to boost the signals of those getting it right. You’ll find superlative lists naming his official “best of” in a number of categories, as well as interviews with the teams bringing you Omaha’s favorite dishes.
While his website has been active since 2015, his podcast is a relative newcomer to the scene. That doesn’t mean he’s shy on content. At the time of publication, Dan already had 70 episodes for his followers to peruse.
Hoppen said the venture started as a way to talk about Omaha’s food scene. Over time it evolved into a way to talk with the chefs and understand their personal experiences and the stories behind the food.
“When you can relate and say ‘I really liked that chef’ and you know where they stand, it humanizes them,” he said. “I like to pull back the curtain, show the back of the house. It helps people gain perspective and to truly respect what’s going on to bring food to their table. What goes on to create their experience.”
Dan’s passion for finding the best in the industry has made him a trusted ally to the food (and food-adjacent) community.
Listen to the Restaurant Hoppen podcast here: https://restauranthoppen.com/podcast/
For the Hungry Heart
The Open Kitchen Podcast
Between his own experience in international kitchens, and his position as chef/instructor and mentor in Metro’s Culinary Arts Program, Chef Brian O’Malley has taken a sharp look at the dangers of living on the culinary cutting edge.
“There is this emotional terrorism in the kitchen,” he said. “People running kitchens who were really hazed and abused when they were on their way up. They continued to operate under this assumption that you really do need to ride your team that hard. It sickens me a little bit that while we’re praising people for their craftsmanship, we forget that ‘chef’ means ‘chief.’ We should be judging them as much on how they lead their crew as how their plates are presented.”
O’Malley never shies away from acknowledging that the aggressive nature of the kitchen comes not only from caricatured names like Gordon Ramsay, but by the systems in place that actively reward those who drive their staff to the breaking point.
“James Beard doesn’t come in and interview your staff to see if they’re being taken care of,” he said. “They don’t see the back, the gristmill that runs and chews up personnel. We need to be better at leadership, and we’re not yet. It was time to start having really honest conversations about where we’ve screwed up, and how we can walk it back.”
While O’Malley side-steps the calling out of any local names in an official capacity, the soothing vibe of his podcast slips easily in and out of admiration for past students and team members who have created kitchens where a team has the capacity to thrive.
O’Malley’s passion for seeing the next generation of kitchen craftsmen leading a better lifestyle is more than lip-service, and became part of the culinary curriculum under his tutelage.
In the latest edition of The Open Kitchen, O’Malley and Kevin Shinn discussed the shared nurture culture that restaurant staff generally feel for their clients. Without those experiences, chefs and diners are missing out on the rich love affair they’d been enjoying with Omaha’s wildly talented and deeply caring cooks.
“That’s the goal of this is to get into places and listen to (kitchen staff) tell those stories of how they entrust and empower and believe in their crew, in order to find a way to be successful,” he said.
The guys behind Faturday Omaha on PodBean are pure spoken food porn. Sam, Dave and TJ use their cast to talk about food they like, food Omaha likes, food the chefs who make the food Omaha likes… like. They talk about what’s best, what’s biggest, what’s the most fun thing to eat. Listening is either a whole lot of fun, or a whole lot of frustration, depending on your hunger level at the time you’ve wandered into their episode about Umami.
With sixty episodes currently available to choose from, you’ll find something to sink your teeth into. Listen to Faturday Omaha at https://faturdayomaha.podbean.com/
Humor and Insight
Restaurant Tales Podcast
If this isn’t enough to satisfy your cast craving, be sure to check out Restaurant Tales at https://www.restauranttalespodcast.com/
This team has served in every capacity a kitchen offers, and are bringing their perspective straight to your ears. This pod is as fun as it is enlightening. Confessions of a Server has made me literally laugh out loud, and not just breathe a little more forcefully out of my nose like I usually do when I say “lol.”
We hope you have found a way to feel more connected to the things, people, hobbies and places that you love during quarantine. Thank you for always sticking with The Reader. If we didn’t have you to talk to, we may well have gone insane by now.