This Thursday, November 22, at 9 a.m., millions of Americans will switch on NBC to watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Then, at noon, once Santa Claus has wrapped things up with his ride past Central Park and down Sixth Avenue, the true Thanksgiving pros — those who are experts in consuming comforting holiday content — will tune their radio dials to the local NPR station for The Splendid Table’s annual T-Day call-in extravaganza, “Turkey Confidential.” They will be rewarded with two hours of dulcet public radio conversation, hosted by the wonderful Francis Lam, and featuring well-known chefs and food media personalities offering their sage advice that will help listeners successfully navigate the biggest home-cooking day of the year.
“It’s turkey triage,” Lam said in the opening to last year’s special. “Call us for help on anything you need, turkey or otherwise: what to do with lumpy gravy, or what to do with grumpy family. We’re here to talk and hopefully help you out. Or, just call us with a great story.”
This is Lam’s first time at the helm of “Turkey Confidential” on his own. He took over American Public Media’s The Splendid Table in 2017, providing relief to retiring longtime host Lynne Rossetto Kasper, an icon of the medium who launched the show on Minnesota Public Radio in 1994. The duo co-hosted last time around, spending time on air with a lineup that included chefs Lidia Bastianich and Marcus Samuelsson, comedian-actor Amy Sedaris, and Dan Souza of America’s Test Kitchen.
One caller was concerned about a funky smell coming from their turkey. No need to worry, Samuelsson advised: that funk was more than likely only skin deep and related to the bird’s air-tight packaging. A spicy rub would be a great way to lean into it. Another caller didn’t try the family turkey, which was cooked on an oven’s lowest temperature for two days, and worried she missed out on a delicacy. Lam consoled her, speculating the only thing she missed out on was a trip to the hospital.
Bastianich explained that a crab bisque spiked with sherry vinegar instead of cooking sherry could be saved: add some honey and something smokey, and turn it into a sweet-and-sour dish. After allowing time for her colleagues to answer the queries, Kasper routinely chimed in with a “what if you” or “how about” or “you know, I might try,” sharing her take on the problem. These instructions, presented so casually, seemed to be right off the top of her head, but also perfectly suited to the questions.
There are many places to turn for amateur cooks in need of advice on the holiday. The most famous is the Butterball Turkey Talk-Line, which now doles out counseling via text message and Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant for those young adults who may hold deep-seated anxieties over talking on the phone. Countless podcasts and television shows with innumerable recipe ideas are available too, but those pre-recorded episodes only help with advance menu planning. Just about every caller who phones in to “Turkey Confidential” has a tinge of panic in their voice, which is to be expected when the Thanksgiving game plan is being altered at the last minute. Only this show employs a live panel of experts who share on-demand opinions with the jovial familiarity of good friends and family.
For listeners who are easing through their dinner preparations, the tips and tricks are nice — maybe even a source of inspiration for next year’s meal. The real joy of the show, what makes it appointment content, is the warm blanket of bittersweet reminiscence.
“When my mom was alive, she would always make baklava, and that would always last throughout Christmas,” Sedaris, the host of surreal homemaking TruTV series, At Home With Amy Sedaris, said last year, recalling her favorite Thanksgiving memories. “I remember how she would space it out, like the timing of when she would cook — she’d have a whole calendar out, and then she’d start making things — and the buildup to Thanksgiving. I miss my family sitting around the table and talking for hours and hours.”
That right there, thinking about the times gone by and salving over the corresponding sadness with another glass of wine, is what the metronome of the fall-to-winter holidays is all about. So many can instantly relate to Sedaris’s story, even though the details of their own lives are different. It’s easy to wish for the way things used to be.
Kasper will be missed in her hosting role, but Lam has proven to be a worthy heir to the Splendid Table microphone, and there should be no doubt he will carry on the “Turkey Confidential” tradition. Nevertheless, Kasper isn’t staying too far away. She’ll call in as a guest this year, as will New York Times columnist Dorie Greenspan, chef and PBS host Pati Jinich, and Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat creator and food-world star of the moment Samin Nosrat. If Nosrat’s dinner plans are any indication — she’s serving Dungeness crab, fried chicken and “lots of vegetables” this Thanksgiving — she will surely give puzzled callers a fresh perspective on their meals.
The Splendid Table’s tagline is a self declaration: “The radio show for people who love to eat.” Doesn’t that sound like the best way to spend two hours on a national holiday for people who love to eat?