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Bon Appétit's New Program Builds On What Fans Love About 'It's Alive'


Brad Leone isn't exactly who I pictured as the star of a food show, especially not one from Bon Appetit magazine, which is a highly curated, posh brand among foodies. Brad Leone is the opposite of those things in all the most charming ways.


BRAD LEONE: Oh, God, Vinny.

Vinny, did you get the insurance?

Oh, God. Oh, God. Oh, cut. Cut, Vin.

(Singing) Just threw a couple of crabby boys, cooking up crab in Alaska (ph). I ain't a good rhymer.

MARTIN: Leone is a big, bearded guy with a Jersey accent. And he could be mistaken for a hipster, but you get the sense that his personal aesthetic is a reflection of a culinary ethos - don't overthink it. He began his professional life as a carpenter, then culinary school in New York and a job doing dishes for Bon Appetit. Not long after that, he was managing their kitchen. And now he is one of Bon Appetit's biggest online stars. His YouTube series called "It's Alive" started as lighthearted adventures in fermentation.


LEONE: Oh, kind of smells like beer a little - a little yeasty in a good way, but nice.

MARTIN: Honestly, the food is secondary to the experience here. Really, it is all about Brad and his general enthusiasm for food and life. So when we found out about his new show "It's Alive: Goin' Places," it seemed like a pretty good excuse to go meet him in person at his test kitchen in New York.


LEONE: How's it going?

MARTIN: It goes well. How are you?

I asked Brad to explain how a dishwasher-turned kitchen manager became a YouTube sensation. He said it had a lot to do with his then cameraman Vincent Cross.

LEONE: They were like, why don't you just take a camera and just, like, go down there and just follow him around? And he did. And that's how we shot the first episode of kombucha, which was a mess. And then it sat on a hard drive in someone's desk for, like, eight months. And then eventually, I guess, Vince, like, talked him into, like, just what's the - just put it out; who cares; like, there's so much garbage on the Internet; like, what do we have to lose?

MARTIN: (Laughter).

LEONE: That's not a quote, but it might be. And so they put it out. And, like, at the time, we didn't - we being Bon Appetit - didn't really have, like, a YouTube presence at all. I mean, I don't...

MARTIN: If you watch Brad's show, you know that he loves a good tangent, which is even more evident when talking with him.

LEONE: 'Cause I don't even own a computer, to tell you the truth. You know, like...

MARTIN: You don't own a computer?

LEONE: No, I got this phone. And it's kind of - I mean, it's better than the first computer I ever had. And it fits in my pocket, so I just kind of rock this thing.

MARTIN: Honestly, by now, I have forgotten what my original question was.

LEONE: You know, when I travel, I got one of those, like, tablets.



LEONE: And I watch the movies on it and stuff - shows. But, like, yeah, I never got - I always wanted one, you know, where I could, like, upload photos.

MARTIN: Right.

LEONE: I have a digital camera. Maybe one day.

MARTIN: Is he more focused when it comes to food? Sort of, but part of the show's charm is that it goes off the rails from time to time.

LEONE: So I was making - I was trying to make a little, like, lambrusco - you know, like, a little - like, a spark - a little red, kind of carbonated Italian wine, you know?

MARTIN: OK. No, I don't know.

LEONE: Oh, it's fantastic. When it's good, it's good.

MARTIN: Sounds delicious. Oh, OK.

LEONE: Well, I did not - mine was not good.


LEONE: But so....


LEONE: So I tried to do it. And, you know, I had like - I had some - added some, like, champagne yeast or something, this grape juice that I got. And it fermented, and it was alcoholic. But I - and I bottled it to carbonate. I'm looking at it, lightly shaking it, looking for, like, little bubbles. This was early and - in fermentation days. And I'm like, man, I think it's a dud; I don't think it worked, you know? And I go - I just literally went to go flip it. And as soon as I touched it, ba-ba-boom (ph). The whole thing, it turned into like - into sand. You know, it just, like, misted. There was red faux lambrusco on the ceiling, on the floor, a little microcut on my face from the glass. Chris was shellshocked - took him two days to talk.

MARTIN: It seriously turned to sand? That's what will happen?

LEONE: Well, no. But, I mean, it just like - there was not - it, like, vaporized.

MARTIN: It vaporized.

LEONE: It turned into sand. We're going to stick with that.

MARTIN: (Laughter).

LEONE: We atomized the entire thing.

MARTIN: So you get a sense of how this whole thing is going. Obviously, we should then inject alcohol into the situation. For his new show, Brad spent some time around Austin, Texas. So to cap off the visit, we made a cocktail - a paloma made out of a spirit called sotol, distilled from a plant that grows in the Texas desert.

LEONE: All right. So first up...


LEONE: ...We're going to mix it with a little grapefruit. OK, I'm going to make a little grapefruit juice.

MARTIN: This is - I want you to know this is a big deal for me.

LEONE: What, grapefruit?

MARTIN: I really hate grapefruit.

LEONE: Oh, no. I love grapefruit.

MARTIN: (Laughter).

LEONE: It's one of the best things in the world.

MARTIN: Seriously?

LEONE: Oh, my God. I love them.

MARTIN: You love them.

LEONE: I can eat one everyday. You hate them. I'm so interested.

MARTIN: It's literally, like, on my top three worst foods.


MARTIN: I'm not going to lie to you if it doesn't taste good.


LEONE: No, it's going to taste great. So we'll do three ounces of grapefruit juice. Let me get our little shaker. And then we're going to do three ounces of the sotol. If you don't have sotol, you could use, you know, tequila or whatever.

MARTIN: Tequila.

LEONE: Hey, before we go - I go pouring it in, give it a smell, though.


LEONE: It's very vegetal.

MARTIN: Vegetal.

LEONE: Yeah.

MARTIN: That's a word?

LEONE: Oh, big - I think.

MARTIN: (Laughter).

LEONE: Actually, I'm the worst person to ask that. I hardly speak English.

MARTIN: (Laughter).

LEONE: No, I'm not kidding.


LEONE: OK, give it a little smell. And then you can give it a little nip, too.

MARTIN: Oh, it smells delicious.

LEONE: Vegetal.

MARTIN: It's totally vegetal.

LEONE: (Laughter).

MARTIN: It's the most vegetal thing I've ever smelled.

LEONE: Excellent. And we're going to add the ginger.


LEONE: And then I got some mint. And then I got a little lime. OK, and then I'll do a little agave.

MARTIN: Right.

LEONE: Just a little.

MARTIN: You could put honey...

LEONE: Yeah. Agave just...

MARTIN: ...Or sugar.

LEONE: Or sugar. I mean, you can put anything.

MARTIN: Right.

LEONE: Or maple syrup even, if you're into that.

MARTIN: Oh, yeah.

LEONE: I love maple syrup. Yeah, no rules. You know, recipes for me have always just been kind of guidelines...

MARTIN: Right.

LEONE: ...Little inspiration pieces.

MARTIN: A road map.

LEONE: Yeah, a little road map. You know, you want to make a right out of nowhere...

MARTIN: I don't know.

LEONE: ...Go ahead and do it.


LEONE: You've got to live a little.

MARTIN: (Laughter).

LEONE: All right, so we've got our muddled stuff in there - a little ginger, lime, mint. OK. I'm going to add the grapefruit juice. All right, yummo (ph).


LEONE: I'm going to add the booze - the sotol. All right. Oh, a little wild card, too. I like to - no one's doing this. No one seasons their drinks, but they season everything else - a little pinch of salt.

MARTIN: A little salt.

LEONE: Yeah.

MARTIN: I love salt.

LEONE: You didn't see that coming. (Laughter) You love salt.

MARTIN: I totally didn't.

LEONE: That's an essential mineral.

MARTIN: That's a big left turn for me. OK.

LEONE: So we're going to - just a little pinch in there. I think that's nice. And then a little ice. And then we'll give it a little shaky-shake (ph), and then I'll pour you a drink here.

MARTIN: It's very pretty.

LEONE: Yeah. I mean, maybe you should - give it a shot. And then let me try it after.

MARTIN: That is so good.

LEONE: Converted her. Fan of grapefruit.

MARTIN: You know why? 'Cause it doesn't taste like grapefruit.

LEONE: Right. Is it good? Is it to boozy?


LEONE: No (laughter).

MARTIN: It tastes like the best parts of the sotol have just been elevated.

LEONE: All right. I can get into that.

MARTIN: I don't know. I'm just making stuff up. It's really yum.

LEONE: It sounded great. It's actually pretty good.

MARTIN: Isn't it?

LEONE: Oh, I kind of shocked myself here.


MARTIN: That's Brad Leone of Bon Appetit. You can watch his show "It's Alive: Goin' Places." Look for it on Apple TV or wherever you stream your shows.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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