When we last left the irreverent Robicellis in the first part of their Special Sauce interview, they had decided to leave Brooklyn, their beloved hometown. I wondered why Allison and Matt decided on on Baltimore. “It feels like the New York I grew up in,” Allison says. “It is an inherently broken city. Everything is broken and if you’re a creative type like me, there’s nothing more electric than that. Because everything is a possibility. Everything about your life has stakes. Everything is fun, you know?”
The move to Baltimore actually made the Robicellis’ podcast, the Robicelli Argument Clinic, possible. Allison says, “When I was in New York, we talked about doing a podcast for a while, and everything was like, ‘Well you need to pay this person all this money, and we need to monetize, and who are our sponsors?'” But that changed after the move. “In Baltimore,” Alison says, “you meet other people who are like, ‘Let’s just do this stuff because we want to.’ The art scene there is incredible. Everybody has something to say. Everything influences you.”
But moving was important for their personal lives, too. “It was really important for us to bring our kids to a city that had problems,” Allison says. “Brooklyn was so messed up when I was a kid. I mean, we had, like, 21 hundred murders when I was in fifth grade. We had riots and all these things. And I’m like, ‘If I teach my kids just to sit on Facebook and ignore these problems, or just have ideas about these problems while they’re in a gated community, that’s bullshit. I want my kids to be better than us.'”
Baltimore has been great for the kids for many reasons. “The way that they think, their empathy level, their ideas of how to be people and how to be solutions to problems and how to think big. The school that they go to, we’ve got kids there who…We raised money for a washer/dryer, so kids would have a place to do laundry for those who couldn’t afford it. You know? And in Brooklyn, people would raise money for lacrosse uniforms. But my kids need to know that. My kids need to understand that they’re such a part of something bigger, and the world isn’t always perfect, but just by existing, by doing the right things every day and being motivated, we make huge differences.”
To hear more of the Robicellis’ brand of manic, madcap genius, you’re going to have to listen to part two of their Special Sauce interview.
You Could Be on Special Sauce
Want to chat with me and our unbelievably talented recipe developers? We’re accepting questions for Special Sauce call-in episodes now. Do you have a recurring argument with your spouse over the best way to maintain a cast iron skillet? Have you been working on your mac and cheese recipe for the past five years, but can’t quite get it right? Does your brother-in-law make the worst lasagna, and you want to figure out how to give him tips? We want to get to know you and solve all your food-related problems. Send us the whole story at [email protected].
Ed Levine: Welcome to Special Sauce, Serious Eats’ podcast about food and life. Every week on Special Sauce, we talk to some of the leading lights of American culture: food folks and non-food-folks alike.
Allison Robicelli: Everything needed to be new. You couldn’t make something and then enjoy it. It had to be crazy or over top and extreme, and then once you made it, it was like something else new! So we invented this thing called Jump The Shark Summer. It was satire on everything. And then it blew up; we became the people that we hated. To this day, people are like, “Alison Robicelli, you’re famous for Nutella lasagna!” I’m like, “No, I’m not!”
Matt Robicelli: I’m gonna tell you, my favorite one was the Vafel Cake.
AR: The Vafel Cake.
MR: So it was kind of like a Lady M. cake with, like-
AR: Well, the crepe cake, yeah.
MR: But we made it out of Norwegian waffles.
AR: It was so good.
MR: So it was really a great thing. It could’ve taken off. But the one people went with was the Nutella.
EL: We are back with the first couple of cupcakes. You like that? You like the first couple of cupcakes?
AR: I hate cupcakes-
MR: Yeah, I really don’t like that.
AR: We could be the first couple of something.
EL: Okay, you’re the first couple of New York Baltimore transplants.
EL: All right.
AR: There’s lots of us. There’s surprisingly a lot of us, so-
EL: All right. We’re back with Allison and Matt Robicelli, and you’ve just had it with New York, right?
EL: You’re just done with New York, you’ve got two little kids-
MR: The little thing on the turkey popped.
AR: Yeah. I just like-
EL: The little thing on the turkey popped. You’ve got two little kids. You’re struggling to keep the business profitable-
AR: I’m struggling to keep my head-
EL: And to keep sane.
EL: Yeah. So you decide you’re gonna move, so why Baltimore?
AR: Because, okay, first thing I did is, I went on Facebook and I said, “Somebody give me one frickin’ reason to stay in New York.” And I got a hundred responses from friends saying to get out, I hate it, blah blah blah blah… And one of my best friends on Earth, his name is Dylan Jones, he’ll love that he’s getting name-checked here… Dylan was a local dad who also ended up working for Food Network. He was a chief communications officer. And he had to move to Knoxville.
EL: Yes, because that’s where scripts was.
AR: Yes. And Dylan was from London and worked in the music industry, and then was in New York. And he’s moving to Knoxville, so god, the jokes I made. So many jokes. And then after he moves, he texts me three weeks later. And he’s like, “You need to get out.” He’s like, “It’s like Stockholm Syndrome. You don’t realize it. You need to get out.” And I was busting his balls; I was like, “No! I’m never leaving!” And then a couple of weeks later, I met Joe Sparatta, a chef down in Richmond, Virginia, and he’s like, “No, seriously. Allison. You need to leave. The life outside is beautiful.”
AR: So I went on Facebook, everybody’s saying this, and I was like, “You know what?” I’m like, “We just gotta do something dramatic, ’cause I’m gonna die here.” And I said, “Okay, so where do I go?” You know, you grow up in New York and you know… You try to leave and there’s New Jersey, and you’re like, “Fuck this, I’m going back!” So I said, “Where do I go?” And all these recommendations are popping up and somebody says, “Baltimore.” And I was like, “I’ve seen the Yankees play there, but I have no idea what’s in this city.” And-
MR: And we had never seen The Wire.
MR: Up to that point.
EL: You’d never seen The Wire?
AR: Never seen The Wire.
MR: To that point.
AR: But somebody, she was like, “I can hook you up with a developer who wants to open up a bakery down here, and why don’t you come and check out the city?” And we went and within an hour, we were crazy about it! I just came up a couple hours ago, and I’m going back tonight. It’s super close to New York. I’m in D.C. in less time than it takes to get from Brooklyn to Queens; I’m in Philly in an hour and a half, which is like getting from Brooklyn to Queens. I’ve seen what happened to the subway. I’m sorry, guys.
AR: It feels like the New York I grew up in. It is an inherently broken city. Everything is broken and if you’re a creative type like me, there’s nothing more electric than that. Because everything is a possibility. Everything about your life has stakes. Everything is fun, you know? Here’s a great example: Back to the podcast, The Robicelli Argument Clinic. When I was in New York, we talked about doing a podcast for a while, and everything was like, “Well you need to pay this person all this money, and we need to monetize, and who are our sponsors?” And I was like, “This is a full-time job!” And with this podcast, I was saying on Twitter, “God, I’m like ‘We really should do this!'” And my friend Evan’s like, “I have equipment. Let’s do it!” And I was talking to a friend of mine last week about publicizing it, and she was like, “What are your goals? How much money do you want to make? This and that…” And I’m like, “You know what? I just want to have fun.” I forgot what it’s like to do stuff ’cause you love it! And we just love talking about food, and we love making jokes. I’m like, “Yeah, sure it’ll help my books, or this or that.” But at the end of the day, if it was in New York, everything needed to be monetized.
EL: Got it.
AR: In Baltimore, you meet other people who are like, “Let’s just do this stuff because we want to.” The art scene there is incredible. Everybody has something to say. Everything influences you. And the other thing I loved about Baltimore is, we have all these horrible, horrible problems in the world… This is before… God, we moved on my birthday, which was August first 2016-
MR: And then the truck wasn’t big enough, so we moved again-
MR: On August second.
AR: That was fun. But again, this was-
EL: That’s kind of a fundamental mistake.
AR: Yeah, this was still… We were moving down there with an Obama presidency and figuring a Clinton or Sanders presidency after that, and we thought everything was gonna be great and smooth sailing. But it was really important for us to bring our kids to a city that had problems. Brooklyn was so messed up when I was a kid. I mean, we had like, 21 hundred murders when I was in fifth grade. We had riots and all these things. And I’m like, “If I teach my kids just to sit on Facebook and ignore these problems, or just have ideas about these problems while they’re in a gated community, that’s bullshit. I want my kids to be better than us.” ‘Cause their generation’s fucked. So fucked!
EL: Better in, naturally, the financial way, but in a spiritual way.
AR: In a spiritual way.
MR: Every way.
AR: Every single way. The way that they think, their empathy level, their ideas of how to be people and how to be solutions to problems and how to think big. The school that they go to, we’ve got kids there who… We raised money for a washer/dryer, so kids would have a place to do laundry for those who couldn’t afford it. You know? And in Brooklyn, people would raise money for lacrosse uniforms. But my kids need to know that. My kids need to understand that they’re such a part of something bigger, and the world isn’t always perfect, but just by existing, by doing the right things every day and being motivated, we make huge differences.
EL: The people I know that live in Baltimore, which include the creator of The Wire, David Simon, because he’s married to Laura Lippman, who’s a great crime novelist who lives in Baltimore, and they were both reporters at the Baltimore Sun for many, many years, so-
AR: Still a great paper. Follow Justin Fenton on Twitter, if you haven’t.
EL: But they also love Baltimore. They still live there; that’s where they raised their daughter-
AR: So does John Waters. He still lives there, too. We saw him a couple weeks ago.
MR: For Valentine’s Day. We went to a nice, intimate little gathering-
AR: Local club, yeah. And-
MR: With John Waters and he complains about life and how, and guilt, and-
AR: He does it every year.
MR: It was great.
AR: And someone asked him, they said, “Why do you still live here?” And he’s like, “This is the only city that’s still affordable enough to have a Bohemia!” It’s the only place on the East Coast with a Bohemia! And everybody in Baltimore, no matter what you’re doing, if it’s art, if it’s working at the Social Security Administration, or a Starbucks. Everything you do matters. Everything has stakes. ‘Cause we’re all part of this bigger broken organism and you can have ideas and shoot the moon. And if it fails, it fails! And if it works, that’s something brand new! And I just want everything I do, but especially for my kids to do, to matter and make everything a little bit better somehow.
EL: So did you open the ba-… You opened the bake shop?
MR: No, we didn’t. We never actually did.
EL: You didn’t?
AR: Because that’s what happens… So we had all these plans; we closed the store, it was New Year’s Eve, and February was when the thing happened with his heart. And we found out we had pericarditis. They sent him home. Couple weeks later, he can’t breathe. It spread to his lungs.
MR: Still spread to my left lung.
AR: So he’s hospitalized for a week and they’re just telling us, “It’s a freak infection! Who knows what it is? He just had some bad luck.” I was like, “Listen. He has bad luck a lot. I’ve been with him many years.” I think a decade at that point. He goes in with random kidney infections, this and that, and people are super fatphobic; I almost got escorted out of the ICU by security ’cause a nurse pulls me out and she’s like, “You need to stop feeding your husband so much delicious food.” And I’m like, “Listen. I know my husband’s fat. I also know everything he eats! And he doesn’t eat that much! I know my husband throws up all the time. I know my husband will go on a diet and gain weight. And every doctor I’ve talked to just says ‘The problem’s he’s fat.’ Maybe that’s a symptom.” We ended up having to go to a different hospital because-
EL: This is in Baltimore.
AR: No, this is in Brooklyn.
EL: Oh, this is in Brooklyn.
AR: This is in Brooklyn. And that’s when we’re like, “We have to shut every…” And by this point we’ve closed the bakery; we’ve closed everything. We’re ready to move, and now I’m like, “What the hell am I doing?” I’m like, “I’m moving a city and my husband’s in the hospital.” And then he got better. Then I wrote the essay about him for Food52 which was great, and then two weeks later, he wakes up screaming. We go to the hospital and now it’s spread to his liver. It came back in his heart and in his lungs, and now it’s in his gallbladder, his liver, his pancreas, and they don’t know what’s up. And they stop feeding him and they’re just pumping him full of drugs. And they were like, “We can’t explain this. It was something weird.” And I was like, “I can’t do this. I can’t.”
MR: I was in a Kosher hospital for this, and the only thing I could eat was Jell-O.
AR: And that Kosher Jell-O was not good-
MR: Oh my god, Kosher Jell-O is terrible.
AR: But Maimonides-
MR: And they only had orange.
AR: That’s the worst part!
MR: Also my roommate thought he was a cat with no teeth, and he would always order fish. It smelled terrible. He would lap it up ’cause he had… It was just the worst frickin’… I’m not even gonna make the sound on radio, ’cause it’s one of the top five sounds not to make on radio.
AR: You know, all the stuff where you remember during the week, where you’re crying in a stairwell, and like-
EL: So that’s when you eventually moved to Baltimore.
MR: That’s when we moved to Baltimore.
AR: So then we moved and Matt was doing a little bit of consulting work here and there. I started food writing, because I had no idea what to do. And I knew I knew how to write, so I called some friends in publishing. And a lot of people stepped up and gave me work, and they were like, “We love you. We’ve got you and Matt through this.” And then we just started seeing specialist after specialist, and they had… One doctor knew what it was. And then the next doctor was like, “No, it’s wrong.” And he’s sort of like a guinea pig. They just give him medicine and hope it works out. Last year, somebody diagnosed him with Still’s disease, which is super rare and super deadly-
MR: And then wrong.
AR: And then they put him on a bunch of medicine and then the medicine made him so sick, he was crazy. Like putting his fist through walls and stuff, and I called the doctor, and I’m like, “This is not my husband.” He’s like, “Well, you know, he needs it to live.” I’m like, “But that’s not him! It’s crazy. This medicine’s not working.” So then we go to Johns Hopkins, and we figure, “This is the best hospital in the world. They’re gonna help us.” And they’re like, “We don’t know!” And I’m like, “How do you guys not know?”
EL: Does Bloomberg knows of this? He gave you guys a lot of money.
AR: Yeah. But they listen to us. I go in and I just told her all the ways that doctors have shut me down for 14 years. And they were like, “We get it.” They’re a research hospital, and they’re like, “There’s still so much we don’t know. There’s still so much we don’t know about the 9/11 shit.” And they’re like, “It’s a puzzle, but we’re gonna keep you together.” So how many pills do you take every day?
MR: In the morning?
MR: One, two, three, four, five… 28.
AR: 28 pills in the morning. And how many at night?
EL: Look at that, man! You’re going wide at night.
MR: And a shot.
EL: And a shot.
MR: Six and a shot.
AR: Yeah. And he can no longer eat dairy; he can no longer eat sugar. And that was just nuts. It was like, “Okay, so-“
MR: The cupcakes were killing me.
EL: So were you food consulting? And didn’t you open at one point a vegan bakeshop?
MR: We are part owners in a vegan malt shop that’s actually in Brooklyn, New York.
AR: Just kind of a crazy, crazy, crazy story. So, right as we closed Robicelli’s, we got approached by this guy, Dan Rowe, who is the CEO of a company called Fransmart. Dan is the guy who took Five Guys from five locations to a billion. He did this… he’s the guy behind the Halal Guys franchise. Hummus and Pita Company. And he’s like, “I want to do Robicelli’s all over the world.” So we sign a contract; we’re like, “That’s it! We made it! We did it!” And then Matt got sick the week after. But Dan and I have stayed in touch and we have… I learned all about how to franchise and scale businesses but do it well and responsibly from him. And we had all these plans to do Robicelli’s and… Our friends David and Patty, they are the owners of Oaxaca Taqueria. It’s a small chain in New York, and when you’re a food business owner, especially if you’re a married couple, these people kind of become your family. ‘Cause nobody understands your life. Our friends don’t, our families don’t, but there’s a special connection. So we’ve been close for ages. And they wanted a franchise. And I spoke to Dan about it, and he’s like, “Well, why don’t you guys come on board and do this together, because you know a lot about the expansion and what it takes to keep making and refine the menu.” And then David was opening up a vegan concept. ‘Cause David literally had a heart attack at the Department of Health! Right there. And we were slowly eating a more vegan diet and a vegetable-heavy diet. And he’s like, “Do you want to work on us with this?” So we have a small minority percentage-
EL: Got it.
AR: The hardest thing, when he stopped eating sugar and dairy… The withdrawal you go through, oh my god!
EL: Yeah, I believe that.
AR: We talk about sugar being like a drug, but I’ve seen people get off… I’m sober what, like four years now. I had less problem detoxing off alcohol than you did off sugar. It was terrifying.
EL: Wow, that’s crazy. So when you say you were consulting, Matt, were you consulting for restaurants, or-
MR: Yeah, I was consulting for a couple restaurants. I helped them change their menu, you know. Just like other consultants, they don’t listen and change their menus back, and then they go, “Why are we not making money?” I’m like, “Well, ’cause you didn’t want to change.”
AR: Consulting, I thought it would be an easier job than it is. It’s a lot of drawing a horse to water, begging them to drink, then they don’t. They die and then they blame you. So-
EL: And you’re writing now?
AR: I am writing… God, what have I been doing this past year? I’ve been doing consulting as well. Writing, working on some book ideas, spending a lot of time with my kids. 2018 was hard for me; I suffer from a type of depression… It used to be known as manic depression, and now it’s called bipolar II. And people always freak out when I say “bipolar,” and I didn’t talk about this for a long time, even though I’ve been dealing with this since I was 13. So bipolar II is not like the stuff you see on Homeland, or the people like, “Oh god, you’re crazy!” But-
MR: She is crazy.
AR: In my own charming way. But with bipolar II, I’ll go manic for a few weeks. And manic for me is like how you feel after you’ve had one too many cups of coffee. And I’m crazy creative, and I get all this stuff done, and my life is great, and I have ADD so it’s a wild ride. And then I crash, and I get depressed. The best way I could describe it’s like, pretend you have a car. And you have exactly amount of gas to get from one stop to the next destination. And normal people just drive 60 miles per hour, responsible, get there, refuel. When you have bipolar, you slam on the gas. You just floor it. And you just go, and then you run out of gas and you have to push it the rest of the way. So last year, I went-
EL: That’s really cool. I like that.
AR: You’re welcome. So last year I had gotten a… I went into a depressive phase in January, and then it just wasn’t getting better. And I start adjusting my medication and this and that, and god, last year, I pretty much lost the year to depression. I was incredibly suicidal. I wasn’t writing. I really wasn’t functioning. Went to the doctor in November and this is my idiot self: So my doctor… I used to be a vegetarian, until I got cancer and my doctor said, “You have to start eating meat.” And we were weaning off of meat because of all of Matt’s health problems. So I got involved with this vegan restaurant and I’m doing this… My anemia, ’cause my body, because of the cancer I don’t process non-meat sources of iron as well. No matter how much you vegans say, “Oh, you can get iron from lentils.” I can’t get enough iron from lentils.
MR: And you don’t want her having too many lentils.
EL: No, no. You don’t want anyone having too many lentils.
MR: No, that’s true.
EL: It sure is.
AR: I live with three guys, though. So the smell is… I could really just make it better at this point. It’s horrible in there. But yeah, in your blood, you should have… Your iron levels should be between 25 and 50 percent. Mine were at four.
EL: So this doctor diagnosed this.
AR: Yeah, and he’s like, “Your anemia has gotten completely out of control and that’s what’s affecting everything.” My hair was getting brittle, this and that. But when you have depression, you can’t really be proactive about stuff. It’s this catch-22, where it’s like, “I know I’m getting sick, and I know I’m miserable, but I’m depressed. I can’t get myself to the doctor. I can’t write. I can’t…” And I’m raising two kids. And I’m kind of going through the motions, and there’s days where I’m just putting on a brave face for everyone and being Alison Robicelli! You know, ’cause-
MR: It’s like the Abilify commercial.
AR: I don’t remember this commercial. You watch a lot of Price is Right, so it’s on during that, right?
MR: But you know what? I’m on Abilify now. And I give it… It’s amazing.
AR: Fantastic. I’m proud. Yeah, you know? I’m known for being really funny, and funny people are funny ’cause we’re also the saddest people. So I’m getting some surgery in a couple weeks; I’m getting my uterus blasted with a laser!
MR: And I’m getting snipped.
AR: Yes, so yes, we’re completely nonfunctional, kids!
MR: There will be no more Robicelli’s children coming into this world-
AR: Thank god.
EL: And no more Robicelli’s cupcakes, either!
AR: I never want to make one again. People-
MR: Buy the cookbook and make them your damn self.
AR: Make them yourself.
MR: Everyone’s grandmother used to make them all the time back in the day. Now I gave you 50 great enjoyable adult typed recipes; now make them!
AR: Well, people keep asking when the bakery’s gonna come back, and I keep saying, “When I have a partner.” ‘Cause I can’t do it alone. He can’t do it alone. The people we were gonna work with in Baltimore ended up wanting us to work a lot more than we had initially agreed to. And I’m like, “I just can’t phys-“… I mean, I got also hit by a car a couple weeks before Hurricane Sandy happened. So my back is shot. I can’t work for more than a couple hours without having to sit down or having bad spasms. I’m just falling apart. I’m 38 years old and I’m friggin’ held together with spit and duct tape.
EL: But Baltimore has been kind of a saving grace for you, it seems like.
AR: I love it.
MR: I love it so much.
AR: Oh my god.
MR: It is, like our really dilapidated bus benches say, “the greatest city in America.”
AR: It’s beautiful. It’s the flaws. I see a lot of beauty in broken things. I always have, ’cause I’m a horribly broken person. But I just wish I’d moved there sooner. It makes me so happy. The people there make me happy. Where it is… We’re in the middle of… We’re kind of in the “hood,” but then 15 minutes away, we have a swimming hole with waterfalls.
EL: Yeah, that was the thing I noticed about Baltimore, is that you can drive for 15 minutes and be in the country.
AR: There’s horse country!
MR: Oh yeah. Horse country.
AR: 20 minutes away, there’s a horse sanctuary! You can go and pet the horsies, you know?
EL: Yeah. So what the hell is Robicelli Studios?
MR: So pretty much the way that we’re going forward with Robicelli’s is that… I realized the thing I love doing most is puzzles.
AR: It was all the side projects we had. That was the fun part.
MR: And it was all the… We had tons of side projects, and I like fixing problems for people. So if you have a culinary problem with a restaurant, I can fix it. Or we do recipe development for different people. We also do… Allison does her writing. I don’t know how to write, so I don’t really do that stuff.
AR: Well, he helps with the recipe development, like-
MR: Well, I do that stuff, and then I go in and I fix people’s problems.
AR: But it’s always really worked with us well. Because when you’re married, you don’t really have a filter. We’ve been together way too long to have filters. And we also know the best that each other can do. So we’re always pushing each other to be better, so we’ll try a recipe out and I’ll be like, “You have to do this, this, and that.” And he’ll do the same for me. Or I’ll be writing and I’m like, “I have a joke, but it’s not that good.” And we’ll bat it back and forth. And we just keep trying to make everything better and better.
AR: So yeah, all the stuff that I really liked doing at Robicelli’s, it wasn’t the operations. It wasn’t the baking. I love speaking and I love podcasting and I love writing and I like making people laugh.
EL: So it became just kind of the package for you two.
MR: Yeah, exactly. So we are who we are, so that’s what you’re gonna get. And whatever problem you have, we’ll fix it. We’ll solve it.
EL: I love it. So-
MR: We’re the new Cellino and Barnes. But we’re not attorneys.
AR: Call 888-2020!
EL: So you are both known as food activists. You are not shy about expressing your opinions about things that have gone on in the food world. Where do you think we are today in the food culture, and what issues do you think need to be confronted immediately, and how, and by whom?
MR: I am gonna start off with my opinion, and I am gonna go with-
AR: I’ll tell you if it’s right or not.
MR: Yeah, thank you, honey. Thanks. And then we’ll just cut it out of this. So-
EL: Yeah, yeah.
AR: No, no, people need to know if you’re wrong. Go ahead.
MR: I feel that we need to really just take a step back. And just kind of pause.
AR: That’s your answer on everything.
MR: Hold on. No. Because everyone’s moving too fast. In this whole “who has to be the next big best blah blah blah,” no. It doesn’t. What happened when food was food, and it gave you memories, and this and that? Not Instagram posts, and not, you know-
EL: It’s true.
AR: That drove me crazy, like the famous Nutella lasagna… That was a joke. We were making fun of the fact that everything needed to be new. You couldn’t make something and then enjoy it; it had to be crazy or over top and extreme, and then once you made it, it was like “Something else new!” So we invented this thing called Jump The Shark Summer. And it was, every week we did some sort of satire-
MR: And that was one of the things that we did.
AR: Yeah. But it was satire on everything. And then it blew up. And then we became the people that we hated. To this day, people are like, “Alison Robicelli! You’re famous for Nutella lasagna!” I’m like, “No, I’m not!”
EL: Nutella lasagna’s so great-
AR: Do you know what was great about it?
MR: No, no, I’m gonna-
AR: ‘Cause Nutella ends with -la, and lasagna starts with la-.
EL: And I’m sure it was truly terrible.
AR: It was good!
MR: No, it was actually really good!
AR: It was great! It was like a kugel!
MR: Lot of people… I was gonna say, it’s exactly like a kugel.
AR: It’s a kugel! You know?
EL: Got it, okay.
AR: But, you become-
MR: But off that little thing that we did in the bakery, I’m gonna tell you, my favorite one was the Vafel Cake.
AR: The Vafel Cake!
MR: So it was kind of like a Lady M. Cake, with like-
AR: Like a crepe cake, yeah.
MR: But we made it out of Norwegian waffles.
AR: It was so good. So good! But I mean like-
MR: I mean, it was delicious! It was really a great thing. It could’ve taken off, but the one people went with was the Nutella.
AR: And then everything becomes, “So what’s next after Nutella lasagna?” I was like, “That’s ridi-…” This is where we are. We’re constantly on this treadmill.
EL: Yeah, we’re on the next big thing, and that’s an Instagram… You know, I mean, I used to get Serious Eats. You guys really do these deep dives into food, and “Why aren’t you doing snappy quick stuff?” And it’s like, “That’s not what I’m interested in-“
AR: Well, because we’re supposed to be Serious Eats. Not ridiculous eats.
EL: Well, it’s not that we didn’t take ourselves seriously-
AR: No, you don’t. I love you guys.
MR: But yeah, you’re Serious Eats, not quick eats.
EL: Right, you know? It’s just like if Kenji wants to write 15 thousand words on chocolate chip cookies, he’s gonna take you on an adventure. On a chocolate chip cookie adventure.
MR: But I’d rather take that adventure, because I can’t have any of that stuff anymore.
MR: So this way I can visualize, and-
EL: Yeah, for sure!
AR: It’s not… You know, you’re Serious Eats, and we’re talking about ephemeral eats.
AR: That just became a lot of pressure, as far as a business owner. You can’t just exist… And then the other thing I really can’t stand about Instagram, or the Instagram food culture, or really any kind of influencer culture… I mean, everybody bitches about it in different ways, but a lot of it is like, “Enjoy the slow food lifestyle,” or like, “Eating with your family,” or wellness or this or that. Now, I have lived in the center of the tornado before. I’ve been doing this for years. You’re not well. If your entire life is about performing and about creating these illusions of whatever and your whole life is curated, you’re not really living that life. It’s a lie. And you get to a point where you’re like, “I’m exhausted.” And people are like, “Well, where are you on Instagram,” and I’m like, “I’m fuckin’ tired.”
AR: I want to spend more time with my kids. I want to spend more time with my husband. And not working. I mean, when we had the bakery, I missed weddings. I missed funerals. Any kind of important life event, we missed. Never celebrated an anniversary. Never celebrated a birthday. I haven’t been on a plane in like-
MR: All right. So this past Valentine’s Day was the first and only time we’ve ever gone out for Valentine’s Day.
AR: Yeah! We went to P. F. Chang’s because we thought of it in the last minute, and we were like-
MR: And it was right next to the venue. Plus my friend actually is one of the managers there.
AR: P. F. Chang’s is really good!
EL: I was about to say, P. F. Chang’s is actually pretty good.
AR: I was surprised. All the food’s really fresh, nothing’s frozen, and the food is actually really good.
EL: And you know that P. F. Chang’s mother was Cecilia Chang, who was the mother of serious Chinese food in this country.
EL: So it’s really kind of cool. So all right, it’s time for the all you can answer Special Sauce buffet. And I’m sure you won’t have anything to say, here-
AR: Not us.
EL: Not the two of you. But I’m just gonna force you to answer.
AR: We’ll make it up if we don’t know.
EL: So the two of you, it’s your last supper. And given what we’ve discussed today, that’s of particular resonance. Who would you like there? No family allowed. Because what would happen is that everyone would give their family, and then it would be like, “Okay, that’s not that interesting.”
MR: But what if I really wanted a certain family member there?
AR: No. Fuck your family.
EL: No, can’t have family.
MR: That’s it, I’m out.
AR: Out, done. That is a good question.
EL: What about Tony Bourdain? You guys were pretty friendly with Tony.
AR: You know what, here’s the fucked up thing about Tony and I. We didn’t really know each other; we knew each other through other people, but then we kinda had words when the Batali thing happened. And then we became DM friends. And I had shared a story about being raped when I was younger on Twitter, and he was in a relationship with somebody who had been raped. And he would just talk to me about that. We never talked about food. We talked about sexual assault.
AR: So that hit me in a very different way than other people did, and also being somebody who deals with depression and suicide, that was rough.
EL: So maybe you don’t want Tony.
AR: No, you know what? ‘Cause we talked so much and never met in person. So I’ll… You know, it was funny too, ’cause I never watched his shows or read his books, because when I first got into the business in 2002, I was mercilessly bullied by these guys who were all reading Kitchen Confidential. It was in everybody’s bag. It was like that handbook for being the worst human. And we made up. Tony and I made up. And then what happened, happened. So I’ll pick him-
EL: All right.
AR: Robin Williams.
EL: Robin Williams, I like that.
AR: I wanna… I get along with other people who make jokes, who are funny, and also sad. I’ll shout him out: Bill Oakley, who… This guy, I became friends on Twitter, and it turns out he was the executive producer showrunner of The Simpsons during their golden years.
AR: And he’s wonderful, and he loves talking about fast food, and I love-
EL: All right, all right.
AR: Oh, and Ken Jennings, who I adore.
EL: Ken Jennings is-
AR: Ken Jennings from Jeopardy!
MR: He’s the Jeopardy champion.
EL: Oh, Jeopardy, the championship!
AR: He’s so funny, and he’s so smart-
EL: I love it.
AR: And he’s so glib. And he’s just somebody who you could probably talk to for hours. You know, I’ll pick him over Robin Williams, actually, ’cause Robin Williams is… You know, he was just manic. His death hit me hard. But yeah, so-
EL: All right, that’s good-
AR: Can I bring Matt? I love hanging out with you-
MR: No, no family, sorry. I’m not bringing you.
AR: Can we get divorced and then I’ll bring you?
MR: I don’t know if that works.
EL: So what are you eating?
AR: Baked clams. And a giant rib eye steak, and all the desserts. I’m the person who goes to a restaurant and orders all of them.
EL: Okay, I like this. We gotta go to a restaurant together. So what do you cook when there’s nothing in the house to eat? Like, if you have to rustle up something for you and the kids.
MR: Yeah, macaroni. I do like making sandwiches; sandwiches are my favorite food group.
AR: A lot of eggs. I think-
EL: Remember when we had the Serious Eats All-Star Sandwich Festival on Governor’s Island? It was actually one of the most fun times-
AR: Oh, way back in the day!
EL: Yeah, yeah, it was way back.
AR: Kind of remember that. I love sandwiches.
MR: Yeah, I had to work. So I was not a go.
AR: Oh, you didn’t get to go.
EL: It was really fun. We sold out, we had such a good time, man.
AR: I didn’t go either. I also had to work.
EL: It was on one of the hottest days on record; it was 107 degrees.
MR: It was like that-
EL: In July.
AR: I could still eat sandwiches in that weather.
EL: It was crazy. But the sandwiches were delicious.
AR: Oh, just to finish that question-
AR: And I have to bring that up, because cabbage was on sale yesterday for 17 cents a pound, so we have a ton of cabbage at home. ‘Cause cabbage-
MR: It’s always amazing when I come to New York to do work, and then I go back and I’m like, “What the hell?”
AR: 17 cents a pound! I got a lot of cabbage! And it’s always there. You don’t have to worry about putting cabbage in your fridge and then coming back and it’s liquid, so we’ll fry up maybe a little bit of bacon, onions, fry the cabbage, and throw in some apple cider vinegar, and then make crispy eggs with runny yolks and throw that on top. And it’s the perfect dinner, and it’s done in ten minutes.
EL: All right, I like that.
AR: I like it.
MR: It also has to have… I also like to put a little bit of horseradish mustard in.
EL: Yeah! Horseradish, I think, is an underrated-
MR: I love it. And I mean, that’s another thing Baltimore has, their tiger sauce.
AR: Oh yeah. But cabbage, man. Cabbage is the shit. More people should eat it. All right.
EL: So, do you have guilty pleasures? Or are all your pleasures… You don’t regard them as-
AR: I have some weird feelings about this. Again, there was a podcast episode about this.
MR: Yeah, seriously, are you just taking all our podcast episodes? Oh, okay.
AR: He’s just listing-
EL: Yeah. Well, you know, I don’t have any original ideas. I don’t know-
MR: Oh, okay.
AR: We’re trendsetters, Matt.
EL: Like, Serious Eats was not an original idea; that was somebody else’s idea. Every idea I’ve ever had-
AR: Ed just comes in and makes it look good.
EL: Yeah. That’s me. I’m Mr. Smooth.
AR: I remember saying something about guilty pleasures on Twitter a few years ago, and then Gael Greene responded, saying like, “Oh, you should never feel guilty about anything,” and first I was like, “Oh, yeah, that’s right! Why should I feel guilty about my pleasures?” But now, my tune has changed, and… ’cause I like feeling guilty. I like feeling bad sometimes. Remember when you used to smoke in the bathroom in-
AR: You know, and you knew smoking was bad, but you were getting away with something. I can’t go rob a liquor store or something, but everybody likes just that little bit of bad. So if that bad feeling is me drinking milk out of the carton-
EL: Like, just straight up. You don’t eat a cookie.
AR: No. I’ll just drink milk.
EL: The milk.
AR: So like-
EL: You’ll chug milk.
AR: I am very pro-guilty pleasure. I love indulging in things that I’m not supposed to every so often, ’cause that’s mine. It’s like my dirty little secret, and it feels really good.
EL: That’s good. What about you, Matt?
MR: My dirty little secret turned into something I do all the time now, which is, I used to smoke some marijuana.
AR: Oh, god, yes.
MR: But now that’s become my thing now, where it’s actually helped with my depression.
AR: Yeah, we both use a lot of marijuana. And I just-
MR: And I don’t feel guilty about it anymore. I don’t feel you need to feel guilty about anything that pleases you.
AR: I don’t feel guilty about it, but I was very aware that we couldn’t talk about it because there’s such the stigma attached. But I’ve been sober for four years; I don’t touch alcohol. And women can run around going like, “It’s wine o’clock!” And you can be like “I’m drinking wine out of a Starbucks cup! It’s so great! Rose all day, bitches!” And I say, “I’m smoking a joint,” and people are like “Oh! No!”
EL: All right. This is a question that I’ve been really looking forward to asking the both of you.
EL: It’s just been declared Allison and Matt Robicelli Day. All over the world.
AR: God help you all!
EL: What’s happening on that day?
MR: There’s a lot of weed being smoked.
AR: Just so much marijuana! So much! We are-
MR: No, it would be a day of just hanging out with people who are close to you. Doesn’t have to be family; it could be friends. Just sitting around bullshitting, sharing stories, just remembering why we’re here living life. We have to work, we have to do that, but the times that you have to just sit there as they call it in Baltimore, “cooling,”
AR: Coolin’, yeah.
MR: Coolin’. Just coolin’ in the backyard.
AR: Yeah. It’s stoop life. That’s it.
MR: And just being with people that make you happy.
AR: And there’s no pressure; there’s no reason to dress up or shave your legs. There’s no reason to have to go make a crazy dessert or something beautiful. Just be with the people… Bust balls. That’s it. We’re big ballbusters. I love that shit.
MR: But seriously, since it is my day, I’m gonna really go with: Wake up at noon-
MR: Drink some coffee.
AR: Smoke weed.
MR: Smoke weed. Go-
AR: Watch TV.
MR: I’d record a podcast, ’cause that’s something I really enjoy looking-
AR: Me too!
EL: Podcasting’s about the most fun thing you can do with your clothes on.
MR: The rest of my week sucks! I look forward to recording podcasts!
AR: I love spending time with Noah, who lives with us, and I love spending time with Evan. Those friends that you could just make awful jokes with-
EL: How old are your kids now?
AR: Almost 11 and 12.
AR: Almost 11 and 12. They are. You know, I like them as they get older.
EL: By the way, my son’s 32-
EL: And I am crazy about my son.
AR: Yeah, I mean like, the older they get… People are so… Babies are frickin’ boring. Until I met Matt, I didn’t want kids, ’cause kids are annoying, and I still think they’re annoying. But my kids are the best.
MR: Until they annoy you.
AR: Yeah. But the older that they get, like the more-
EL: I think we all feel that way.
AR: You could just do more cool shit with them. We share interests. I was having a text conversation with my kid before. I mean, I can text my kid! We make jokes about each other! We watch the same movies.
EL: No, I’ve-
AR: They just get better every day!
EL: And by the way, it gets better. It’s awesome.
AR: Every day is better.
EL: Actually, I will tell you, for me, as a dad, I have treasured every day.
AR: Every bit of them-
EL: Every day since my son came onto this earth.
AR: Yeah. Even on the worst day, they’re the best thing that’s ever happened in my life.
EL: Yeah, it’s true. Can’t thank you enough, Allison and MR. If you want cupcakes, they’ll probably make cupcakes for you-
AR: No! No! Not doing it!
EL: No, they won’t.
AR: Nope. Go buy the book, do it yourself.
EL: If you want a laugh or thought-provoking conversation, or a motivational speech, or some consulting by Matt, or a piece of incisive writing by Allison, contact them at Robicelli Studios. Listen to their argument podcast, because I love the idea of an argument podcast-
AR: And visit Oaxaca. Yeah.
EL: And visit Oaxaca.
AR: Visit Rip’s. If you’re out there and you want to partner up with something, give me a call! You wanna open a restaurant? I ain’t working the counter; give me a call!
EL: And what’s the name of the podcast again?
MR: The Robicellis’ Argument Clinic.
EL: I love that.
AR: Available on whatever.
EL: Yeah, iTunes, yeah yeah yeah yeah.
AR: Wherever fine podcasts are whatever. You can find it by now, come on, people.
EL: Anyway, thank you both. It was awesome.
AR: Ed, we adore you.
MR: Thank you so much.
AR: Thank you for having us.
EL: So long, Serious Eaters, and we’ll see you next time!
This post may contain links to Amazon or other partners; your purchases via these links can benefit Serious Eats. Read more about our affiliate linking policy.