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Simon Majumdar Interviews Award Winning Film Maker and Restaurateur,

Ken Burns

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Ken Burns Interview Notes

The late historian Stephen Ambrose said that “more historians get their history from Ken Burns than any other source.” So, you just know that he is going to have an interesting perspective on food history. In this episode, our host, Simon Majumdar, adds a big tick to his bucket list and goes to visit Ken Burns in his own restaurant in New Hampshire. There they talk about film making, food history and how the two relate.

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TRANSCRIPT

EAT MY GLOBE: THINGS YOU DIDN'T KNOW YOU DIDN'T KNOW ABOUT FOOD

Simon Majumdar Interviews Award Winning Filmmaker and Restaurateur,

KEN BURNS

INTRO MUSIC

 

 

SIMON:

Hi everybody. I'm Simon Majumdar and welcome to another episode of Eat My Globe, a podcast about things you didn't know you didn't know about food.

 

And today's episode truly is a very special one indeed. Not just because we've traveled across the country from Los Angeles to New England to record it, because that me sitting with our guest today is truly one of those pinch me moments that I barely could have imagined when I first became aware of his work in the early 1990s. So if you'll indulge me, I'd like to just begin with a short story.

 

In the early 1990s, I was employed at a major publishing company in London. That work was a far cry from what I do now as a food critic, food historian, and as a judge on the Food Network. One day I was handed a copy of a book by our chief publisher, a book that he was considering to purchase the rights for the UK. He was seeking opinions of senior managers, including mine. And that book was the accompanying tone to a US television series called, “The Civil War.” I devoured the book in a single night and soon reported that it was a “must have.” Everyone else was as the same mind and it joined our list, and it became a huge success. I was so taken with the book that I also then sought out the series to which it was partnered. I was equally blown away.

 

Even though I was already a huge fan of documentary filmmaking, I had never seen anything quite like this. Its dedication to prime resources and its ability to combine accounts from the so-called great men and women alongside plaintive reports from those whose lives might often have been dismissed as more mundane, but who illuminated much about the impact of the war on the American people.

 

And, of course, there was that unique filmmaking style. A style that has become instantly recognizable subsequently as the work of its originator. A style that has generated its own wannabe phone app. A style that has even received its own affectionate parodies.

 

If you've seen an episode of the sitcom, “Community,” Pillows and Blankets, you'll know what I mean.

 

In the following nearly 30 years, I have continued to anticipate every release from this extraordinary filmmaker, even if the subjects undertaken were not ones to which I, as a Brit, would naturally be attracted.

 

And in those nearly 30 years, I have never once been disappointed or less than inspired by his work.

 

I'm currently sculpting time to binge watch his latest work. A chronicle of that uniquely American art form, “Country Music,” which is currently airing on PBS. So check your listings for details.

 

As I posted in a tweet that prompted this interview, we should feel very grateful that we live in a world where our guest is making films and we get to hear him talk about them.

 

I know that I feel particularly blessed that I can introduce him as a guest on this podcast to talk about food and filmmaking.

 

So ladies and gentlemen, on today's episode of Eat My Globe, it gives me enormous pleasure to introduce you to the one and only Mr. Ken Burns.

 

BREAK MUSIC

 

KEN:

Oh Simon, what a generous introduction. I now feel compelled to inoculate myself from the generosity of that introduction by telling you that I have in my house an old and now faded cartoon that shows two men standing in hell, the flames licking up around them. And one guy says to the other, “apparently my over 200 screen credits didn't mean a damn thing.”

 

SIMON:

[Laughter]

 

KEN:

And of course they don't. Maybe what means more is the ability to live in a community of people, uh, to share meals, and to have conversation. That, that's it. And I, I think the films are an extension of the idea of us having a big conversation. No longer around a campfire singing our epic Homeric verses, but maybe around an electronic one that permits us a chance to, um, communicate the most important things that humans have to say to one another.

 

SIMON:

And I think, part of that also includes great food. A sharing an amazing meal and breaking bread.

 

KEN:

Without a doubt.

 

SIMON:

And, and because of that, one of the things that many people don't know is that we're actually sitting in Walpole, New Hampshire. I wonder if it's named after Robert Walpole?

 

KEN:

It is indeed. A great. . . a champion of democracy.

 

SIMON:

Who's probably turning in his grave right now, wondering what's going on in Britain because it's all rather crazy. Um, but I, but we're actually sitting in a restaurant and when I tell people that I was coming here to interview you and they go, “well, what's the connection with food?” And I said, “well, you co-own a restaurant here.” So, so tell us about that and the restaurant that we’re sitting in. Cause I know we had a fantastic meal here last night.

 

KEN:

Well we are sitting in the table, number one, uh, which is a quarter in the back. Uh, it's my table in quotes because, uh, when I had little babies, I wanted to be close to the place where you could jump up if they were making noises and, and take these little girls out and, and pace, uh, in the back and not disturb the patrons.

 

Um, but it is a place for which I have advantage of this beautiful, beautiful restaurant.

 

Um, the story is, is, is quite wonderful. When I first moved to this little village in 1979, 40 years ago, uh, the space that we're in now – plus a little bit into the post office and a little bit into the adjacent chocolate shop, all the way from the sidewalk back to the back – was an IGA, an Independent Grocers Association supermarket. Supermarket was a euphemistic. It had three, uh, checkout counters. Big wood floors. They poured green powder on and swept up at the end of the day. But it was the only place that we had to eat, uh, uh, you know, to buy food in this place. And then it moved out in the early eighties to a big box north of town. Happy that it was in a bigger spot, but this lay vac. . . uh, empty and sort of fallow for years and years and years, 10 years. And people in town were kind of grumbling. Had an absentee landlord who didn't really care to fill it up.

 

And finally, Larry Burdick – who was a chocolatier, who'd moved his business and his family up from New York City – and I began to sort of conspire. And we eventually wrestled the building away from this absentee landlord and then proceeded. I helped Larry start a restaurant here.

 

Now I have to say that I am a silent partner. That means I don't talk with my mouth full. . .

 

SIMON:

[Laugher]

 

KEN:

. . . and I don't, I don't really try to meddle in any of the affairs of, of the chocolate business, uh, or the, or the, or the burgeoning restaurant. And so things have gone along fine.

 

It's probably the best meal you can get from miles and miles around. And it's all attributed to Larry Burdick who, who, who envisioned it.

 

Recently Larry sold his chocolate business, which was separate from us and moved to France and is here periodically and eventually sold his interest to uh, uh, a friend of ours, another person who, uh, escaped from the real world to the wonderful real world of Walpole, New Hampshire.

 

And together we proceed to, to try to make the restaurant better and better and better.

 

My main contribution is that I don't take any money out. That I eat here all the time. That I have never accepted a free meal. And that I tip heavily. And I, when I'm in town, uh, which is as often as I can be – this is my home – I eat here as often as I can, which is sometimes two times a day.

 

SIMON:

I will tell you with my food critic hat on, as a restaurant critic back in LA, that the meal we had here last night was absolutely exemplary. The creation of all the dishes was perfect. I had one of the best liver mousses I've had anywhere on the planet. It was so beautifully done. And everything that we ate with our team here, the Eat My Globe podcast team, was fantastic.

 

So if anybody is in this region and you're traveling around – I know obviously we've got thousands of food fans out there otherwise you wouldn't be listening to this podcast – you must come and visit it. Please do. Because I will tell you you're not. . . You say for miles around, I will tell you there's not many better restaurants I've enjoyed in the country in the last year or so.

 

[Inaudible]

 

KEN:

Oh Simon that’s a great compliment. We've always been kind of modest and humble and, and have hit our light. And I think a lot of that came from Larry Burdick, uh, under a bushel because we just wanted to continue to perfect. We have a small community here that actually can't really truly support a restaurant of this type. And so we've counted on people coming from surrounding towns. And also we're not far from Interstate 91. We're at Exit 5. And so people heading North, they've heard about it and suddenly they stop off. And now it's a, uh, it's a thing that they do going up or going back to the city. Uh, and we have people who travel. Uh, there was a 93 year old, uh, mother of one of our, uh, politicians in the state of New Hampshire who lives on the sea coast. And the expression in New England, you can't get there from here. . .

 

SIMON:

[Laughter]

 

KEN:

. . . is based on east-west travel in New Hampshire, I'm sure.

 

But in any case, for a while, she would drive herself, stop by in another town and pick up another friend and then come here. . .

 

SIMON:

Wow.

 

KEN:

. . . for a lunch and get back. It was a whole day affair. And, um, that to me was the best review we've had. . .

 

SIMON:

Oh.

 

KEN:

. . . today.

 

SIMON:

I could. . . Absolutely.

 

KEN:

But, I, I, um, I love eating here. I love a particularly a dish, which I know you didn't have last night, which is a roasted chicken, which I described to a friend, uh, and made him eat the other night a few weeks ago. And he came and I said, I think it's the greatest chicken dish I've ever had on the planet. And he said, “Oh my God, Ken, you are always. . .

 

SIMON:

[Laughter]

 

KEN:

. . . so full of superlatives. This film is the best you've ever done. This is the best person you've ever met. This is the most beautiful stretch of road in America. You're always superlatives.” The chicken arrived. He took a couple of bites. He goes, “this is the best chicken in the world.”

 

[Laughter]

 

And I, I, I'm, I'm hoping somehow to convince you, uh, to either stay over for another, uh, dinner, uh, or to please come back and let me host you and, uh, have you try our chicken.

 

SIMON:

For me, I have a saying that when people say you should stop and smell the roses, being a chef and doing what I do, I always go, you should stop and smell the roast chicken because I think it's the greatest smell. If you, if you want proof that God exists and God is great, then you just smell a roast chicken cooking. And I think it will bring everyone together.

 

KEN:

We live in a wonderful community of Southwestern New Hampshire and Southeastern, uh, Vermont. It's, it's old country for America. Uh, my house is relatively new. It was built in 1820.

 

SIMON:

[Laughter]

 

KEN:

If you walk the green, it's hard to find anything that's later than 1830. Um, this, this is, it's a wonderful place. And yet it's also benefited in the last 40 years from wave after wave of, I wouldn't say refugees from the big city, but people who were looking for a different kind of way of doing things.

 

And so most of the meat that we get here – with the exception of the seafood, which is fresh from Boston – um, is, is locally sourced. And whether it's beef or it's chicken or it's duck or it's a um, Turkey, it's, some of it is made right in Walpole. And so we have this sense that the town has sort of poured its richness into here and we've just been smart enough to get out of the way. Now, that is not to take away from the extraordinary people led by our Chef West, who have painstakingly day in and day out assumed that the dish they were making is for someone who has never had it.

 

And the reason why I believe that is because with all of my presumption for years and years and years, I kept my mouth shut. Larry would say to me, I'm thinking of making the walls. . . one wall, a light pink. . .

 

SIMON:

[Laughter]

 

KEN:

. . . and another, a light mustard and another a light green. I would have gone, “you're out of your mind.” Instead I said, Larry, whatever you want. This is 18 years ago when we opened in September of 2001. . . not the most auspicious time. . .

 

SIMON:

No, not at all.

 

KEN:

. . . to open a restaurant. And he was right. All of those colors I just described are here.

 

SIMON:

Yes, they are.

 

KEN:

And yet they add to a warmth and a glow and a kind of eclectic sort of feeling, uh, about the place that is wonderful.

 

Anyway, after about 10 or 11 years, I got up the courage to say, “you know that salad that you had once, would you do me a favor? Would you use bib lettuce? I said, would you just add, um, a, a bit of, of, of grilled salmon on that, just a little salmon, uh, piece and um, and, and, and, and cook it, you know, like medium and, and, and could you then,” – and they did that for me – “could you add some shaved Parmesan?” And then we developed a little lemon vinaigrette. And so for a long while I'd say, could I have my salad?

 

And, and they actually put it on the cash register. But it wasn't until five or six years ago for a summer, Larry sort of deigned to put it on the summer menu. . .

 

SIMON:

[Laughter]

 

KEN:

. . . and it sold like hotcakes. But by the fall it was gone again. Finally, three years ago, they just put it on the menu and it's one of the bestsellers. So you will see “Ken's Salad” on the menu, which is my one kind of foray into the design of a dish.

 

SIMON:

[Laughter]

 

KEN:

And it's actually a wonderful, you know, when I'm editing a just a few blocks away and we're. . . I can't even leave the editing room. They will bring me a Ken Salad four out of five times a workweek, uh, only because they don't even ask. Cause I'm so busy attending it. And it's just a perfect combination of salmon and all of the flavors there and the Parmesan and uh, and the bib and this very light thing and avocado, which was the final. . .

 

SIMON:

That’s amazing and that perfect fattiness to it.

 

KEN:

. . . and it adds that perfect fattiness to it. It's a, it's a, it's a complete dish. And I stumbled on it through, uh, that and so I'm very happy that they've indulged me. But that, I have to say, is the only sort of prerogative I've insisted upon.

 

SIMON:

I have to say having a dish named after you in a restaurant must be up there with getting an Emmy or something because I think it's a wonderful thing when you get what you get.

 

I've never had addition named after me.

 

[Laughter]

 

KEN:

[Laughter]

 

Well, you know, the other day I like to come in here alone and my office is at my house in my barn and it's a, a, an a mile and a half up the road. And I walk in every day and I go to the editing room or do some errands and then walk back.

 

And there's this wonderful free moment when the editing house thinks I'm up the hill and up the hill thinks. . .

 

SIMON:

[Laughter]

 

KEN:

. . . I'm at the editing house. And I come and sit at the counter by myself and have a lunch. Usually a Ken Salad. And there's a neighbor who's here, usually here. And I turn to her and I, and it's almost become a ritual. And I say, “so I wonder who this Ken is?”

 

SIMON:

[Laughter]

 

KEN:

“. . . This salad isn't that bad.” And she goes, “I know I've had it too. I wonder whether it's, maybe he's the child. . .”

 

SIMON:

[Laughter]

 

KEN:

“. . . of the owner or something.”

 

SIMON:

Oh, I love, I love that story.

 

[Laughter]

 

KEN:

[Laughter]

 

SIMON:

Well, I mean, I could definitely sit and talk about roast chicken all day. But since we're here, I would love to ask you some general questions and then talk about some food as well in terms of the filmmaking that you do and your. . . because there's obviously, as we've found out over the last few minutes, there’s a passion for food there.

 

And I'd love to see how it informs what you do. Because obviously our listeners, uh, are people who are going to be entertained by your, your films, but also by your, um, your love of food.

 

Um, so I know just to touch on it now that we're, we're very fortunate to catch you at a time when you're very busy. Your latest work, which I'm, I have been, as I said, I binge watch and getting ready to binge watch on “Country Music” is there.

 

And that's one of those things a bit like food that everyone in the United States kind of really connects with because it informs who we are as. . . I'm an American citizen now. . . as American people. Tell us a little, just a little bit about that, that film and why that was of interest to begin with.

 

KEN:

I'm looking, Simon, for good stories. That's it, period. And that's all I am is a storyteller. I happened to work as a painter, might choose to work in oil as opposed to watercolor. I happen to work in American history. American history, the last word is mostly made up of the word “story” plus “hi,” which is fine with me and that's what I, I do.

 

I do stories in American history. I'm looking for these complicated, wonderful stories. Country music actually is one of those musical forms that gets – because of commerce and convenience – categorized into a one thing. And it's not. It's never been a one thing. It's always a mixture of many influences and it touches on every other American musical form.

 

It and Rhythm and Blues created Rock and Roll. It has always been attached to the Blues, into Jazz and the popular music and the Folk music, of course. And even now, Rap and Hip Hop and Classical and you know, it's there.

 

And what we wanted to do was tell that complicated story of the music and the stories of the people who made the music of the art of songwriting, of the surprise central role that women play in the story, of the African American roots. The banjo is from Africa. All of the early Mount Rushmore characters of country music had African American tutors or were . . . as in the case of Jimmy Rogers, the first grade superstar, uh, influenced by African American music. And so, all of a sudden in an America that finds itself divided in America, that is always willing to say, there's an us and a them. I want to say, that the great privilege of my life, is to be able to do films about the US – capital U. . .

 

SIMON:

Yes

 

KEN:

. . . capital S – but also about the lowercase plural pronoun equivalent of that – us – all of the intimacy of “us” and also “we” in our. . . but all of the majesty, and the breadth and the complexity and the controversy and, and uh, of the United States.

 

And what I've learned is that there's only “us,” there's no “them.” And if anybody, politician or music critic or anything tries to say – this is uniquely American and I can pull it out – it's like an alloy that is having one of its constituent metals pulled out. You've suddenly made it weaker and more brittle.

 

And so all of my work has been doing the same thing. Asking a question, sounding a question, knowing that you can never answer it. Who are we? But also to just engage people in these fascinating stories. I'll give you just one . . .

 

SIMON:

Yeah.

 

KEN:

. . . quick example. When you learn as you do in our seventh episode, why Dolly Parton wrote, “I will always love you.” Her most popular hit, which was taken by Whitney Houston and had crossover pop success. That was unbelievable. Her version, Whitney Houston's version, still raises the hair on the back of my neck. When you hear though, why Dolly wrote that the declaration of independence as a woman, this represented for her. Her version will catapult way beyond Whitney's in a way. So what I'm saying is that you've got a story within a song which has its own force.

 

When you have a story that tells you the story behind the story, you have an exponential increase. It's no longer one in one equaling two. It's one in one equaling three or as Rhiannon Giddens, the great African American country music star that's throughout our film says, “one in one equals a hundred.” And that's the kind of calculus, improbable calculus that we seek in our work. And I have to be quite honest, I think it's what we look for in a meal. We could just subsist, but we don't want to subsist. We want to take the materials of the world and to put them together into something that is greater than the whole, the sum of their parts.

 

Like my children, my grown daughters still ridicule me because we were in Italy traveling in Italy and in a, a lemon fell from the arbor onto the table. And at that point I thought this was divine intervention and that I needed to order the lemon sorbet, which I did.

 

And it came, for the first time in my life, in a frozen lemon that had been hollowed out the way . . .

 

SIMON:

Uh-huh.

 

KEN:

. . . we would do pumpkins to make jack-o-lanterns at Halloween here. And it had been refilled with this sorbet and the cap put back on it. No, I've seen that now many times, even in the United States. So I ate it and I did. I suddenly pronounced with all of the pretension that only a father can do.

 

SIMON:

[Laughter]

 

KEN:

To great embarrassment to his daughters that this was more of a lemon than a lemon was. And so whenever we're out at a restaurant and we have something good and they go, “dad, is this more of a chicken than a chicken is?”

 

SIMON:

Oh.

 

KEN:

“Is this more of a. . .”

 

SIMON:

You’re never going to live it down, are you?

 

KEN:

I never will live it down.

 

SIMON:

[Laughter]

 

KEN:

And I'm glad they hoisted me on the petard of those pretentions.

 

SIMON:

I read a quote somewhere from Stephen Ambrose historian who said that more Americans get their history from Ken Burns than any other source. Now that's a wonderful thing to say, but the sense of responsibility that must put with you, because obviously you're coming from your own perspective of taking. . . I wonder just how you face that?

 

KEN:

It's not an albatross. It's not a ball and chain. But I understand some of your question. I think, you know, it's, it's a great compliment. Stephen Ambrose, the late Stephen Ambrose, a wonderful historian was a friend of ours. Um, it, it acknowledges that, you know, when, uh, a great historian writes a book and it does really well as a bestseller for it sells a million or a million and a half copies. “The Civil War” had, uh, 40 million viewers the first time. We think the Vietnam War of a couple of years ago, our series on the Vietnam War had maybe 50, 52 million people looked at some or all of it. So you see, it's, uh, effect and it also goes into schools across today is a school day in America and hundreds of classrooms who will be showing a scene from “The Civil War” and, or “Lewis & Clark” or “World War II” or “The Dust Bowl” or “Prohibition” or, or “The National Parks,” whatever it might be.

 

And that's, that's a wonderful thing. I am, though, more critical of myself than any kind of burden that label comes on. I'm an artist. I want to make a good thing. I work with extraordinary people, collaborators, writers and co-producers and people, researchers and editors where these films coalesce in a very intimate, handmade fashion. And so I think, for us, once there's a wonderful thing, Rodney crowd talking about, uh, Hank Williams said, “once a songwriter gets it right for them, it's right for everybody. Once they get it right for themselves, it's right for everybody.” And so I think that apparent burden and understandable burden is lifted by the fact that once we look at each other and ring the cow bell, that signals the finishing, the locking of each reel of each film – um, uh, you know, and there might be five or six reels of film – we've made it right for ourselves. And I don't think we presume, but we hope that is right for everyone else.

 

SIMON:

Yeah. So this is a question that I ask of authors. It's a question I ask of filmmakers. It's a question I ask of chefs.

 

You have a very recognizable technique and filmmaking style that people know just as chefs often have a very recognizable technique. I can look at Joel Robuchon and I can recognize his food. I can look at particular chefs.

 

So how do you maintain that balance between that technique and truth?

 

Because trying to squeeze one into the other with that and not losing the truth, which is the essence of what you're trying to do is really hard. I know as a cook that I'm very impressed with sometimes the food that I do. And then other people eat it and they go, “eh.” And they call it, as someone once said, “50 shades of meh.”

 

KEN:

[Laughter]

 

SIMON:

Um, and so I'm, I wanna how you try to achieve that balance with such a recognizable style.

 

KEN:

So let's get our terminology. . .

 

SIMON:

Right.

 

KEN:

. . . at least on the same plate.

 

Um, style we could say is the authentic application of technique. That is to say, at our disposal chefs as well as filmmakers are all these things that we can do. Tricks of the trade, if you will. If they are honorably, but more importantly, authentically applied. And over time you begin to perceive a style. So people look at a distance at my work and they see the same thing. What it is in fact is a very careful calibration of hundreds of visual and, and oral things. So in one film, we may not have, uh, any live cinematography. There's, uh, an abundance of still photographs but no footage. Sometimes there's lots of footage, but we still feel compelled to put in live, um, to put in still photographs. Another, it might be pre photographic, so it has an abundance or a preponderance of live cinematography.

 

On the soundtrack, you may have a third person narrator and dozens of first-person voices, which is something I developed, uh, reading the diaries and letters of the period. Another time you hav. . . may have contemporary witnesses like “Country Music,” in which you need none or only a handful of those first person voices to compliment the third person narrator. Sometimes, there's more sound effects or less sound effects, more music, less music. So you've, you've got different relationships and you're constantly recalibrating depending on what that material needs. But if you are authentically engaging the techniques that you have at your disposal, and you do that over a period of time, you've, you've, you've got a style. So you could walk into a gallery and see. . . is standing in the middle, a room of Cezanne's painting and you would go, “this is Cezanne.” There are some still lifes and there are some landscapes. There’s Mont Sainte-Victoire. . .

 

SIMON:

Uh-huh.

 

KEN:

. . . the mountain he painted over and over and over again.

 

“It's the same thing,” you would never say because the second you moved up to one of those pictures – The Mont Sainte-Victore – he’s working on something here. And at the next picture, he's working out as something there. Or he's learned something and that passage of time has given.

 

I think that that's true of my own work. Not to, in any way, putting myself in a category with Cezanne. Um, and I think it's true of the making of food that we bring ourselves. If we bring ourselves authentically. . .  It goes back to what I was just saying.

 

When it, when a songwriter gets it right for themselves, Rodney Crowell said of arguably the greatest of all the Country Music singer songwriters, Hank Williams, he gets. . . it's right for everybody else.

 

So I would suggest that sometimes we're distracted by our own self involvement. That is to say, you could make a dish that you think is great, uh, that everyone else would go, “meh.” But I would actually submit that when you do something that is authentically what you should do, how you should do it, what you should make, there's no one who won't like it.

 

SIMON:

So it’s a true expression of your own identity.

 

KEN:

I think it has to be and that’s the only way you can do it.

 

So people often say, “have you ever thought of trying this?” Meaning doing something outside. Now I know many, there are many great filmmakers that actually make a practice of changing the subject matter. And people think, “Oh, you know, you've kept the same subject matter.” Well, I, I have and I haven’t. Each one is different. The celibate religious sector “Shakers” with exquisite furniture and architecture, uh, is different from the, the film that proceeded that on the “Brooklyn Bridge.” And the film that precee. . . that followed it on “Huey Long,” the turbulent, Southern demagogue. “The Civil War” is different. But if you stood back from it and were merely superficially, um, looking at it the way you might read a menu outside the door of a restaurant, you would go, “ah, I get it.”

 

And then you wouldn't really get it. Would you? Until you had gone and sampled at least a representative of that. And so I think once you see a specific film, you'll understand that we, as much as we, we are authentically or trying to authentically present our own – and I don't mean any royal “we,” I mean a, the collaborative “we” that is filmmaking as, as, as we sort of both impose ourselves on the material and also restrain ourselves from that. That is to say, ask the material what it needs, listen to the material for what it needs as any great chef also does. Um, whatever is fresh that day, whatever that thing is speaking, whatever the combination of spices, or the application of heat, or the absence of heat, or the way it's been cut.

 

All of those things fit right in with the kind of art of filmmaking. If we are both imposing but at the same time listening to what it needs, then something will happen. And that will be, at the end of the day, we hope, organic. Authentic. Genuine. Honorable. There are, there are a handful of words, old fashioned, but a very much what we feel compelled to represent. And if we don't, we're not done with that film yet.

 

SIMON:

And that's so, it's so in a sense it's what you're having within that style, I guess as a sense of due diligence. So when people see it, they know that it's coming with all of the thought processes. Same with creating a dish. The thought process that you have behind it. And so they can approach it even though when they see it, there'll be different in some of the nuances, but what they're seeing is the due diligence behind the process of creating it.

 

KEN:

That's great. That’s exactly it, and so well stated. I have in my editing room around the corner in the main cockpit, the main editing room. Whoever the senior editor is at times their room. And it's where we screen and where I've got a music stand and I, you know, we, I don't ever, we don't have a screening where I'm not there and sort of having the final word and of course other people who, who, who contributed to that immensely. But I have a little neon sign in, in lowercase cursive. It says,” it's complicated.”

 

Filmmakers love a scene when it's working, and rarely open up that scene if they find contradictory material. We feel obligated to do that. Even if it destabilizes it. Even if it recommends that that once terrific scene, actually leave the film. The cutting room floor is not filled with bad stuff.

 

SIMON:

[Laughter]

 

KEN:

It's filled with stuff that didn't fit.

 

And there's a kind of a thing like that that you can watch. A beautiful scene that doesn't quite fit in.

 

Too many notes. . .

 

SIMON:

Yeah.

 

KEN:

. . . in the movie “Amadeus.”

 

And maybe it's some delicious flavor that a cook has [inaudible], but, but somehow it, it began to overwhelm what was going on in the ensemble of all the various flavors. And you have to say, “as great as this sauce is, not now.”

 

So the cutting room floor is not filled with bad stuff. It's filled with stuff that didn't fit. So one presumes when you build a meal or that you build a film, that it's an additive process and it is, of course. Layer upon layer. But it's also subtractive.

 

SIMON:

Yes.

 

KEN:

I'd like to use the metaphor of New England, which is maple syrup, which we make in abundance in this town. It takes 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup.

 

And that's a subtractive thing. That's a kind of magic. Almost an alchemy in which you are reducing something to an essence. And you can't boil it. If you'd boil it, you've ruined it. You've got to be just below boil in order for the evaporation to take place.

 

And for us, a 40 to one, 50 to one, even a hundred to one shooting ratio is not out of the question for any subject. So in the case of “Country Music,” we held a hundred thousand photographs. We used 3,300 in the final film. That, in some ways, wasn't enough. We'll still, we'll be out in the world now that film's done and go, “Oh my God, where. . . “

 

SIMON:

[Laughter]

 

KEN:

“I never saw that one. Why didn't we know what,” you know, that sort of thing. And so, um, being in this town, frees us from a lot of things. Um, it puts us in a different relationship with nature. It puts us in a relationship of being able to focus on our art and not on, uh, the commercial aspects of it. We've worked in public broadcasting, which has protected us too, but it means that these are labor intensive. I can go out and I, I would end all of my fundraising woes that I have in public broadcasting by going to a premium channel or do a streaming service, and they'd give me the money it takes to do “The Vietnam War” or the “Country Music” like that. I, I've got a reputation. I could make a pitch.

 

SIMON:

Sure.

 

KEN:

They'd say yes, and I could walk out. And I go, “wow.” But they wouldn't allow me 10 and a half years. . .

 

SIMON:

Yup.

 

KEN:

. . . for the, the, “The Vietnam War.” They wouldn't allow me eight and a half years for “Country Music.” They'd say, “no, there's no, there's no, um, marketing plan for this.” There's not a, uh, a business model. That's the better word. There's not a business model for what we do. I'm very happy to say. So this is not. . . You know, McDonald's, to their credit, can make French fries the same from St. Augustine, Florida to Anchorage, Alaska from Bangor, Maine to Honolulu. God bless them and, and even around the world.

 

We're looking for something in which it's not formulaic. And that  takes a different kind of timeframe and therefore cannot be considered fast food. We can't turn these films out as quickly as colleagues of mine – whom I admire – can do it. We literally need to take that time to slow cook.

 

SIMON:

That reductive thing I think is really fascinating. I always remember Paul Bocuse, one of the greatest chefs, probably of the, certainly of the 20th century, always said to any chef, create a recipe and then take three ingredients out.

 

KEN:

[Laughter]

 

In newspaper business, the editor's statement to the reporter is, “kill all the little darlings.”

 

SIMON:

[Laughter]

 

KEN:

That is to say that sentence that you think is the best, probably has to go. And I think for us, as much as we become enamored of something, either in writing or, or in a piece of footage or a beautiful photo, “rare and never before seen footage,” is what we like to say. Who cares if it's not in the service of something much larger than that. We're not putting neon signs and saying, “Hey look, this has never been seen before.” Actually some people do that as if the only thing they have to commend is not the, the intrinsic storytelling in which the, the materials that we're using, the plastic materials, that is the plasticity of the two dimensions of, uh, of, of a photograph have to disappear in favor of a suspension of belief that puts you into that story. We, we, we don't need to do that. If it's, if it's the best stuff in the world doesn't work if it doesn't work.

 

BREAK MUSIC

[SIMON ADVERTISING: It’s a mystery to many of us everyday. The hunger starts. It’s there. We fill our stomach with things we like to crave, cook, and taste. But what really happens in there, deep inside our guts, and how it’ll affect us. Well if you want to find out more about food science, go and listen to a wonderful podcast by my dear friend, Dr. Terry Simpson. Culinary Medicine is available on all podcast providers and is definitely worth checking out. That’s Culinary Medicine by Dr. Terry Simpson.]

 

SIMON:

Let's talk about food in, in your films and potentially in future films because obviously some of your films have touched directly on food or drink.

 

Obviously, “Prohibition” is, is one that I, I sat and watched again very recently because it's one of my favorites. I want to just touch on actually one that you mentioned earlier – that really was one that made me kind of, quite frankly, I'll say it, fall in love with the work that you do – was “Huey Long” because I watched that from the UK. I think you made it 1985, I probably watched it in the early nineties. It was a subject about which I knew nothing and yet I watched everything about it because it was so beautifully made. And it told me it was about someone who I probably didn't know I didn't need to know about, but I had adored watching it. So that was something that I, I just mentioned that because you mentioned it.

 

KEN:

Isn't, isn't that the thing though? I think the key is it and didn't need to know about, but once you did, you can't imagine not knowing.

 

SIMON:

Absolutely.

 

KEN:

And I think that's the human compact with each other. None of us are getting out of here alive. . .

 

SIMON:

[Laughter]

 

KEN:

. . . and stories are the way in which we keep that wolf, the wolf of our own mortality away from the door.

 

We tell each other's stories. You know, in fact, Brillat-Savarin. . .

 

SIMON:

Of course.

 

KEN:

. . . the great epicure of the, of the 19th century when asked what the perfect ingredients for a meal was, he said. “the company.” And so what we have tended to do in our consideration of food is to take out, uh, and isolate merely the act of making it and the ingredients that have gone into it in the skill or lack of skill. Um, but in point of fact, we, we, we are, we are manipulating this raw material when our body could be sustained by just a cow. . .

 

SIMON:

Yep.

 

KEN:

. . . grazing on grass. Um, because we human beings require something else. And part of that compact is that we're together. Just as we are right now in conversation. . .

 

SIMON:

Breaking bread.

 

KEN:

. . . breaking bread and having a conversation, sharing something, sharing stories. And I think, for me, what you said about “Huey Long” makes me feel great because you know, you don't need to have “Huey Long.” But once you know it, you go, “wow, why didn't I know about this incredibly dynamic, incredibly turbulent character of the 1920s and thirties in the United States.”

 

SIMON:

Well, it's one of the reasons that I mentioned that because we call the podcast Eat My Globe: Things You Didn't Know You Didn't Know About Food. Because what we try and do is share stories and often odd facts about different people through history in food, whether it's Maria the Jewess [Ed Note: We talked about Maria the Jewess on our episode on “The History of Gin”], who invented the Alembic still, or we talk about Nicholas Appert [Ed Note: We talked about Maria the Jewess on our episode on “The History of SPAM®”], who invented canning and the bullion cube and fed Napoleon's armies, or all of these kinds of crazy things from history.

 

And I wondered about that because as I said with “Prohibition,” obviously, you're concentrating on something that was a drink or food stuff obviously, although there was a lot of politics around it. And in other areas, like “The Civil War,” you talk about the impact of food, whether it was the Union rations or the invention of the railroad that helped get food around. And that's something you've touched on.

 

But I wondered if, if there were any subjects that you've thought about or people indeed that you've thought about being possible for subjects for you, whether it's like the Kelloggs or Frank Swift or Frederick Tudor or all of these people who've really contributed to American society.

 

KEN:

Indeed, I have. And those are all excellent subjects. I think I'd rather, um, incorporate them in a larger story because short of, uh, permitting my audience to taste, I think I would be doing a disservice as quite often as you acknowledge in “Prohibition,” there are other operative forces. Political, social, racial, gender that are determining why we're doing this. I mean, female alcoholism was a minor, minor thing until we banned alcohol.

 

SIMON:

Yes.

 

KEN:

Right? I mean, there are unintended consequences. Uh, crime was a priori disorganized until we banned, ah, alcohol. Then crime became organized and, and continues to be organized in lots of really terrible, terrible ways.

 

Drink – alcohol, either, either fermented or distilled spirits had been around for as long as there've been human beings and they've been a part of every culture. And when you take that out, you have created a vacuum into which a lot of very complicated things happened. And when you bring up some of the cereal magnates, um, they were often following a late 19th century attempt at, um, religion and diet. And so they're, they come with a combination of factors, which I find fascinating.

 

You know, in “Jazz,” the only way we could describe all the things that went into “Jazz” was gumbo. That was the name of . . .

 

SIMON:

[Laughter]

 

KEN:

. . . our first episode was “The Gumbo.”

 

SIMON:

Yeah.

 

KEN:

And that's because you have all these influences, all this diverse stew of material. But what distinguishes a gumbo from any other stew is a roux. And the roux in the case of jazz was blues.

 

So it had all these ingredients like slave songs and Scotch/Irish ballads and French and Viennese operas and all of this stuff swirling around New Orleans. The, the prevalence of brass instruments left behind by Civil War soldiers who'd played in marching bands. And then Ragtime and the fast paced syncopation of that. But then the blue. . . Blues came in and get from a stew, um, to, to Jazz.

 

And so the metaphor of food and the metaphor of the mixture of things is particularly, for me as an American, a parochial provincial American filmmaker, hugely important because there's never a one thing in America, we're always a mixture of things.

 

Even country music at its birth, people will say it's just one thing. Well the Carter family and Jimmy Rogers at the big bang of country music don't sound like anything like each other. And within themselves they are already complicated and very interesting mixtures. So to me everything's a recipe. Everything that I touch has the kind of the idea of ingredients. Too much, too little. The calibration of the materials and information and things like that that, that speak to it. So I'm not sure I have to um, didactically or any expository fashion moves particularly to that. Then understand that I am making something I wish to be ingested.

 

SIMON:

When, when I did go onto Twitter and say to people that I was lucky enough to come and chat to you and I said, if there was a food thing that you would ask Ken Burns to make, what would it be?

 

There was one resounding thing that came back and it was barbecue as the quintessential American cuisine or expression of American cuisine. Something that was unique to this country, although it came from lots of places. So I thought I'd share that with you and see what your thoughts were about barbecue.

 

KEN:

[Laughter]

 

You got me in a weak, weak spot. . .

 

SIMON:

[Laughter]

 

KEN:

. . . it is, it is absolutely that. It's so funny. New England, what they call it, barbecue is just putting meat on a fire. Period. Right. But I have traveled this country, I mean one of the great, great benefits of this job is that while I have not traveled the world to the extent that I would like to, there's nothing I love more than being on a road in America that I have never been on before. It's second only to the road that leads up the Hill to my home.

 

SIMON:

[Laughter]

 

KEN:

That's my favorite road, is coming home. But um, yes and I've sampled barbecue. I've been to Lockhart, Texas. . .

 

SIMON:

Oh yes.

 

KEN:

. . . where they know a lot and I went there with the Austin TV station. They're our host and Buck O’Neil from the Negro leagues when nine. . . in 1994 we were promoting the “Baseball” series, and Buck and I and Bill went down to Lockhart, all shared barbecue together.

 

SIMON:

At Kreuz’s?

 

KEN:

At Kreuz’s.

 

SIMON:

And Smittys.

 

KEN:

Exactly. Where they have the, they have the knives on chains. . .

 

SIMON:

Yep.

 

[Laughter]

 

KEN:

. . . and pickles and white bread and stuff. And I've been in, I've had Carolina. I spent a lot of time in, in Kansas City. Kansas City for a while it seemed like there was no subject I picked that didn't require me to go to Kansas City.

 

And so I've sampled, uh, barbecue from everywhere and now, it is ubiquitous. And you know, in Brooklyn you can find great barbecue. In Manhattan, Danny Meyer has Blue Smoke and is his attempt to try to figure out and crack the code of barbecue.

 

And at the end, what you realize is that with slow cooking of meat with the application of something dry, wet, vinegar, ketchup, whatever it might be, is a kind of ubiquitous American expression.

 

And so, it's funny that when I'm permitted the few days off that I have, there is not an evening when something doesn't go on the grill in some way. Well, I can't necessarily call it all barbecue, but it means that I'm participating in that same sort of ritual. And it's great. It's great and I love it. I love the varieties of it. And you know, I suppose I have preferences, but I'm, I'm, I'm more interested in tasting something and going, wow, that's what they like.

 

You know, it used to be that every county in America made its own ginger ale.

 

SIMON:

Yes.

 

KEN:

Now ginger ale has two brands, unless you're in the upper Midwest and which you've got Vernors, but that's it. Um, and it used to be that the local ginger ale was itself hard as well as soft a, um, an a and a kind of expression and identity. It's almost in Europe, you know, the cloth, the. . .

 

SIMON:

[Laughter]

 

KEN:

. . . the head gear of the women determined your village. Oh we know where you can see from a mile away that she's from this village.

 

You know, you're in this county in North Carolina cause the, the, you know, the, the, the ginger ale that you're tasting or the barbecue you're tasting will curl your hair.

 

SIMON:

[Laughter]

 

I, I will share with you one of the great things happen to me when I was writing my last book and I'll send you a copy. I wrote a book called, “Fed, White, and Blue” about me becoming an American citizen and I shared food experiences, some of which were extraordinary. Cooking for Richard Petty at the NASCAR Daytona 500 – talk about getting a great American experience.

 

But one of the things I was asked to do was to host a Kosher Barbecue Festival in Kansas City. And that's when you suddenly realize that this is now a cuisine that has taken over all of America.

 

KEN:

Yes.

 

SIMON:

When you start going to be. . . you realize there's a big circuit of Kosher Barbecue in the United States where they travel around and cook under kosher rules. So the meat is prepared on Thursday. They don't start cooking until Saturday when there are three stars in the sky and the Sabbath has ended. It's all done under the guidance of a rabbi.

 

But once the, uh, they start lighting those smokers and the first bottle of beer opens, it's like any other barbecue competition.

 

KEN:

And this reminds me of this story, Jimmy Rogers, the first grade superstar of “Country Music,” was in Miami and asked to sing at a Bible convention. Right? And he didn't know any songs that would be appropriate for a Bible convention. And so he's saying he's in the jail house now.

 

SIMON:

[Laughter]

 

KEN:

[Laughter]

 

They loved it and gave him a standing ovation and at one point and another point of the film, you know, “why should the devil have all the good songs?,” some of the church people would say, and I think that's what it is. We're the mix. The mix means that we wish to retain our own identity, but not to the extent that we are not participating in the whole. That thing that is both the US and the “us.” And I am, I will hold to that thing that we’re. . . everybody is. . . the people who have been here for a few generations are saying, “Oh, these new people are, are not assimilating.” And you know, I just point out the signs in the old, uh, you know, copper and other smelting mills in Montana in the late 19th century, that everything would be in 14 languages. And they would have 14 different elementary schools including Croatia. Right? Because that's what it was. Do they have that now? No, they don't. So everything eventually gets mixed in and if you have to bring along your rabbi to make sure you can have barbecue. . . all the better.

 

SIMON:

[Laughter]

 

BREAK MUSIC

[SIMON ADVERTISING: Hi everybody. If you're enjoying these podcasts, you may enjoy seeing a series of cooking videos that I made with my friends at Pureflix dot com. “Simon Says” is a series of videos showing me cooking some of my favorite dishes from around the world with a little bit of history in each case. So do go and check them out. They’re great fun. On Pureflix dot com.]

 

SIMON:

So I got to just ask you if you would share with us before I ask you a few fun questions. We always like to finish off and we're so appreciative of your time.

 

But do you have any news for us about the next projects? I know you're just coming out of, uh, “Country Music” and obviously you've been working on that a long time, but everyone's going to be so excited to see what you do next. And if you could share anything that would be amazing.

 

KEN:

Oh no, no. So, so if a filmmaker tells you they're working on seven films, they're lying. I'm working on seven films, but I promise you I'm not lying.

 

SIMON:

[Laughter]

 

KEN:

I've got four different production teams and so I can work on “Vietnam” for 10 and a half years and have it come out in 2017, and work on “Country Music” and have worked on it for eight and a half years and have it come out in 2019. If you've, if you're just starting up the new one, everything is staggered. . .

 

SIMON:

Uh-huh.

 

KEN:

. . . and each of these production teams, we have one or two in the queue. So I'm moving from thing. If this film, if this co-producer doesn't have confidence in the interviews, I'll do all the interviews. If this producer I've worked with is, is good at interviews, I might do a half or a third or a quarter or less. Um, we don't miss the writing sessions and we don't miss the editing sessions where these films are made.

 

So we are currently in the editing room. About halfway through on a three-part biography of Ernest Hemingway.

 

SIMON:

Oh.

 

KEN:

We are, um, uh, just I'm about to leave and read. I'm the narrator until we're done and we get a real narrator.

 

I’m, I’m cheap . . .

 

SIMON:

[Laughter]

 

KEN:

. . . and, and, uh, and, and every time we change an, “a,” to a “the,” that, that paragraph has to be re-read, uh, for a biography of four-part biography on Muhammad Ali.

 

We are deep into, uh, filming a major series our next war. I hate to put it that way. “Civil War,” World War II called “The War,” “Vietnam,” on the American Revolution that we hope to have out in time for the 2025, which is the 250th anniversary of the beginning of the American Revolution, um, and “Lexington and Concord” in April.

 

So, uh, we're also doing a concurrent sort of, it'll come out earlier biography of Benjamin Franklin, who like Hamilton are the two most important founders that never became presidents and therefore are super, super interesting.

 

SIMON:

Yes.

 

KEN:

For as much the reason that they didn't become president, in the case of Franklin, you know, he'd be, if they had Nobel prizes back then, he'd have a Nobel prize in science before he did the impossible as George Washington was doing on the ground here, which is he negotiated the French, to, to with the French to give money and, and, and arms and, and, and men to fight the war. And then the French got nothing out of it. We went back to being the best friends of Great Britain . . .

 

SIMON:

[Laughter]

 

KEN:

. . . and our partners, and the War of 1812 notwithstanding and, um, and the French were left with nothing in the continent, no foothold on the continent, a depleted treasury. But they had created the, this, they created this Republic. Franklin’s responsible for that.

 

We're doing a history of the Buffalo, which is a parable of de extinction. This is a magnificent animal, which was a sustainable food. . .

 

SIMON:

Yeah.

 

KEN:

. . . for a millennia perhaps.

 

And all of a sudden, in three generations of, uh, Europeans, um, was brought to the brink of extinction. But then those same people said, “timeout, wait a second, let's do this.” Right? And we have brought this animal back from way beyond the brink of extinction. And so to me, in the face of climate change, I don't, I'm, I'm not a political filmmaker. I'm not a filmmaker talking about topical things. We can tell the story of the Buffalo, which is just a great story and be speaking to people, as we're in an age where perhaps we'll be seeing the extinction of many, many species and some of them may be large mammals. Wouldn't it be nice to have on the books, have in our muscle memory the fact that we didn't.

 

We're doing a history of the United States and the Holocaust. What did we know and when do we know it? What did we do? And more importantly, what didn't we do? What did the Germans come to the United States and learn from us in our Jim Crow exclusionary laws? And they, and they stuck around for eugenics. It's complicated. It's dark. Uh, it's whatever.

 

We're doing a history of, uh, LBJs presidency. A biography of this man who considered FDR, uh, the subject of, you know, our series on the Roosevelts, um, uh, his hero. And attempted in the Great Society to, to sort of have a muscular, positive government. And so much of what is part of the bedrock of our assumptions today about social security, about civil rights, about voting rights, about uh, environment, about public broadcasting – all were born out of, uh, out of that energy. And so. . .

 

SIMON:

[Laughter]

 

KEN:

. . . um, it's a lot. They're all underway. None or this, and there are a few other projects that are ideas that we're beginning just to work on, on treatments and things like that. And I hope that added up to seven. I hope I'm not forgetting. And that one producer will call and say, “what? I can’t believe . . .”

 

SIMON:

I mean, that is so exciting. And so many great subjects. I feel kind of silly now ending the podcast with, we always like to ask people three fun questions. . .

 

KEN:

Yeah.

 

SIMON:

. . . just because I think it's a great way of kind of finding out about their personality. Although I think we found out a lot about yours because you've been so gracious sharing with us today. Um, let me ask you this.

 

So if Ken Burns was a meal, what would it be?

 

KEN:

[Laughter]

 

I guess it would have to be barbecue, and coleslaw. And maybe the Ken Salad.

 

SIMON:

The Ken Salad. Well, we already have it there. We already have it. The Ken Salad, which reminds us is bib lettuce.

 

KEN:

It's, it's, it's a, it's a piece of grilled salmon. . .

 

SIMON:

Yes.

 

KEN:

. . . on bib lettuce with shaved Parmesan, avocado and a very, very light spare lemon vinaigrette. I mean, just literally like the dry vermouth in a very dry martini.

 

SIMON:

Dry martini. Which is one of my favorite things in the whole world.

 

Okay. So, and this is a really tough one because obviously you cover so much of history.

 

If you could choose any single meal or any period in history in which to have a meal and partake of it and share with people, what would it be?

 

KEN:

I had the great privilege, my wife and my oldest daughter, then a year and a half old, uh, to be present at the 100th anniversary of the opening of the Brooklyn Bridge in which the Roebling family, the great uh, genius John Roebling, who died early on in the construction, his son Washington Roebling. Their descendants took out the River Cafe on the Brooklyn side right under the Brooklyn Bridge. And we were the only non Roeblings invited the three of us. And as the fireworks went off, I took my little girl out and um, let me get this right. No, she was maybe six months old, a little bit more. And I held her up and I said, I hope you're here for the bicentennial.

 

SIMON:

Oh.

 

KEN:

Cause I thought of, of all the people there, she had the best chance of, of being there to seeing the hund. . .  the 200th anniversary celebration at a hundred and a half or 101 or whatever it was.

 

But the meal was a recreation of the 15 or so course meal that was served originally with oysters and all of these meats.

 

SIMON:

Wow.

 

KEN:

It wasn't a salad. My wife was a vegetarian and all she could do was partake of the chocolate . . .

 

SIMON:

[Laughter]

 

KEN:

. . . table. I don't think she was too upset. . .

 

SIMON:

[Laughter]

 

KEN:

. . . but it was literally, you know, Long Island duck and this and a steak. It was just an amazing, amazing meal. But I think I would go back to sort of undermine – and not intentionally – your question, to go back to Brillat-Savarin and say, but who would it be with?

 

SIMON:

Right.

 

KEN:

And then I would say, I'd love to have a meal with Abraham Lincoln. I'd love to have a meal with Louis Armstrong, the most important musician. . .

 

SIMON:

Yes, of course.

 

KEN:

. . . in the 20th century. I'd love to, um, have a meal with Jackie Robinson. I'd love to be with Elizabeth Cady Stanton. One of the great writers of all times. I'd love to just travel with Hank Williams and just watch him compose in just 15 minutes. Hey good looking, you know, I got a hot rod Ford and a $2 bill and I know a place right over the hill. You know, I mean it's just these haiku of poetry. . .

 

SIMON:

Yeah.

 

KEN:

. . . mixed with music that just go right into your heart.

 

SIMON:

And to watch him do it. I always say, I don't care what the meal is. I just wished Frank Zappa was there.

 

KEN:

[Laughter]

 

I agree.

 

SIMON:

That’s the answer I always give.

 

And finally, this is . . .

 

KEN:

Brown shoes don’t make it.

 

SIMON:

Brown shoes certainly don't make it.

 

KEN:

We’re dating ourselves.

 

SIMON:

I am, but I, I,  followed Frank Zappa. You know, I used to go and see him in concert and I, I will, I will share just very briefly, I got to meet Frank Zappa very, very, very briefly when someone backs. . . Well, it was and it wasn't. Because I built up, quite frankly also. . . I also built up today meeting you.

 

Frank Zappa was one of my great heroes and I built up that we were going to connect and I was going to be his best friend. He was going to introduce . . .bring me up to Laurel Canyon and when he walked towards me looking like Frank Zappa with his beard and the cigarette hanging out and all I could say was, “you’re Frank Zappa.” And he went, “I guess I am.” And walked on in pure contempt.

 

KEN:

[Laughter]

 

SIMON:

So it was one of the more embarrassing moments of my life.

 

Finally. . . [Laughter]

 

. . . what would you, if you had to choose one invention in food history that changed the world more than any other, what would you choose?

 

KEN:

Oh boy, that is tough. You know, because you have the cuisine art, you have fire. I mean that's not an invention but I think that's got to be the most important thing. But to me, I have a housekeeper and a dear, dear friend and a babysitter who makes salads for me. Chopped salads out of raw like cauliflower and broccoli and cabbage and cruciferous vegetables. . .

 

SIMON:

Oh.

 

KEN:

. . . and all of this stuff. And I don't, I think she's made hundreds of them and no one is alike. And so to me the simple cutting board with a good sharp utilitarian knife, not too long, not too sharp, that knife. Cause you can really probably cut anywhere. Cutting a vegetable is, to me, the most important invention there is.

 

SIMON:

I think that's a great point.

 

At which to let you get back to making all these wonderful. . .

 

KEN:

To cutting.

 

SIMON:

. . . to cutting.

 

KEN:

[Laughter]

 

SIMON:

. . . to cut in to, um.

 

I want to thank you on behalf of all the listeners of Eat My Globe and personally myself. Just for everything you've contributed towards our understanding of American culture, understanding of how we see the world that we live in. I think you have a truly remarkable voice. It's been every bit as wonderful meeting you, uh, as I imagined it would be. And I want to thank you for your time. This has been a truly remarkable experience. I know our team are all nodding in the background here. Uh, but thank you for taking the time to come on, Eat My Globe.

 

KEN:

It’s been my pleasure. And, uh, and I mean that this has been a wonderful hour to spend with you. I hope that you're able to linger and, and smell the, uh, the, the roasted chicken, uh, and if not, please accept my invitation, uh, back. Uh, your money's no good here.

 

SIMON:

[Laughter]

 

KEN:

I'd love to, I'd love to share a meal here at Burdick’s and uh. . .

 

SIMON:

We will do that. This has been a great honor. Ken Burns, thank you so much for being on Eat My Globe.

 

KEN:

My pleasure.

 

OUTRO MUSIC

 

SIMON:

Do make sure to check out the website associated with this podcast at www dot Eat My Globe dot com where we will be posting the transcripts from each episode along with all the references and resources we use, putting the episodes together in case you want to delve deeper into each subject. There's also a contact button, so please do let us know if there are any subjects that you would like us to cover.

 

And if you like what you hear, please don't forget to subscribe, recommend us to your family and friends and give us that all important good rating on your favorite podcast provider. Thank you and goodbye from me, Simon Majumdar. We'll speak to you soon on the next episode of Eat My Globe: Things You Didn't Know You Didn't Know About Food.

 

CREDITS

 

The Eat My Globe podcast is a production of “It's Not Much But It's Ours” and “Producergirl Productions”

“that just destroyed the tape”

and is created with the kind cooperation of the UCLA department of history. We would especially like to thank Professor Carla Pestana, the Department Chair of the Department of History and Nicole Gilhuis for their notes on this episode. Also, a huge thank you to Sybil Villanueva for her help with the research and the preparations of the transcripts for this episode, which could be found on the website.

Published Date: December 23, 2019

For the annotated transcript with references and resources, please click HERE.