Edition 2: Tina Antolini
Tina is one of those super chill people who does amazing shit and then will just sit next to you drinking cheap beer making jokes like nothing happened. In a world where everyone wants to hype their own achievements at all times, she's a real breath of fresh air. New Orleans is an amazing culinary destination that is currently producing some of the best new food, drinks, and experiences in the country. What is also so exciting is that this city has enough space for anyone to share their own unique gifts and talents even if you don't work in a kitchen. Tina produces a wonderful culinary podcast, Gravy, that shares with the world all the things we love so much in our small town. Gravy is also winning awards.
Launched in 2014, Gravy is already making waves. Tina and her colleagues won Publication of the Year in 2015 from James Beard Foundation and then in 2016 won James Beard Foundation Book, Broadcast, and Journalism award.
What is your most hard fought win?
I’m not sure I can sort my life so cleanly into “wins” and “losses.” But launching Gravy, the podcast I host and produce with the Southern Foodways Alliance (SFA), certainly feels like an achievement. The concept for the show—telling stories through the lens of food—is one that I’d been daydreaming about for years. I’d pick it up every so often and refine the concept, but I was always so engrossed in my job, I’m not sure I ever thought I could make this show a reality. Then, in the spring and summer of 2014, I decided I needed to go for it. I was lucky enough to find a partnership with the SFA that helped make the show financially feasible for me, and we released the first episode in November of 2014. It immediately found an audience, and, less than 6 months after we launched, we won a James Beard Award for Publication of the Year. We’re now nominated for a second James Beard Award this year, one for Best Podcast. It’s so rewarding to have something you’d been incubating for such a long time have such a strong reception.
What has been your most surprising failure?
What first came to mind was the time a story I was working on completely fell apart on me. This was for the NPR show I worked for at the time, State of the Re:Union. It was a story about the effort to bring back certain varieties of corn and other vegetables on a Native American reservation outside of Phoenix, Arizona. I’d spoken with some farmers and also with a doctor who told me about the fact that this reservation had an extraordinarily high rate of diabetes. So, to some degree, the effort to bring these fresh vegetables back was a very much needed health initiative—and one that might prove a model for other places. At the last minute, as we were driving to the reservation for the story, I heard from one of my contacts that we’d failed to get permission from the tribal government to be reporting on their reservation which, after all, is their sovereign territory. We couldn’t do the story, and it was because I hadn’t thought through the process required to report in this place. That was a professional failure on my part, but, as a reporter and producer, it’s one that has an impact, also on our audience: this was a story that they didn’t get to hear.
What is your favorite book in the past 12 months?
I read “When Breath Becomes Air” by Paul Kalanithi in about 24 hours. I just couldn’t put it down. It’s a memoir by a neurosurgeon who, at age 36, is diagnosed with terminal cancer. That sounds heavy—and it is. But it’s also one of the more beautiful considerations of life, living and how we package our ideas about ourselves and our futures into narratives that, when suddenly faced with death and dying, come unraveling. It’s an extraordinary book.
How do you define success for your current job?
I could say that success for Gravy would be finding a huge listenership, and that certainly would be nice. But I actually define success a bit more broadly than a numbers game. I think Gravy is successful if we’re telling surprising stories about people in the South who wouldn’t otherwise have a platform to be heard. If we’re using food to get at topics that are not just pleasurable and delicious, but challenging, ones that provide real insight into the ways in which we make our lives here in the South. I want to make stories that touch and inform people; that, to me, is success.
Where do you find news and new information?
A bunch of places. I still get the actual physical newspaper on Sundays, and the New Yorker, which I can never keep up with; I have stacks of them waiting to be read. I follow certain people and media sources on Twitter to curate my news in a particular way, as wide a range of political and cultural sources as I can find, both people from within the food world and the worlds of journalism and public radio. I have to admit: I’m kind of a fan of Lena Dunham’s “Lenny” newsletter, and one of my favorite reads all week is Maria Popova’s “Brain Pickings” newsletter.