The Marriage of Food and Wine
With two professional foodies in the house, holidays are...well, entertaining
Thanksgiving isn’t celebrated on the traditional third Thursday in November at the Silver Spring home of Sally Swift and Michael Franz, two of the area’s most influential foodies. They celebrate three days later instead.
By then, Swift will have returned from a week in St. Paul, Minn., where she produces the live Thanksgiving Day broadcast of “The Splendid Table,” the award-winning radio show she co-created. And that Saturday, she and her husband will gather friends around a large, rustic dining table for a home-cooked, post-Thanksgiving feast, with wines selected by Franz, the co-founder and editor of Wine Review Online.
The meal will cap a “crazy busy” week of preparation for “The Splendid Table’s” live show. Producing the two-hour program is “like balancing on a high wire with no net,” Swift says, as host Lynne Rossetto Kasper and her guests—celebrated chefs and other culinary experts—answer cooking questions called in by listeners.
Once the show’s over, Swift is happy to board a plane and head home for the annual Saturday night dinner with friends in the couple’s cozy, wood-frame Cape Cod on one of Silver Spring’s few remaining dirt roads.
“The weekend after Thanksgiving is a time for me to slow down, breathe deeply and reconnect with old friends,” Swift says.
The annual dinner also provides an opportunity to showcase the polished hospitality that reflects the couple’s years of expertise as food and wine professionals.
Nearly 1 million listeners tune in weekly to American Public Media’s “The Splendid Table,” which Swift and Kasper co-created 17 years ago. The show—which also features Jane and Michael Stern, the peripatetic Roadfood.com writers who celebrate classic American regional specialties—has won two James Beard Foundation Awards, a Gracie Allen Award for best syndicated talk show from the Foundation of American Women in Radio and Television and four Clarion Awards from The Association for Women in Communications. Locally, the program airs at 3 p.m. on Saturdays and at 11 a.m. on Thanksgiving Day on WAMU-FM (88.5).
“The show would never have happened except for Sally,” says Kasper, who recalls Swift coming up with the idea after Kasper’s first cookbook, The Splendid Table (William Morrow Cookbooks, 1992), became the first ever to win both James Beard and Julia Child cookbook of the year awards. “I told her, ‘You make the show happen and I will show up.’ And that’s what she did.
“When Sally decides something is going to happen, she is like an arrow released from the bow. Nothing stops her.”
Swift, 51, has the final say on program content and production, and manages relationships with member stations and corporate underwriters. She spends one week out of every six in St. Paul, and telecommutes the rest of the time, managing weekly production, overseeing interviews and edits, from her home office via iChat.
In addition to producing the show, Swift has co-authored two best-selling cookbooks with Kasper—The Splendid Table’s How to Eat Supper (Clarkson Potter, 2008) and The Splendid Table’s How to Eat Weekends (Clarkson Potter, 2011), which was nominated for a James Beard Award.
Her husband’s credits are equally impressive. A former wine critic for The Washington Post, Franz, 55, has spent the past seven years editing and managing Wine Review Online, a web-based publication that receives about 100,000 unique visitors monthly. He travels overseas to visit wine producers for six or seven weeks annually and judges wine competitions around the world.
He’s also a wine consultant for the 16-restaurant, locally based Clyde’s Restaurant Group, which includes Clyde’s of Chevy Chase and Old Ebbitt Grill, 1789 Restaurant and The Hamilton in Washington, D.C. In January, Franz tasted about 2,200 wines—about 70 each day—to identify the 55 or so that make up the core of the 2012 wine list for Clyde’s Restaurant Group. This January, he’ll conduct another marathon sampling with tasting partner Paul Lukacs to identify wines for the company’s 2013 list.
Franz is also a tenured professor and political science department chair at Loyola University Maryland in Baltimore—a post that requires a full teaching load and extensive publication in scholarly journals. He travels to Baltimore three days a week to teach during the academic year.
The couple met in 2007 during a weeklong press tour of Galicia, Spain, organized by that country’s wineries. It was Swift’s first wine trip. “Lynne and I were the token food people,” she recalls. “It was a brutal trip. We tasted 100 wines a day.”
“It was a standard trip,” Franz says wryly. “With experience, you develop endurance.”