Matthew Amster-Burton and Molly Wizenberg served up food chatter and laughs on <em>Spilled Milk</em>. Photo by Morgen Schuler

Matthew Amster-Burton and Molly Wizenberg served up food chatter and laughs on Spilled Milk. Photo by Morgen Schuler

Laughing Over ‘Spilled Milk’

How the comedic Seattle food podcast became a tasty audible treat.

It’s a running joke on many interview podcasts that eating while recording an episode is the worst. The sounds of chewing will always draw the ire of a certain sect of sharp-eared listeners who demand audio perfection from the entertainment that they downloaded for free. Spilled Milk is not a podcast for those people. You see, munching mouth sounds is a core-tenant of the Seattle-based comedic food program. That on-air chewing and smacking is kinda what they’re all about.

“It annoys some people and probably turns on some other people,” jokes co-host Matthew Amster-Burton.

Spilled Milk is the brainchild of food writers Molly Wizenberg (owner of the pizzeria Delancey and bestselling author of A Homemade Life and Delancey: A Man, a Woman, a Restaurant, a Marriage) and Amster-Burton (an established freelancer and author of books like Pretty Good Number One: An American Family Eats Tokyo). In each episode the pair spends around 30 minutes playfully discussing a single food item: going briefly into its background, their personal memories of it, eating varieties of it—sometimes homemade—on the air (hence the aforementioned mouth sounds), and then discussing their instant reactions.

Over 320+ episodes, they’ve covered basics (scrambled eggs, olive oil, bagels), trendy drinks (Kombucha), lots of junk food (Mountain Dew, Pop Tarts, various foreign specialties), and oddities (cough drops, lip balm). And while listeners will certainly learn something new with each episode, Amster-Burton and Wizenberg’s goal is mainly to entertain each other, rather than just offering an information dump. is the type of show where one host quizzing the other over which made-up-sounding heirloom apple variety names are real (Magnum Bonum and Little Limbertwigs—both real!), and good chunks of episodes devolve into discussions of Patrick Swayze’s role in Ghost, remembrances of makeouts past, or popping popcorn inside Dennis Quaid’s body.

It all started when the two were casual acquaintances road-tripping to Portland for a food panel in spring 2009. While munching on Corn and Cool Ranch Doritos, they fell into a conversational groove where they easily made each other laugh. While they hit it off, it wasn’t until later in the year that the idea of podcasting became a reality.

“I was a contributing editor to Gourmet magazine, which abruptly went out of business,” says Amster-Burton. “And I’m like uh oh … I need to find something to do very soon. And I was listening to a lot of comedy podcasts at the time and thinking, I would like to do that, but maybe it’s too late to start a podcast in 2009. Maybe all the podcasts have already happened at this point. And so I emailed Molly and said, ‘Let’s do a comedy food podcast.’ It took us several months to figure out how to put together our first mediocre episode.”

Episodes are taped at Amster-Burton’s Capitol Hill apartment, right next to his well-stocked kitchen.t.) Originally, they wanted to include a cooking segment, but the audio of cooking sounds was untenable (though the apartment ceiling still bears the scar of where Amster-Burton attempted to mount a ceiling microphone).

The duo convenes every couple weeks to bang out two episodes on a Thursday, their topics originating via their own whims or listener suggestions. They then send the audio to Abby Cerquitella—who has been producing Spilled Milk for five years—to edit and post.

As with many homemade podcast ventures, it took the Spilled Milk team a while to figure out what they were doing and find a comfort zone. After launching on Jan. 7, 2010 with “Fried Eggs,” Amster-Burton says it probably wasn’t almost two years before the show hit its stride (he points to episode 52, November 2011’s “Apples”).

After four years of producing Spilled Milk mainly for their own amusement—while still building up a following—Amster-Burton reached out to a company that matches advertisers to podcasts. Suddenly, Spilled Milk became a real job.

The podcast averages over 13,000 listeners from around the globe each week and the duo has taped live episodes at Town Hall, Pocket Theater, and Barboza (and even taken it on the road). Still, it can be disorienting running into listeners.

“I was at a Seattle Arts and Lectures thing the other evening,” says Wizenberg, “and a woman came up to me, introduced herself, and goes ‘I was listening to ravioli on the way over here.’ And in my mind I was like, Did we record a ravioli episode recently? Is she talking about our podcast? I don’t even remember.”

“She just had her ear up to a bag of frozen ravioli,” Amster-Burton jokingly posits.

While the show is not Seattle-centric, the city weaves its way into some episodes, whether its Wizenberg talking about Rachel’s Ginger Beer or Amster-Burton suggesting a local spot to get fresh curry paste. “We’ve done more than 300 shows now, and a lot of the things we have done we have access to in a variety that I would never find elsewhere,” Wizenberg says.

While their palettes are open to most any episode topic, the hosts cite a few that feel un-podcastable. Wizenberg jokes that java is probably out of the question because she wouldn’t “touch coffee with a 10-foot pole in this town.” Amster-Burton adds, “We’ve avoided doing vegetarian meat substitutes. I can’t think of a way we would do it without it sounding like we’re making fun of vegetarians, which is punching down and not funny.”

Despite their bona fides, the hosts don’t credit the success of Spilled Milk to any grand culinary insight. Rather, they believe that people listen because they enjoy feeling like they’re hanging out once a week with their pals Matthew and Molly. It’s what keeps the show fresh for its hosts too.

“Doing this show is the best job I’ve ever had,” says Amster-Burton. “Writing is so satisfying when you’re done and you see your name on something, but the process itself is very lonely. And being able to do a job where the core of it is sitting down with my friend and laughing every week? That’s super gratifying.”

ssommerfeld@seattleweekly.com

Molly Wizenberg. Photo by Morgen Schuler

Molly Wizenberg. Photo by Morgen Schuler

Matthew Amster-Burton. Photo by Morgen Schuler

Matthew Amster-Burton. Photo by Morgen Schuler

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