Food & Drink

This popular Raleigh-based podcast will make you hungry

Matt Weiss, left, laughs as Max Trujillo, right, interviews Gaurav “G” Patel, of Eschelon Experiences, for their podcast, NC F&B podcast, at Trujillo’s Raleigh home on Tuesday, May 23, 2017.
Matt Weiss, left, laughs as Max Trujillo, right, interviews Gaurav “G” Patel, of Eschelon Experiences, for their podcast, NC F&B podcast, at Trujillo’s Raleigh home on Tuesday, May 23, 2017. jleonard@newsobserver.com

Before Max Trujillo and Matthew Weiss press record for an episode of their podcast, they’re quick to set the tone with their guest.

Trujillo tells restaurateur Guarav “G” Patel – the guest of the 38th episode of the NC F&B Podcast – that they’ll have a fun conversation. They’ll chat about life in the hospitality industry and how Patel came from a tiny village in India to own Echelon Experiences, which has multiple restaurants and bars in the Triangle.

“But nothing too, like, Barbara Walters-y, and you start crying at the end,” Trujillo adds.

“If you do, and shed a tear, there’s nothing wrong with that, you know,” Weiss chimes in.

Should that happen, Trujillo cracks, it’s a good thing there’s wine and bourbon at arm’s reach in their studio at Trujillo’s home.

Hey, the “F” and “B” in the podcast’s name does stand for Food and Beverage.

Over the next hour or so, tears won’t be shed, but the conversation does become reflective as Patel, 33, recounts how years of pushing himself as a teenager, along with his family’s support, built him a career filled with successes, and a few setbacks.

“When you go back and you really think about life in general – I’m trying not to get too deep here,” Patel says, noting the bottle of wine next to a pot of coffee in front of him. “It’s survival of the fittest. That still exists. ... That creates drive.”

This drive and passion for the hospitality industry is a common thread of the podcast, which aims to pull back the curtain on the state’s burgeoning restaurant and beverage industry to learn more about the people who make it tick. The co-hosts hope to capitalize on the state’s enthusiasm for chef and drink culture that continues to garner national attention.

“Wouldn’t they want to know what’s going on behind the scenes?” Weiss says. “I simplify it to VH1’s ‘Behind the Music of Food Culture.’ That, for me, is the heart of the idea of the podcast.”

An easy partnership

Trujillo and Weiss have years of combined experience in the hospitality industry, and they use that knowledge, along with their congenial banter, to get their guests to open up. They launched their first episode Dec. 1 and have released 39 episodes – and counting. A new episode, about an hour or so in length, is released every Thursday.

The result is a roster of who’s who in the food and beverage world: Henk Schuitemaker, the Angus Barn’s wine director for 31 years; Durham’s Mattie Beason, who owns Black Twig Cider House and Mattie B’s Public House; Piedmont restaurant’s Chef John May and general manager Crawford Leavoy; and Chef Cheetie Kumar of Garland, who nabbed her first James Beard Award nomination this spring. Patel, the guest of the hour, was named the North Carolina Restaurant and Lodging Association’s Restaurateur of the Year in February.

The list also includes food artisans and those involved in the restaurant world, including Louis Cherry, who is referred to as an “architect to the restaurant stars.”

“It’s evolved,” Weiss said. “We really get into everything. It’s not just about food. It’s not just about the creative process. We talk about anything. That brings out the personality of the person.”

Weiss and Trujillo also have figured out their respective roles on the show. Weiss says he’s the one who digs in and asks technical questions. He takes notes on the people and places their guests namedrop, so they can be highlighted on the companion website.

Weiss says Trujillo is the one who weaves in anecdotes from his personal and professional background to relate to their guests.

It’s tricky to measure the exact audience for each episode, Trujillo says. They’re released on both iTunes and on SoundCloud. Apple doesn’t provide statistics on downloads, so Trujillo and Weiss look to the number of SoundCloud streams.

At first, they got a few hundred streams. A marathon of Charlotte-based episodes – three chefs and two bartenders – started to expand their audience.

In recent months, that number has climbed to a few thousand, thanks to word of mouth and social media. A recent episode on Standard Foods broke a record with 3,000 streams and remains the most listened episode so far. Patel’s episode, released June 15, had the most downloads in one day – 1,000.

“I truly feel we took a turn at the beginning of the year,” Trujillo said. “We stopped talking to friends and found people we didn’t know.”

A desire to learn

Trujillo, 39, came to Raleigh more than three years ago from Los Angeles, where he had worked his way up from server to bartender to wine director and then restaurant general manager. In Raleigh, he was the general manager at Midtown Grille in North Hills before becoming general manager of Standard Foods.

Weiss, also 39, met Trujillo in Los Angeles. When Trujillo was promoted to wine director at Cafe Del Ray, Weiss answered the ad to become the bar manager.

Weiss had been bartending while trying to kickstart an acting career. While he did theater and commercial work, people discouraged him from pursuing it more than that.

While shuttling back and forth from Los Angeles to his family’s home in New York, he started working at restaurants where he learned the “next level of wine.” He’s now a certified sommelier and a representative for Heaven Hill Brands in North Carolina.

Like Trujillo, Weiss eventually decided to move to North Carolina for a better quality of life. They talked about creating a podcast to get to know the industry better, and to make new friends.

They made separate wish lists of 20 potential guests and compared notes. Their first name was the same: Hai Tran, the now-former wine director of The Umstead Hotel & Spa.

“We wanted to learn,” Trujillo said. “What does it take to run a wine program for a five-star resort? Then we talked to farmers, chefs, Videri chocolate.”

The wish list continues to grow, but so does the number of people who volunteer to share their stories on the podcast. There are other steps of progress. They have a new sponsor for a month of episodes – Steve Mangano, a Raleigh entrepreneur who created the CurEat restaurant advice app. (Food-Seen, a food-themed photography and multimedia company owned by Felicia Perry-Trujillo, Max’s wife, has been a sponsor from the beginning.)

And they have moved out of Perry-Trujillo’s home office to a table with plenty of room for guests, equipment and a possible bottle of wine.

There are still some names they have yet to book: Raleigh chefs Scott Crawford of Crawford and Son and Ashley Christensen of Poole’s Diner, along with Vivian Howard of Kinston’s Chef and the Farmer. They have an Asheville week in the works to record multiple episodes and also hope to have a beer-themed episode.

For the moment, they’re happy with the variety of guests they’ve had and the experiences they’ve learned about, from chocolate making to organic farming.

The hour with Patel covers a range of anecdotes – from Patel throwing an after-party for Prince to his new Social House Vodka to the lessons he’s learned in the business.

One thing is certain for Patel, and for his hosts.

“Once you get into the restaurant business, it will never leave your veins,” Patel said. “It runs through it. I don’t know what I’d do with myself.”

Jessica Banov: 919-829-4831, @JessicaBanov

Want to listen?

Go to ncfbpodcast.com or find it on Apple’s iTunes. The podcast also can be found on the NC F&B Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts.

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