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Francis Lam Has Some Thoughts About St. Louis-Style Food

Francis Lam is the host of The Splendid Table.
Melanie Dunea

As the host of "The Splendid Table," a cookbook editor and food journalist, Francis Lam has explored cuisines from all around the world. That may be one reason he’s not at all disconcerted by St. Louis’ method of slicing bagels as if they were loaves of bread.

“They’re like bagel chips, but not toasted,” he said, laughing, during a conversation with St. Louis on the Air that aired Thursday. “I get it!”

And when you put it that way, really, wasn’t the whole “St. Louis-style" bagel controversy earlier this year just a bit overblown? Lam, a New Jersey native who lives in New York City, certainly thinks so.

“People were freaking out about it, and I was like, ‘I don’t know, man, have some sense of proportion. It seems fine,’” he said. “I don’t know, you go to the corner deli here, and you see people who are like, ‘OK, how I want my bagel is, you cut it in half, sliced the long way, and then I want you to scoop it out, so I want you to throw out half the bagel before you give me the bagel.’ No one seems to mind that here, so why is slicing it vertically weird to you?

“You do you. That’s also my larger food philosophy. You do you. You need your bagel to be an eighth of an inch thick? Sure!”

Lam talked with St. Louis on the Air in advance of his Aug. 15 appearance at St. Louis Public Radio. That night, he’ll record "The Splendid Table" live, along with with local guests Michael Gallina, the chef/owner of Vicia; Tamara Keefe, the CEO of Clementine’s Creamery; and Ramon Cuffie, the chef at Herbie’s. 

On the talk show, Lam discussed what it was like taking over for Lynne Rossetto Kasper, the beloved founder and host of "The Splendid Table" for 21 years. He also talked about immigration, the way our increasingly global culture is changing regional cuisine, and, yes, toasted ravioli.

Never fear: He thinks there is room in St. Louis for both great Sichuan food and Ted Drewes.

“There are ways in which regionalisms are fading, in that a lot of our media is national, a lot of our social media is not of a place,” he acknowledged. “And I do think there is a certain sadness I might feel, because regionalisms are powerful and important. But there’s also a unifying factor. In the best-case scenario, it can inspire people in a region to learn more about the place, to learn more about their region, to bolster their love of it and to bolster those stories — and to learn how to make toasted ravioli, and to learn how to make gooey butter cake, and to really support the frozen custard makers that you’ve always loved, and to make sure they’re in business, and to promote those things to the world, while still welcoming the world to your back door ... I don’t want to be too Pollyanna-ish about it, but I think that is one way that food can be powerful as a force for good.”

Hear the conversation:

Related Event
What: "The Splendid Table" Live Taping
When: 7 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 15, 2019
Where: St. Louis Public Radio (3651 Olive Street, St. Louis, MO 63108)

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill, Lara Hamdan and Alexis Moore. The engineer is Aaron Doerr, and production assistance is provided by Charlie McDonald.

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Sarah Fenske served as host of St. Louis on the Air from July 2019 until June 2022. Before that, she spent twenty years in newspapers, working as a reporter, columnist and editor in Cleveland, Houston, Phoenix, Los Angeles and St. Louis.

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org.