Johns Hopkins University
Fall/Winter 2006
Vol. 4, No. 1

ALUMNI

Cooking Up Delectable TV

Moving Forward at Los Alamos

 

 

 

 

 


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Cooking Up Delectable TV

Charlie Pinsky with Julia Child

Pinsky, the man who has every foodie's dream job, idolized Julia Child.

Charlie Pinsky’s job goes something like this: Travel through gorgeous parts of the United States and Europe, stay in the finest hotels, and get wined and dined at top restaurants while filming PBS cooking programs with some of the world’s most accomplished chefs. Return home to New York for post-production, to catch up with his daughter who goes to Columbia University, his friends, and to scratch his dog Pablo’s ears before he heads back out onto the road. Repeat.

Pinsky ’72 has spent more than 20 years running his own production company and being the executive producer of such PBS programs as How to Cook Everything: Bittman Takes on America’s Chefs, Barbecue University with Steven Raichlen, and Dessert Circus with Jacques Torres. His work has been recognized with five James Beard Awards for Best National Cooking Series. The awards honor excellence in food journalism.

“People always hear what I do and think I have the ideal job,” says Pinsky, 56. “It’s everybody’s fantasy. For me, it’s work.”

“People always hear what I do and think I have the ideal job. It’s everybody’s fantasy. For me, it’s work.”

But it’s hard to hate the guy for having every foodie’s dream job. Sure he’s dined at El Bulli in Roses, Spain, the finest restaurant in the world. And he’s eaten the food of such chefs as Mario Batali, Jacques Pepin, and Pierre Franey. But Pinsky also produces and directs some of the most spirited food programs on TV. “There’s a market for every kind of viewer and cook out there,” says Pinsky, whose shows blend beautiful landscapes with appealing people and sumptuous-looking food. His sense of humor shines through in nearly everything he does. And nowhere is it more apparent than with the shows he’s done with Mark Bittman, the New York Times writer and best-selling author of How to Cook Everything. Pinsky calls Bittman a curmudgeon—the kind of guy who isn’t afraid to tell classically trained chefs that his version of their food is better. Says Pinsky, “Mark’s on the warpath to attack pretense.”

And when he does, it’s funny. In one show, chef Chris Schlesinger tosses Bittman into the harbor. And in another, Pinsky has two young, buff restaurateurs pass Bittman on a mountain jogging trail and pat his rump as they dash by. “My job as a director is to make people comfortable on TV and then create funny scenarios to put them in,” Pinsky says.

A native of Hartford, Conn., Pinsky came to Johns Hopkins because he wanted a liberal arts education at a school where he could play both lacrosse and football. “Growing up in Connecticut, I thought that going to Hopkins in Baltimore represented going to school in the Deep South,” he says with a chuckle. “It kind of was, I guess. People I met from Maryland thought I sounded like I was from Northern Maine.

“It was a great place for me from the first day on and I think a lot of that was because of the athletic connection. I also enjoyed some great professors and, between Beta Theta Pi and Goucher, other pleasures,” says Pinsky.

And then there was his passion for watching Julia Child and The Galloping Gourmet on PBS every day as an undergraduate. “I always arranged my schedule so I didn’t miss that hour,” he says.

A social and behavioral sciences major, Pinsky went on to do graduate work in communications at the University of Pennsylvania before landing a production job at CBS Sports. He traveled all over the country and worked on mega sporting events ranging from NFL football games to the Masters to the Triple Crown. He loved the job, but soon discovered it wasn’t his ultimate career goal. “I came to realize that what I really wanted to do in TV was to have more control over what I was doing and more variety in subject matter than live sports could give me.”

So he formed his own production company, frappe inc., and began producing how-to food and travel shows for PBS. His first food show was Madeleine Cooks for Maryland Public Television. Other shows like Cooking in America, Jewish Cooking in America, and Jacques Pepin: The Apprentice followed. “I thought I’d eventually go back to sports but food just became a good niche career,” he says. “It allowed me to call my own shots.”

(A side note: Pinsky hasn’t just done food and travel TV. He is also the producer of Once Upon a Potty, the DVD that’s become the Bible of Toilet Training for parents and has sold more than 15 million copies. He also did a well-regarded prime time PBS documentary on comedy after September 11.)

There was a time when Pinsky fantasized about owning his own restaurant some day. He’s become a great cook but he’s not looking to go into the restaurant business anytime soon. In fact, when he’s home in New York, he doesn’t spend much time toiling in the kitchen.

“Since I get invited to the best restaurants all the time, I don’t usually cook,” he says. “My favorite thing to eat is probably a good piece of cheese and a good piece of fruit. Does that count?”