Creator, host and journalist Rachel Belle interviews actors, musicians, authors and athletes about what they would choose to eat for their last meal, then brings in experts from around the world to dig into the history, culture and science of those dishes — everyone from the designer who created Lady Gaga’s infamous meat dress to the ice-cream wizards who dream up flavors for Ben & Jerry’s.
With over 160 episodes, Belle has interviewed guests including Greta Gerwig, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Jack Johnson, Jewel, Jenny Slate, Margaret Cho, William Shatner, Kenji Lopez-Alt, Mayim Bialik, John Waters, Isaac Mizrahi and Bill Nye.
You can find the latest episode (out today!) with Pati Jinich, James Beard Award-winning PBS host of Pati's Mexican Table and La Frontera, right here.
This spring at the Crosscut Ideas Festival, Belle hosted a live taping of Your Last Meal with Marc Summers, host of Nickelodeon’s Double Dare and Food Network’s Unwrapped.
Today Belle shares some of the joys, surprises and unlikely flavor combinations she’s stumbled upon in the seven years since Your Last Meal premiered.
Why did you start the Your Last Meal series?
I was a news-radio reporter for 20 years, and while researching a story I stumbled upon a website that listed the last meals of every inmate executed in the state of Texas. Some people asked for 20 things, some asked for one, many wanted fried chicken.
I thought a lot about my last meal, and eventually dreamed up a show where the question “What would you choose for your last meal?” would be used as a catalyst for conversation. A way to get to know people in the zeitgeist through the at-once universal and intimate topic of food. I love to learn, so I also wanted there to be an educational element where we could learn the stories behind the dishes they love most. Despite the show’s early inspiration, it is not at all morbid — it’s a fun little food-related romp!
Why are you drawn to talking about food?
Food tells us so much about people! I love looking in people’s refrigerators and shopping carts. I want to know what you had for dinner last night and what your favorite road-trip snack is! Food can teach us so much about the world: Immigration patterns, politics and war inform so much about the way we eat.
Why are there so many pho restaurants in Seattle? Why do we celebrate birthdays with cake? It teaches us about people. Did you know Ben & Jerry’s ice cream is famously chunky because Ben can’t smell or taste? Why President George W. Bush served all foreign diplomats cheeseburgers? Why John Waters wants a single leaf of arugula as his last meal? These are good stories!
Food is memory, nostalgia and celebration; it’s a way to connect and bond with loved ones and strangers and it’s ever evolving and changing. We will never run out of food topics to talk about. The delight my guests exude when they talk about their favorite foods and the memories attached to them, the emails I get from listeners who went on a road trip to try a food they heard about on the show — we can use more light like this in the world!
How has the podcast changed the way you think about or experience food?
Through the research and interviews I’ve done, I have learned so much about food history, so many fun food facts, and have cooked and tried dishes I hadn’t heard of before. Through the last meal of Iron & Wine I adopted a new favorite summer food: squishy white bread slathered in Duke’s mayo and topped with ripe, juicy slices of heirloom tomato and flaky salt. Thanks to Top Chef judge Gail Simmons, I now know the glory of Banoffee Pie. I’ve learned that the word “authentic” doesn’t mean much. For example, most folks would consider al pastor an “authentic” Mexican dish, but it was actually brought to Mexico by Middle Eastern immigrants. The lamb on the spit eventually became pork and the pita bread was swapped out for tortillas. Food is constantly in flux!
What would be your last meal?
I’m going to give the annoying answer: Listen to this episode and find out. But one tease: raw local oysters!
What about the best thing you’ve eaten in the past week?
You caught me in a bit of a fancy week! Last week I would have said the tiny, just-boiled potatoes I ate one by one, smeared with butter and sprinkled with salt, while standing at the kitchen counter barefoot.
But this week I had an amazing meal at Eight Row in Greenlake. We ordered half the menu! My favorites were the halibut ceviche with fennel, black lime, apricot habanero jam, lemon leaf oil + coconut ginger leche de tigre (definitely copying and pasting from their website!); and cherries and beets with watermelon aguachile, radish, puffed rice, whipped feta, hoja santa yogurt + salmon roe. SO GOOD!
From the past seven years of hosting the show, what are some of the most memorable episodes for you?
I love the weirdos best of all.
William Shatner was a delightful maniac, super-engaged and witty and playful, but also a loose cannon; he said a couple things that would make any publicist cringe and any interviewer applaud. Moby’s last meal was very unexpected. He wants a single, organic orange eaten mindfully. Isaac Mizrahi was definitely a favorite; he has a lot of strong opinions about food, is very charming and witty and surprised me by inviting me to his apartment in Manhattan to cook together a few months later!