Ten or so years ago, food writer Jocelyn Ruggiero heard a jaunty tune by Memphis Minnie called "Keep on Eating." The song struck a chord and she noted its title and the performer for future reference, figuring some project, some day, would benefit from Minnie's wise words about food as ultimate expression of love.
That day has come. Tune in to Southampton, Long Island, NPR station 88.3 WPPB on Monday, and you'll hear Memphis Minnie sing listeners into Ruggiero's maiden radio show, "Foodie Fatale with Jocelyn Ruggiero," the first in a planned series of shows celebrating the foods of Connecticut and chronicling the Madison resident's "passionate encounters with everything edible."
"This is a show about the joys and pleasures of eating," Ruggiero explains.
To Ruggiero, in true "Fatale" fashion, food is a sensual, communal thing, so each episode focuses on "a culinary adventure exploring people, places and foods - bringing the visceral pleasure of taste and discovery to listeners."
As for the "Foodie" part of her moniker, that stems from a lifelong passion for food. A food writer, blogger, and corporate planner by background, Ruggiero explains her foodie cred easily.
"I love to eat. I'm an eater," she notes.
And those who love to eat, tend to love to cook, as Ruggiero does, and she says she learned more and more about food and its preparation over the years through her work and her own experimentation. Those years of research - like Memphis Minnie - ended up pointing the way to the radio show.
"The more I find out about where food comes from - when I find out who has grown something, where it comes from - it really does taste better to me. And it means more. The show was born of that real curiosity and passion to know more about what I'm eating," Ruggiero explains.
As a primarily print writer, Ruggiero admits she hadn't considered radio as a medium for her mission, but a successful guest spot on WPPB's "Eclectic Cafe" with Bonnie Grice - Ruggiero's first radio appearance - set still more wheels in motion. After her interview, the president of the station approached Ruggiero about recording a show of her own. She agreed; following her conversation with Grice, it had occurred to Ruggiero that radio offers an intimacy that isn't always possible in print.
"I want people to feel like they're right there with me, tasting things, smelling things, hearing the birds, feeling the water. I want to use radio as a way to really transport people, the way they used to be transported by radio shows in the 1940s," Ruggiero says.
Each episode will focus on a local food item from its production to its preparation, in an effort to truly showcase the bounty of Connecticut. In episode 1, listeners will be transported to Behan Family Farm on Ninigret Pond in Charlestown, R.I., where Ruggiero explores the process of growing and raising Ninigret Nectar oysters. After the segment on the farm, the show shifts over to the Oyster Club in Mystic where Ruggiero tastes some Ninigrets as prepared by resident chef James Wayman. They are joined by food author Michael Stern of "Road Food" fame, and the panel goes on to offer tasting notes and other anecdotes about the smooth, slightly sweet oyster - in short, basic table conversation among food lovers.
The short guest list and conversational format are meant to capitalize on the unique experience that radio offers.
Ruggiero says, "I want it to feel really intimate, so that the person listening feels like they're the fourth person at the table."
Episode 1 will air four times starting Monday, June 24 (see sidebar), then remain available in WPPB's show archive. Future shows are dependent on the station meeting its fundraising goal for the show, but Ruggiero, as an executive producer confident in her show's apeal, has them all planned out anyway. Going forward, she hopes to explore Connecticut cheeses, strawberries, bluefish, beekeeping and honey and lobster among many other ideas, thanks to the state's agricultural diversity.
Ruggiero notes, "What I love about Connecticut is, we have the ocean, we have farms, we have such incredible fishermen, growers, farmers - we have it all right in our state."
Still, the main appeal in bringing her love of food to the air waves is to cultivate a sense of community and ritual among listeners. Food remains an aspect of living to which we all relate; one that plays a role elsewhere in the human drama.
As Ruggiero notes, "Food is a way to talk about love, loss, passion, sex ... everything, because we all relate to food. And I love looking at it like a lens, through which you can see all different aspects (of life)."