Caught on Tape

A short biographical article by Steven Cuffari

Pumpkin Projected onto the Wall by Matthew Gordon via Wikipedia licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

Podcasting. How did I get here? 24 episodes and six months later, and I feel like I will do this for the rest of my life. It doesn’t matter whether or not you know what I am talking about. Or if you’ve ever listened to my podcast. That’s not why I do it. But I’ll get to that in a moment.

There is something very natural to me about podcasting. The simplicity. At least, it is the way I do it. There’s very little editing. Very little intervention. Like a natural wine. Or maybe it’s just me… But I digress. How did I get here? Let me start at the beginning…

The first audio recordings I ever made were with my brother, who is one year younger than me. I must have been eight or nine years old. I won’t go into detail about those recordings, because their content is irrelevant. Let it suffice to say that at a young age we were able to create stories, little worlds, using only our voices, a boom box, some blank cassette tapes and our imaginations. That was the power of audio, even back then. It was a perfectly natural, simple thing to do at the time, and we had the technology to do it.

Later as a teenager and young adult, I had become a musician (again, that’s another story). As a result, I began to record music and started my experiments with audio anew. Creating high-quality recordings was now even easier.

Since those early days, I’ve toyed with audio recording devices of many kinds–multitrack tape recorders, basic mixing consoles, computer audio interfaces, portable voice recorders, audio software, even smartphones.

In the research leading up to my first podcast, I was happy to find out how good and affordable audio technology had become since my previous experiences. Right now it seems that that technology will only continue to get better and cheaper.

But the important question is why? Why create a podcast? Especially one like mine, which is more or less an audio record of my conversations with various friends and acquaintances. Why create such a record? What purpose does it serve? It turns out that there are many answers to these questions.

Before I answer them I want to point something out. I always say that I don’t agree with ninety percent of what comes out of my mouth. And I believe that most people don’t want hard evidence of often thoughtless and improvised shit they say. That seems like a tangent, but I’ll get to it.

One reason I do podcasting is that, for me, it is a kind of therapy. Regular podcasts can be a way for me to work out whatever might be going on. Of course, the podcast is not just about me (usually it’s not at all about me). I have guests and collaborators on nearly every episode. Which brings me to another reason I do it.

Podcasting helps me to create communities based on my interests. This might not be obvious, but podcasting can require a lot of people and collaborators. Since I don’t have much time or money, I do virtually everything production-wise on my own. The more people involved, the easier it is. My gracious and amazing guests are often the podcast’s main attraction. Arguably, they are the only reason the podcast exists. These communities and the desire to create them are yet another story that will go untold for now (I’m racking up future stories to tell, if you haven’t noticed). I’ll have to get to that another time.

Another reason I do podcasts is somewhat more selfish. I do it to create a body of work that showcases my ability to produce media. I know, it sounds vague and weird, but there’s not much more to say than that. Maybe I can explain it better some other time. I think that creating a year’s worth or more of podcast episodes can only help in a career as a media producer or whatever. Whatever that even means. Let’s see where it takes me–that’s the essential philosophy behind it.

I also get to promote the work and projects of friends and acquaintances, which gives me that feeling of fulfillment that one gets from helping people.

I think that answers the question why? Which leaves me with one other thing that I want to get to. As I alluded to above, I really think that most people do not want to have their voices and their comments recorded for the world to hear. I think that for many it creates a feeling akin to stage fright or perhaps an unwelcome feeling of vulnerability.

For me however, it is a welcome feeling. Actually, a recent guest on my show said that this feeling of creating something before an audience, performing in front of an audience, gives you an adrenaline rush that comes from the pressure to be good or to perform well. That adrenaline rush is a good feeling for most people. But there is also something sort of masochistic about it. I believe that that adrenaline comes from a fear of failure. In other words, being a performer–even a podcaster–means risking failure.

While you are on air, live or pre-recorded, there is a huge potential to make mistakes. There is a huge possibility that you will put your foot in your mouth. Things can go horribly wrong and you can make a complete fool out of yourself. For me this is an exciting prospect, which is why I think of it as masochistic. I want to put myself out there, make mistakes, make a fool of myself… and learn from it. It is a pleasure to put myself at risk this way. I like to be caught on tape. In some way, it keeps me honest. I want people to hear my flaws, see them, judge them, tell me about them. This is the way we learn.

Therefore, the final reason I have for doing podcasts is to do just that–to learn. I think that podcasting, or recording conversations and discussions in general, is a great way to learn. To learn about media production. To learn about ourselves. To learn about our world. And each other.

How did I get here? How did I become a so-called podcaster? I guess the answer to that question is simple: I chose to be here. And I recommend it to everybody who’s listening.

(Oh! And Happy Halloween!)

In Vino Veritas

A short biographical article by Steven Cuffari

Sun Dial in the Chateau de Pommard, France, by Bidoj via Wikipedia licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

“If you know anything about that gorgeous southern clime, then you know they are known for their wine.” –Me, referring to Argentina

In vino veritas. In wine, there is truth. But I’ll get to that in a moment. I’m a drinker. Always have been. Always will be. Sometimes I am selective, sometimes not. For example, when I was a baby, I gave up on the bottle (of milk) then gave up on milk altogether. And I’ve never looked back. To this day I don’t drink milk (unless it’s chocolate milk).

Since then my relationship to drinks has always been complicated. When everyone else was dipping their cookies in milk, (I shit you not) I was dipping my cookies in orange juice–seriously, don’t knock it until you try it. Some might say that this preference for juice over milk comes from some deep-seated mommy issues… Maybe.

I took my first sip of beer at the age of seven if I remember correctly. It was a Heineken. It was bitter. I didn’t like it. But I didn’t hate it. The adults around me were all drinking it, and that sip was simply a matter of curiosity. Fast forward 10 years later and I was loving beer in all its available forms: 40s, 12-ounce bottles, 12-ounce cans, tallboys, mugs, glasses, malt liquor, stouts, lagers, imported, domestic, draft beer, light beer and so on. Whiskey was also on the drink list at that time, but nothing was as cheap and available as beer.

This obsession with drinks soon spread to other objects of imbibition like bitters, liqueurs, spirits, cocktails, and of course, wine. I sought out places where I could get the tasty tipples, and as I got older bars became my preferred location. No surprise there. I fell in love with the atmosphere as well as the liquid love shelved on the other side of the bar. So much so that I wanted to be in the business. (I should mention that the idea of being in the business was first instilled (or distilled) in me via the classic TV show Cheers, but that’s another story.)

However, in my early adult years I didn’t make much of a foray into the competitive New York City bartending scene. Maybe it was laziness. Maybe lack of confidence. Maybe I was too busy with other shit. Doesn’t matter. It didn’t stop me from learning as much as I could about everything to do with drinks, their production, preparation, serving and of course, enjoyment. Finally, years later, in 2009 to be exact, I tried again and got a job at a Michelin-starred restaurant in Tribeca, which shall remain nameless. There, at the ripe old age of 31, I worked my way up in 10 months or so from busboy to runner, to server, to bartender. But before I knew it, I had my fill of NYC and left for Argentina to take my life elsewhere.

At that nameless Tribeca restaurant, I learned and relearned many things about the food and beverage industry. I won’t go into too much detail (yet), but it really was a pivotal point in my life. I realized that one can truly do whatever one wants as long as the opportunity is there and you work at it and of course, have a lot of luck. I also learned that it is never too late to start something new or go back to something old.

You might be wondering what the hell this article is about. The strange title may have given you some insight into that, but its vagueness probably looms over anything you can surmise from it.

Let me get to the point. One of the most surprising things I learned during my time at that heretofore unnamed Manhattan resto is that I love wine. Before that, I was drinking some basic stuff, mostly Italian, mostly red, some French, some Sicilian, a dry white every now and then. I enjoyed a nice Nero d’Avola, a tasty Côtes du Rhône, a big Chianti. But all that was second to my first true love in beer. It was only when I worked with a sommelier, who shall also go without appellation, for the first time that I understood the charm, the mysteries and the stories that go along with every glass, every bottle of wine.

In all honesty, looking back through the fog of time, I cannot be one hundred percent sure of the sequence of all these events. But this is more or less how things happened. After I left NYC for Argentina, my love for wine only increased. (If you know anything about that gorgeous southern clime, then you know they are known for their wine.) I have been looking for a way to live my life with wine ever since. It is like a close friend that you wish could be there for all the most important moments of your life. And that is not to say I have forsaken my other friends. They are all coming along for the ride.

Let this little piece of writing be a confession of sorts. I love wine. I want to buy it, drink it, share it, sell it. I want to know it. I want to know it from seed to sip. From grape to gullet. From terroir to table. I am by no means an expert. By no means. Let this little piece of writing be the start of the record of my journey with wine, wherever it takes me. It has taken me a time to get here, to these words. It may take longer to get wherever I am going. But as the cliché goes, the journey is the destination.

So… in vino veritas.

I will fill up these pages with truths that I find in wine: including but not limited to notes on wines I drink, commentary on books I read, stories about people I meet. If it comes about from my experiences with wine, it goes here. Join me for the journey. And on the way, for a drink.