For many of us, food is much more than something that we have to put in our bodies to keep us going from one day to the next; it’s a passion that drives us. That’s certainly the case for Margie Nomura, who spent more than ten years as a private chef before starting food podcast Desert Island Dishes in 2017.
Now boasting more than 100 episodes, her podcast has interviewed big names from the cookery world including Alison Roman, Monica Galetti and Clodagh KcKenna, not to mention a host of other personalities. We spoke to Nomura about her promotional strategies, her inspiration, and why her podcast is about much more than just food.
How would you describe your podcast?
It’s a weekly interview where we sit down with a different guest each week and talk about their seven desert island dishes. We uncover the seminal dishes and experiences that have shaped who they are today.
That includes finding out about the dish that most reminds them of their childhood, the best they've ever eaten, and, of course, the last dish that they would choose to eat before being cast off to the desert island. In delivery it's gentle, it's interesting and it's much more revealing than you might think – it's more than a podcast about food. It's about people and their stories and what really matters to them.
Why did you start your podcast?
The seven questions that we ask on the podcast are essentially questions that I've been asking my friends and family my whole life. It's a favourite family game which we would just play constantly around the kitchen table, with friends, on holiday, at school. And so having been quite an early listener to podcasts and having worked in food for my whole career – I worked as a private chef for over a decade – the idea just sort of came to me in the car.
I can only describe it as a light-bulb moment and I stopped in a lay-by to check if the name Desert Island Dishes was taken, or if anyone else was doing anything similar. And I couldn't believe it. When I saw that it was available, that just felt like a sign. I immediately trademarked the name, and I think within two weeks of that car journey, I'd recorded my first episode. I started it in 2017, and there was nothing else like it at the time, there weren't nearly as many podcasts as there are now. It was something that really pushed me out of my comfort zone and that felt exciting.
What advice do you wish you'd been given when you first started?
Because it was early days in podcasting, there wasn't as much advice about recording setup and how to go about actually making a podcast. There was definitely a lot of trial and error, and whenever you work on a project like this, over a period of time, you wouldn't necessarily be excited to go back to your first episode and hear how that sounded.
When you're starting out with anything, I think it's good to try and do all of the jobs so that you know what each job involves. But with something like podcasts, where the quality of the audio is so important, I probably wish I hadn't tried to do all the things and maybe outsource some of it a bit earlier on.
How many people does it take to create an episode of your show?
At the beginning, it was just me. But as the show has grown, I now have an editor and for this upcoming series, I just started working with a brilliant producer, which is really exciting. But I never want to lose the essence of the show. That's really important to me. I would never just want to become a presenter or just the host.
I really care about the quality and the content and also the guests; I want to make sure that they always come across in the best possible way. So we do a lot of research for every interview, and I never want to outsource any of those roles. Those are all things that you can risk losing if it becomes just a big production with no heart. I never imagine it being a huge production.
Do you monetise your podcast?
We didn't for a long time. To begin with, the focus was definitely just on getting the content as good as possible and delivering the highest quality that we could to the audience. And I was really scared about doing anything that would jeopardise that. But we managed to build a really great brand around the podcast. Desert Island Dishes is more than just a podcast. It's a community of people who love food and they love cooking and everything in between. We're lucky that we have a solid social media following and a website with recipes and recommendations that all sort of ties into the content of the podcast.
So when we do now work with a brand, it's more than just podcast advertising, it's sort of the 360 approach. We include video content and recipes, and it's a meaningful partnership. I would never just want to do an ad with a brand that didn't align well with our audience. I have to be confident that it's a good fit because with audio and with podcasts, a bad advert can be really jarring. That's always something that's at the forefront of my mind.
How do you promote your podcast?
We've grown organically so it's very much been word of mouth - which is kind of an annoying answer and not that helpful for other people who might be starting a podcast now. But because I was so focused on the content and putting it out there, I definitely didn't think about the things that I could be doing to market it; there's a wealth of information out there now for anyone who is thinking about starting a podcast, and those are definitely things that we're also now working towards.
Social media is increasingly important and we're about to start filming our upcoming series, which I think is inescapable now, it's changed so much from when we first started, when that was just not what anyone was doing, other than maybe Joe Rogan. It just wasn't a thing and now it seems to have turned into a visual medium. I don't envision that we’ll put out full recorded episodes, but you need those snippets to share on social media and help grow buzz around it.
Who listens to your podcast?
It's a really wide range of people. When you start something, you have an idea of who you think might listen, which obviously is initially your immediate friends and family, but it's been lovely finding out the different types of people – it's largely 22 to 45, predominantly female. I get lots of different messages from so many different types of people. Some of them are really unexpected, like teenagers or people going through difficult times.
Something that I wasn't expecting when I started the podcast, which initially was just a food podcast, is actually people seem to find comfort and solace in other people's stories. And it's sort of made people fall back in love with food. It's when you realise that your podcast has become part of someone's weekly routine and if you stop putting it out there, they miss it, and they message you to tell you that. And that's a really lovely thing.
What have you learned about yourself since starting the podcast?
Maybe to be less critical, because when you first start hearing your voice back, as anyone will know who's listened to themselves on an answering machine, it's alarming, and you just have to be less critical, less judgmental and just keep doing what you're doing. Also, doing an interview-style podcast in particular is quite a nerve-wracking thing. You're meeting someone for the very first time.
I've interviewed Stanley Tucci and the Hairy Bikers and it's a bit intimidating when you first meet them, and then within a couple of minutes, you're pressing record. Someone's listening to that. And they want to hear a warmth and a sense of rapport, and there's a lot that goes into that and it shouldn't be underestimated. I've learned quite a lot about myself through that process.
What was the last podcast you listened to?
I listen to so many podcasts across quite a broad range of categories. The last ones I listened to were Bone Valley and Sweet Bobby, which I did really enjoy. I find it oddly comforting and soothing to listen to something that I've heard before. Not every week, but pretty religiously, I listen to How I Built This, which I've listened to from the beginning. He's great at what he does.