The Mangia Mamas get it cookin’ on KZFR radio
I’m running late as I hurry down Wall Street to make my appointment with Loretta Metcalf and Rosemary Febbo, hosts of KZFR radio’s Mangia with the Mamas, and sit in on their hour-long show.
On the way, I cross paths with attorney Denny Latimer as I scamper down the sidewalk past his law office. He asks where I’m going in such a hurry.
“To interview the Mangia Mamas and watch them do their radio show,” I explain hurriedly.
“Oh, those two,” Latimer says, smiling and shaking his head. He himself is no slouch in the cooking department, having prepared numerous benefit feasts for worthy causes. “They always end up fighting with each other by the end of the show. It’s hilarious. I never miss it.”
Indeed. I wonder what I’m walking into. I know I have two feisty, outspoken Italian women waiting for me to arrive and witness their fledgling talk show, which takes place every other Tuesday at 11:30 a.m. in the tiny confines of the KZFR studio high atop the Waterman-Breslauer building in downtown Chico. The phrase “too many cooks in the kitchen” keeps crossing my mind.
I’ve conducted some odd interviews in my day—white supremacists, dope growers, the hillbilly half-brother of a president—but for some reason this one has me unusually nervous as I make my way toward the big pink building on the corner of Fourth and Broadway. The vague feeling of a man headed to his own execution grips me as I ride the creaky old elevator to the fourth floor, exit and walk into the studio.
Behind the glass of the sound room I see Jeff Anderson, part owner of and chef at The Black Crow and its sister restaurant The Rawbar, a sushi palace in downtown Chico. Anderson is sandwiched uncomfortably between the show’s hosts, who are peppering him with questions about recipes and restaurant secrets and favorite foods.
Anderson is holding his own. Metcalf, a small but explosive former Philadelphian, looks up, catches my eye and gives me the signal to cram myself into the sound room and join the festivities.
“We have to tell them that Jeff arrived early with mint, basil, nok chum—a traditional Vietnamese dipping sauce—lime juice, chili, sugar, garlic,” Metcalf says into the mike. “Oh, it’s so good folks. And nothing raw in there.”
“Except the veggies,” Febbo slips in.
“And also, is that a California roll?” Metcalf continues without missing a beat. “And the other was crab, avocado and cuke with rice and shisto or perillo.”
“Right,” says Anderson. “You can find it as perillo. It’s Japanese, and the Hawaiians grow it quiet a bit.”
“It’s an herb we’re talking about,” Metcalf adds.
“Yes, it’s an herb that tastes a lot like, oh, it’s a combination of mint and cumin,” Anderson offers. “And I was really fortunate, I found some seeds on the Richter Web site, which is Richter.com, and they sell all sorts of different vegetables. We have a local source …”
“It looked like cilantro at first,” Febbo says.
And so it goes, a food-based stream of consciousness flowing out of the studio, through the airwaves and into the radios and ears of loyal local listeners like Latimer. The Mangia Mamas’ show is different from many offered on KZFR. Some of the programs aired on this community radio station often include those inevitable gaps, those awkward moments of silence when the host is at a loss for words or consumed by efforts to punch the right button or cue the right tape. These are, after all, shows put on by amateurs, which is the very definition of community radio. But, for radio, on-air silence can mean death because channel surfers will glide right past a station that is quiet.
There is little danger of that happening when this show hits the air, however. The mamas are never at a loss for words. And the on-going joke is that their show, they tell their audience, is performed in the nude—except for aprons, of course.
Back on air, Febbo brings up The Rawbar and cleverly mentions that readers of the News & Review named it “Best New Restaurant.” She’s playing to both her guest and the fellow doing a story about her radio show.
“You know, it does have such a happenin’ feel,” she says with a bit of an embarrassed laugh. “I’ve never been to Japan, but I know that the sushi bar is a real gathering place and is a real exciting place to be and the food is wonderful and the whole atmosphere and you’ve added a lot of great touches to it. …”
Metcalf jumps back in.
“I’m going to play the devil’s advocate here in terms of noise and a little more mature crowd,” she says. “The food is incredible and we love going there, but it’s really…”
Febbo: “And the service is excellent…”
Metcalf: “And the service is excellent and that’s at both restaurants, we’re really taken care of, Jeff, but we can’t have any conversation. You know after 40 you lose a little bit of your hearing…”
Febbo: “No, that’s not my thing …”
Metcalf: “So, when you get all this background noise …”
Anderson: “It’s OK to yell …”
Febbo: “Yeah it is. That’s the whole idea behind the whole feel of the sushi bar.”
At last they take a break and put on the brassy sounds of Louis Prima, but not before Metcalf reminds her audience they can phone in questions and comments during the music—the Mamas haven’t yet figured out how to take calls while on the air.
When the show is over, the phone rings again in the main office and Metcalf answers. In the meantime, Febbo tells me she grew up in a “very traditional Italian family” in Los Angeles, where she learned to cook from her mother and her aunts. Febbo proposed the idea of a radio show to friend Metcalf, who recently retired as a student services adviser at Chico State University and is an accomplished cook in her own right. Metcalf’s husband, Homer, a retired Chico State sociology professor, came up with the show’s name.
“I thought, well, she’s retired, she has the time, why not?” says Febbo, who has a family business that sells Corian brand kitchen and bathroom tiles and accessories.
Metcalf comes back from her phone call. She looks a little bent out of shape. She says a KZFR staffer phoned in and said an anonymous caller just complained that the show was “pushing the Black Crow” restaurant too much—apparently a no-no on non-commercial radio.
Metcalf is steamed. Talking about restaurants comes with the territory, she points out, and they don’t favor any single one.
“We talk about a lot of restaurants,” says Febbo.
“Somebody is complaining about something all the time," Metcalf says. "It’s the nature of the business. But we have a hot idea, and I think there are some people who are sorry they didn’t get the idea and now we’re just cookin', having a good time."