Food Writer Alison Roman Plays Not My Job On 'Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me!' We ask the author of Nothing Fancy and Dining In three questions about financial fraud.

Not My Job: We Quiz Food Writer Alison Roman On Cooking The Books

Not My Job: We Quiz Food Writer Alison Roman On Cooking The Books

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Nikole Herriot and Michael Graydon
Alison Roman
Nikole Herriot and Michael Graydon

Alison Roman writes for The New York Times Cooking section, Bon Appétit Magazine and is the author of Nothing Fancy and Dining In — so she obviously knows plenty about cooking food — but what about cooking the books? We'll ask her three questions about financial fraud.

Click the audio link above to find out how she does.


And now the game where people with valuable skills have absolutely no chance to use them. It's called Not My Job. Alison Roman worked in restaurants on both coasts but didn't like it. It wasn't until she quit that job and started writing recipes for Bon Appetit and the New York Times that she discovered she had an amazing talent - coming up with food that people didn't just love to eat. They love to cook it. She was responsible for what social media has called the stew, the cookie and the dip.

Alison Roman, the chef, welcome to...

ALISON ROMAN: (Laughter).

SAGAL: ...The radio show.


ROMAN: Thank you.

SAGAL: So is what I said true - that you did start off working in restaurants in the food biz?

ROMAN: I did, yeah. And I actually loved it at first. And I think it was, you know, around year six or seven that I realized that I was hoping to find another way.

SAGAL: And how long have you been interested in food? Were you one of those kids who always wanted to cook dinner?

ROMAN: No, not until I was in high school. And I started to joke that, like, I used cooking as a way to not do homework. I felt like - the question I would get asked when my parents would come home - they'd say, did you do your homework? And I'd say, no, but I made dinner. And that got me a little bit of time. But I eventually had to be both. But...

SAGAL: I understand.

ROMAN: It was a procrastination tool, it sounds like.

SAGAL: I've never been able to understand how you cookbook authors keep coming up with new recipes because aren't - haven't we thought of them all already?

ROMAN: (Laughter) I think about that all the time. It's actually all I think about. So thank you for needling at that anxiety.



ROMAN: But yeah, I do worry that - that is often said, that it's all been done. But I think that food is interesting enough to where you are able to sort of come up with one thing every now and then. You're, like, ha, I've never thought of that before, and I've never seen it, and - it's kind of like songs, right? Like, there's only so many bars or notes. And you hope that the one combination that you're coming up with is - has a unique place in the world.

SAGAL: So you're pretty well known. Your - you made a chickpea stew that everybody was making and posting about on Instagram. You've got to go in the "Today" show and make it - called the stew. Did that...

ROMAN: Yeah.

SAGAL: Did that surprise you?

ROMAN: It definitely surprised me because I had been writing recipes for so long. And I had my first cookbook come out, and I had a recipe called salted butter chocolate chunk shortbread cookies...


ROMAN: ...Which is a real mouthful. And that actually was the first one that got so popular. And I always say that I don't think that could have been a stew without the cookies.

SAGAL: Right. So you've had the cookie. You've had this stew.

ROMAN: Uh-huh.

SAGAL: Now you have the dip. That's in your new book.

ROMAN: Yeah.

SAGAL: Yeah. So when people come over to your house, do they have very high expectations of what you're going to be able to provide for them? Do you...

ROMAN: No, not anymore because they're my friends. They know me. They know...

SAGAL: Right.

ROMAN: I'm an absolute mess. They're, like, people wait in line to talk to you. And I'm, like, I don't know. I guess (laughter).

SAGAL: We're going over to Alison's house. I expect we're going to try the leftovers.


ROMAN: Exactly. They're, like, oh, what, like, slop do you have left over from your photo shoot that we can steal from?

SAGAL: You're in the New York Times cooking website, which I personally love and use all the time. And, as I'm sure you know, you get to choose recipes, search recipes, find recipes, including your recipes. And there are comments on them. Do you ever read the comments?

ROMAN: You know, I try not to. I think that it can be helpful, especially if they're concerned about a recipe working or a problem with something. But for the most part, I try to stay away because it gets me too riled up. I'm too emotionally invested in these things.

SAGAL: Yeah.

ROMAN: But yeah, I mean, I think the cooking community is great because people are constantly making dishes of their own and putting their own spin on things, which I fully, fully support. But I think when you criticize something after you don't follow instructions or you don't follow the recipe, then don't come at me for that, you know? I told you what to do.


ROMAN: (Unintelligible).

SAGAL: Have you ever - where you were, like, wait a minute. I didn't realize I was hitting a nerve here.


SAGAL: Have you ever, like, gone - have you ever - because I'm sure you can - gone onto the website and, like, posted a comment, like, you know, shut your mouth, you philistine or something...

ROMAN: No, no, no. That would be bad for my - for me and for everyone who does what I do. I think - I try to be gracious...

HELEN HONG: This is why you need a secret account...


HONG: ...Like a secret...

SAGAL: Like Mitt Romney's Pierre Delecto.

HONG: Yeah, like a stealth account...


HONG: ...That you can go on and be catty not as yourself.


ROMAN: Right, exactly (laughter).

SAGAL: Well, Alison Roman, it is a pleasure to talk to you. We've invited you here to play a game that this time we're...


SAGAL: ...Calling...

BILL KURTIS: Cooking The Books.



SAGAL: You know a lot about cooking food. But what about book cooking - that is, financial fraud?



ROMAN: Oh, my God. OK.

SAGAL: We're going to ask you three questions about various frauds through history. Get two right - you'll win our prize for one of our listeners - the voice of their choice on their voicemail. Bill, who is Alison Roman playing for?

KURTIS: Carrie Martin (ph) of Washington, D.C.

SAGAL: Are you ready to play?

ROMAN: Oh, excellent.

SAGAL: Here we go.

ROMAN: Yes, absolutely ready.

SAGAL: Now, one of the very first recorded financial frauds happened in the second century A.D. when members of the Roman Praetorian Guard ran a scheme in which they sold what to investors? A, the Colosseum; B, the Roman alphabet; or C, the entire empire.


ROMAN: Oh, gosh. I'm going to go with the entire empire. I'm going to go with C.

SAGAL: You're right, Alison.


SAGAL: You went for the whole enchilada.

ROMAN: Oh, great.


SAGAL: They...

ROMAN: What a relief.

SAGAL: They killed the emperor - the Praetorian Guard did, and then they announced whoever paid them the most would get to be the next emperor. And they actually got someone to pay them about the equivalent of a billion dollars. But it turns out the empire - not theirs to sell, which they found out when they were executed by the real next emperor.


ROMAN: Yikes.

SAGAL: Yikes. Bad idea. All right. Here's your next question. One of the greatest fraudsters to ever live was a man named Count Victor Lustig. He actually wrote a how-to book about being a con man. He once earned hundreds of thousands of dollars by selling what to his unsuspecting marks? Was it, A, the Eiffel Tower; B, the ghost of Abraham Lincoln; or C, William Shakespeare's brain?

ROMAN: I mean, I don't want to go with two Cs in a row, but that's my instinct - is to do C.

SAGAL: You're going to say that he sold William Shakespeare's brain to these unsuspecting people.

ROMAN: Yeah.

SAGAL: No. It was actually the Eiffel Tower.

ROMAN: Oh. Damn it. OK.

SAGAL: Not only did he sell the Eiffel Tower - he sold it twice.



SAGAL: He posed as a government official and said the Eiffel Tower was about to be torn down and sold it for a hundred thousand dollars to two different scrap dealers.



SAGAL: All right. If you get this last one right, you will win it all. In 2017, an Arkansas government employee defrauded the state out of hundreds of thousands of dollars, notably using government funds to purchase what? A, a BMW with the license plate I do fraud; B...


SAGAL: Some people like that. B, a large...

ROMAN: (Laughter).

SAGAL: B, a large piece of granite so she could have, quote, "the biggest rock in Little Rock..."


ROMAN: No, nobody likes that.


SAGAL: One guy likes it, but he sounds drunk.


SAGAL: Or C, a tuxedo for her dog.


HONG: A lot of people like that one.

ROMAN: I'm going with C (unintelligible).

SAGAL: That's exactly right.


SAGAL: Somebody embezzled...

HONG: Yay.

SAGAL: ...Funds to buy a tuxedo for her dog. The dog is a pug and looked adorable.


ROMAN: Oh, I love it.

ROMAN: Bill, how did Alison Roman do on our quiz?

KURTIS: Two out of 3 are right, and that means, Alison, you win our game.

SAGAL: Congratulations.


ROMAN: Thank you.

SAGAL: Alison Roman is a cookbook author and a columnist for The New York Times. Her newest cookbook, "Nothing Fancy," is available right now.

Alison Roman, thank you so much for joining us on WAIT WAIT... DON'T TELL ME.


ROMAN: Thank you so much.

SAGAL: Thank you so much, Alison.

TOM BODETT: Great job.


CAB CALLOWAY: (Singing) Have a banana, Hannah. Try the salami, Tommy. Get with the gravy, Davy. Everybody eats when they come to my house. Try a tomato, Plato.

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