Under Review: The Laymen

The tagline for Zane Tolchinsky ‘20 and Samy Vilenski ‘20’s new podcast, The Laymen, strikes a chord for the knowledge-hungry and curious: “Two college kids who know no things, talking to people who know some things, so they can learn a few things.” Each episode’s featured guest is an expert in their respective field who shares origin stories, reflects on their life and career interests, and offers up advice. The series’ premise seduces just about anyone, whether they have a diverse array of interests or just want to learn about something specific. Tolchinsky and Vilenski began working on the project this past summer and are sponsored by the Gould Center for the Humanities. They are recording eight episodes in cities across the United States, such as Chicago, DC, New York, and San Francisco. Tolchinsky is studying PPE and Vilenski is studying Economics and Philosophy. 

In their second episode, “Cooking: Chef Bruce Sherman,” the hosts interview the titular Sherman, acclaimed chef and partner of the North Pond restaurant in Chicago, which received a Michelin star in 2019. The episode is largely an examination of transition, framed through discussing seasonality, major career changes, and the evolution of passion. The hosts connect Sherman’s style of sourcing seasonal food to phases that people go through in life, and skillfully expand on the concepts. They manage to keep the ruminations compelling yet light enough to easily absorb an audience. Sherman jokes, “I think the one difference [between aging and food] is that you’re not going to go back to being twenty again, whereas I may get asparagus back next year, and that’s not a bad thing.”

The Laymen podcasts are not structured like traditional interviews: the casual format allows for a more natural conversation. The only drawback to this structure is that the pacing and direction are hard to anticipate. That, however, is part of the charm of a more organic, smaller-scaled production.

The conversation with Sherman never gets too technical. While in some ways a focus on the world of culinary arts might appeal to audiences, I anticipate that within the larger diegesis of the series, the time dedicated towards broader conversation will build important connections between all the varied themes and fields explored.

If you’re interested in one chef’s journey, pursuing authenticity and passion, and affirming advice, listen to this episode and wait for more to come from The Laymen. Their podcast is available on Spotify and Apple, and you can hear directly from them on Instagram at @the_laymen.