No, comedian Tom Papa doesn’t have any good bread jokes.
“I’m getting a lot of corny ones,” says the funnyman from Passaic, New Jersey, who is the star of the new Food Network series “Baked.” “You know with a name like Papa, from the time you’re a kid, you hear a lot of corny jokes — mama, papa, whatever. And now I’m getting a lot of, ‘Are you going to rise to the occasion?’ ‘Are you in it for the dough?’ I’m like, ‘All right, my name has given me good training for this.’”
Papa says he got bit by the baking bug around three years ago when his daughter gifted him a sourdough starter.
“We were just fascinated by the process and everything,” he says. “And we just started making bread. And I got addicted because it’s a very meditative, cool thing and it just fills the house with this great [smell].”
From there, he would post photos on social media and talk up loaves on podcasts. People would ask him for baking advice and shared their images with him. On the road, he’d check out bakeries to get tips from the experts. And now, he gets to share his love of baked goods on television, with a stop in New York City for Monday’s premiere episode.
amNewYork spoke with Papa about “Baked.”
What are some of the places you visited in New York City?
Yeah, you could do multiple seasons just in New York City. . . . We went and saw The Doughnut Project, which is this great place that’s responsible for the Everything Doughnut, which is a mashup of an everything bagel and a doughnut. Those guys were great. My friend Jim Gaffigan came and met me there for that, so that was kind of cool. He’s such a doughnuts maniac. He’s the only guest in the entire series — but if you’re going to have a guest, Jim Gaffigan and doughnuts just makes perfect sense. And then we went to Gian Piero Bakery, which is a place in Queens which is just insanely good. It’s this classic Italian bakery and they make pastries and all these rainbow cookies. It’s one of those classic places where there are real Italian men sitting around, having espresso all day. And he makes his bread off of sourdough starter and supplies that bread not only to his bakery, but to a lot of restaurants in Manhattan.
Where else did you go?
We also hit Bien Cuit, which is in Brooklyn. . . . That guy, the owner of it, [Zachary Golper], he just makes this insane bread. . . . Whenever I go into these shops, like these artisanal bread shops like Bien Cuit, I literally shoot probably twice as much footage as we’re ever going to use. And all the producers are like, “There’s no way we’re going to use — why are you talking to this guy about how the acid is created in sourdough bread?” I’m like, “I know it’s not great TV, but I’m just so curious about it, and I’m really learning.” . . . But I literally sit in this place and I’m like, “How can I maybe work here for the summer? Will my agent be cool with me stopping stand-up just for a little while?”
You’re going to have to start doing stand-up in bakeries.
I know. People are literally starting to bring me bread to my shows.
Are you noshing while you get up on stage?
No. But, you know, on my rider for the stuff that I have backstage, it is very healthy. It’s like vegetables. And now there’s all these cool baked goods and breads showing up. It’s like, “Hey, I didn’t change the rider.” I was still trying to be good. But I guess I’m going to have to eat this crumb cake.
You’ve traveled the world doing stand-up. When you’re exploring a city and you find a bakery, what do you look for?
If you find a place that is run by the owner — if they’re literally on premises, still doing the thing that got them into it in the first place that they love — you know it’s going to be special. It’s kind of like this cool thing that I’ve discovered doing the show, which is such an obvious thing, but you just never give thought to it — you don’t need a bakery in a town. You need the fire department and you need the police. You don’t really need a bakery. A bakery is just there for happiness. If you go into a bakery, you’re getting something to make you and your family feel good for a little bit. And the most popular places, the ones that change the community, are the ones that are started by people that really genuinely love what they do and put their heart and soul into it. Because there’s just an element that comes out of those bakeries that they just care and you can actually taste it.
Do you get worried about carb loading?
Yeah, I mean you can’t eat this stuff all the time. It’s a treat. I mean these good breads that you eat, that they’re making, you can eat these without getting fat. You really can. . . . People have had issues with bread. I was like, why? Why is our generation the one that after centuries is not allowed to eat bread? It’s the best thing in the world. Why are we the ones all of a sudden? And it’s just much extra stuff put into this. Bread should be flour, water, salt and yeast. That’s it. If you’re eating that bread, it’s breaking itself down. There’s no added sugar. The sugar that’s in it is actually being broken down and you can be a lot healthier. That being said, when you’re doing a show where it’s your job to eat everything in the city — yes, I have running shoes in my bag.
Who likes bread more — you or Oprah?
I think I do. I feel like Oprah has a love/hate relationship with it. But I think we’re both advocating for it and I think that’s a good thing. I have a book that just came out called “Your Dad Stole My Rake.” And the last chapter is “Just Eat the Bread.” Life is short. . . . What exactly are we all doing here that you wouldn’t have bread in your life? And I really believe that. It’s part of my act. It’s part of what I write about. It’s just we’re here for a short time, we should enjoy ourselves and not deny ourselves these pleasures. I’m not saying you have to do it 24 hours a day. I like wine also. I’m not saying you should drink wine 24 hours a day. But you should not live a life without them. It’s too joyous.
What other projects are you working on? Will you be coming through the city on stand-up?
Yeah. I always do that. I have a live radio show that comes through. . . . I’m a head writer for “Live From Here,” which is now the new name for “A Prairie Home Companion.” That starts up again in October. My stand-up never stops. I’ll be back in September here in New York doing my radio show “Come to Papa,” and my stand-up dates. And the book is selling really well so it looks like I’m going to be writing a second book. I loved writing and I was very excited to do it. And now it’s like, “Oh, no — another deadline.”
Do you see a cookbook in your future?
I don’t think a cookbook. I don’t think I know enough. I think that’s what makes the show really fun. Someone asked me, “Why you as a host?” Beyond I just like to bake. And I said, “It’s because I really celebrate it. And I’m super curious and I’m constantly learning.” I don’t pretend that I know everything. I’m really just learning and seeing everything that I can. I could write a book about what I find out there, and the bakers that I meet because they’re all cool people. . . . I’m meeting all these great families and they’re making great stuff. I could write a book about that perhaps. But I still have a ways to go before I have enough for a book I think.
“Baked” premieres on Sept. 3 at 10 p.m. with back-to-back episodes on Food Network.