Welcome to dinner with Rob Daviau. It is a fancy dinner. The food is transcendental. It should not be a surprise to anyone who knows Rob, follows him on Twitter, or has read the previous sections of this interview, but Rob is a foodie. Rob knows his restaurants and knows his food. And out of pure empathy and politeness, I felt compelled to follow suit and evangelize food. Not that I like it. Nope.
RD: OK, that’s not a carrot. I don’t know what I just ate.
DTD: One of these? One of the bigger ones. This bread is incredible. I can’t get over how good the bread is.
RD: “Autumn fruit.” [to waiter] Sir, can I have a glass of the sauvignon blanc? Actually, what do you recommend with this, the broccolini and the breakfast? The breakfast feels like a red, but the broccolini…is there a pinot?
Rob had ordered a dish called “Breakfast for Dinner.” At this point I was insanely jealous of it.
Waiter: We have a pinot; it is very light and fruit forward. That would probably be better across the board. You want to taste it?
RD: No, let’s do the pinot, because by the time it comes, I will be mostly done with this. I feel like the other two will go with the lighter red. Thanks.
DTD: Oh, that is really very good. I have found that everybody who moves to Sonoma or Napa Valley, or anything like that, always finds their one winery that they think is just the greatest in the world. So, I found this one winery that I think is the greatest in the world. And I have just been loving on it, but they make a port as well, so I have been really enjoying these sweet ports. Have you done some of the stranger molecular gastronomy, like Wylie Dufresne restaurants, and things like that?
Molecular Gastronomy is the bizarre art of mixing serious chemistry with food, making unusual textures and flavors in Frankenstein-like creations.
Our waiter returneth with previously discussed Pinot Noir.
RD: One, I was in Barcelona this fall, because my daughter was studying abroad there.
DTD: Oooh, did you go to that…there’s one really famous guy in Barcelona for molecular gastronomy [Ferran Adrià].
RD: Maybe. We went to one place which was a restaurant in a hotel. I don’t remember the name of it. I think it had a Michelin star or has had one. Sat down for a tasting, and it’s the only tasting I’ve had, and I haven’t done many. I have just gotten to the point where I am comfortable with food and have enough disposable income to treat myself. It was not the case for many a year. I like that it feels still like a treat.
DTD: This is persimmon.
RD: Is that what it is? I do not eat many persimmons. I couldn’t place it. Not that I don’t want to, I just live in New England.
DTD: In California, we eat everything. It’s a good persimmon, too.
My area of California is a very agricultural place.
RD: Tastes very good. We went to some place and got a tasting, and it was molecular gastronomy reinterpretations of traditional Catalan food. It did not go over well with the family. Well…because it’s “Here are the tastes you have grown up with in your entire food network and reinterpreted.”
DTD: We are going to mess them up.
RD: We are going to mess them up. We don’t know what these tastes are, we are not entirely comfortable with them. And then the molecular gastronomy is sometimes more theater than flavor. So, it wasn’t the worst meal I ever had, but for the expectation and price compared to delivery…
DTD: Sure, my wife is very, very fussy. Eats almost nothing.
RD: So is mine.
DTD: So, for years we have talked about doing a blog or something where we go out to eat somewhere, and I write 4 highly pretentious pages about the amazing stuff they did with food, and my wife just writes, “gross.” And then, every once in a while, we would go to a grilled cheese restaurant.
RD: My wife likes grilled cheese. My wife is not happy about her limited palate, but that’s what it is.
DTD: I got my wife to go the The French Laundry, and she disliked a lot of it, but she liked a lot of it as well. Basically, if you interview your average 5-year-old and ask them what they like to eat, that’s what my wife eats.
Please don’t tell my wife about this article.
RD: I am cognizant of being recorded, but I would say more like 10-year-old. Well she loves umami and sweet. Hates acid. So, if I’m all like, “This is all bass notes, this is just mushroom risotto. I need some lemon or some parsley at the end to brighten up.” No, she doesn’t. She just wants all bass. Take out the guitar, take out the singing, just give me bass drums. And then, but oddly enough, then she wants sweet. But on their own. Bitter is OK, like loves brussels sprouts, but hates coffee.
DTD: My wife doesn’t do coffee or tea.
RD: Does she do alcohol?
RD: Because of the taste?
DTD: Because of the taste. She might be a supertaster.
RD: Does she hate the smell of coffee?
DTD: She loves the smell, hates the taste.
RD: Because my wife cannot abide the smell of any alcohol. Says it smells like rubbing alcohol or paint thinner.
It totally does.
DTD: The smell of the alcohol is terrible. I thought you were talking about the coffee.
RD: No, and also hates the smell of coffee. And I know a number of other people who don’t drink, because they can’t…their body just says “this is a poison. Don’t drink it.” There’s a good deal of Venn diagram overlap; those people also feel the same way about smelling coffee.
DTD: I did not know that.
RD: Well, this is my armchair research; it has not been peer reviewed. I have not been published.
DTD: [laughs] You are talking to an ex-scientist here.
RD: I would write up a paper on my findings when I’m 80.
DTD: I’ll peer review it if you want.
You heard it here first. I am Rob Daviau’s peer!
RD: I’d probably need to do a more controlled structure.
DTD: You need more people. So, if you need people to taste a whole bunch of strange things, I’m there for you.
RD: No, it’s finding people who don’t drink because they hate the smell of alcohol and find out how many of them hate the smell of coffee.
DTD: Well my wife is the outlier there.
RD: But I think it is something about being a supertaster.
DTD: I really think she is. Because flavors really are much too intense for her most of the time. So, things [she eats] tend to be very bland. And texture is incredibly important to her, so she cannot eat a lot of odd textured food. So mashed potatoes are off the table.
RD: Well that’s interesting. No, it’s not that—what is off the table for my wife is…can’t stand the texture of meat.
DTD: That’s my daughter!
RD: Will eat bacon, is fine with stocks. But the mouthfeel of flesh. And the question is, did she always hate it? Or did she just avoid it as a kid, and now its hard when you are adult to be like, “I’m going to eat meat.”
DTD: That’s what I always wonder. Like, what were you raised with? What influences did you have when you were little, and is that why you don’t like it? And I always wonder, do you not like it because you truly don’t like it, or do you not like it because you learned that you don’t like it?
RD: And it’s hard to suss them out.
DTD: No, it’s impossible.
RD: You would have to decide… Well, I’ve don’t it a little bit, because I’m a food guy, but there’s some foods I don’t eat. Like I didn’t eat seafood until my 40s, I didn’t eat banana until my 40s. And I am like, “This is dumb.”
DTD: That’s an odd pick.
RD: Well, I was a fussy eater as a kid. Grew into liking food as I got older, but I had certain childhood habits. Some I still have. I don’t like dark chicken as much as white chicken, even though it’s better, and its moister. Because I didn’t like it as a kid. Now, the past couple years I was like, “This is dumb,” and I have started eating it.
DTD: Well, you’re just trying it.
RD: So, I keep trying it, but I have to get by my childhood thing of “This is the gross chicken.” or “Oh, no! This is the bad chicken, because its slimier.”
DTD: I have actually convinced my wife that the dark chicken is better.
RD: Have you?
DTD: Thank you, that was great [referring to our food]. The bread is amazing.
RD: [To waiter] What is in the butter?
Waiter: So, it is herbs. And sea salt on top. Then it is basically half yogurt, half cream, fermented for about 6 days.
RD: There it is!
DTD: I thought it was cultured butter, which I love. I honestly have never bumped into a food I don’t like.
RD: There are foods I don’t like.
DTD: I can’t think of any. I don’t like apples, but I eat them.
RD: You don’t love apples, but you don’t hate them.
DTD: I think they are the basest, most terrible of fruit. If you made a plain fruit…
Apples are the worst. And I don’t care if they hear me say it. The worst.
RD: But they’re not going to make you gag.
DTD: No, there’s nothing I can’t eat.
RD: Because there are a number of things…I think there are off-cuts of meat, organ meats and stuff, that I didn’t eat, that are very intense. So, if you don’t like them, you don’t like them a lot. If you didn’t grow up with them, they are off-putting conceptually. And it’s interesting, as a country, we have the luxury of never having grown up—
DTD: With the off-cuts.
RD: Well, wanting. We have always had this breadbasket; we have always had plentiful game when we were a colony and we have always had this mid-west to grow things. So, it’s not like this is our small province, this is all we have to eat, and we have to get through the winter, and you learn to use everything. And then it becomes a delicacy because you didn’t have…
DTD: We eat nothing but rutabaga during the winter.
RD: Right, we eat rutabaga during the winter, and you are going to eat the heart of the deer because that’s all that’s left. But it becomes something that’s comforting, because you know it. As a country, we never had to do that, because it was always plentiful. You give those cuts to the dogs. So, we have been…we have eaten like the nobles, as a country, the whole time. The finest cuts, the finest vegetables.
DTD: And I have gout. When I owned the veterinary hospital, I hosted the office Christmas party every year, and I made it a point to bring in really strange, bizarre things. So, we cooked everything; we had llama, camel, iguana, python, turtle. I got in guinea pig and made traditional South American guinea pig with purple potatoes and chiles.
Cuy, or guinea pig, has long been a traditional meat in Ecuador and Peru. It is one of the more environmentally friendly domestic livestock animals.
RD: Here’s the thing—I don’t know if I could eat it, not because I wouldn’t like it. Like, if it was a tasting, and people were like, “We will tell you at the end what you ate,” I would probably like it, but I would be nervous. But if you told me “This is guinea pig or python,” I would be like “I don’t need a new meat. I am fine with meats I eat.”
DTD: I’ll be honest, most of them are completely forgettable.
RD: They’re benign. It’s just a concept.
DTD: There’s no reason. But there’s a few that are extraordinary. Kangaroo is like very, very good lamb. And camel is like very, very good skirt steak. So those I would do again. But the others were just for novelty.
RD: And it’s what you ate because they were available. And not at your veterinary clinic. I’m sure you were not reduced to eating guinea pig out of necessity.
DTD: [laughs] Well you don’t know. We were a very poor veterinary clinic. Guinea pigs were running rampant. All over the office.
RD: It was a rodent control problem.
DTD: I actually did work in pet store once that was infested with hamsters. So, I would go in at night to clean, and there were just the cutest little vermin running wild all over the place.
RD: They are just rodents, aren’t they?
DTD: They are!
RD: Same family, or genus, or…? Family?
DTD: They’re close. Family Rodentia, yeah.
OK, I was totally wrong. Rodentia is an Order within Class Mammalia.
RD: Family. I had to go back up a step.
DTD: It was just bizarre, turning on the light and having technicolor fluffy things skitter away.
RD: Well squirrels are just rats with a permed tail and a good PR agency.
DTD: That’s true. They were actually… most of the squirrels were introduced into public parks during the 1800s, because they were cool pet animals. So, they were introduced in order to be novelties and to be pet.
RD: But what’s the difference between a rat and a squirrel, in terms of, you know, zoo?
DTD: Rats are way better at being squirrels than squirrels are.
RD: Sorry, just, what’s the relation in terms of the family tree?
Squirrels are Family Scuridae. “Rat” and “Mouse” are descriptive terms, and not specific to exact families, subfamilies, or species. There’s lots of unrelated “rats”. The common pet rat is Family Muridae. Squirrels did in fact branch from the standard rodent model longer ago than pet rats. But not as long ago as porcupines and guinea pigs.
DTD: Squirrels, if I remember right, squirrels are a farther offshoot.
RD: Arboreal rodents?
DTD: Yeah, rats are kind of your streamlined rodents.
RD: But a rodent is an order or a family? I think we just covered this.
Order. The research department is much smarter than live action Corey.
DTD: I honestly don’t remember. I think…
RD: Obviously, it’s not much part of your day to day life.
DTD: No. I mean I treated all of them, and you just had to know if you give this drug to this one its bad. And if you give this drug to this one its fine.
RD: You treated rats? Pet rats?
DTD: I was actually the Bay Area rat veterinarian. That was one of my specialties.
RD: Do rats have a bad rap?
DTD: They really do. Anybody who came to me and said, “I have a kid, I want to get a pet, what should I get?” I always went rat. They are friendly right from the get-go, they are social, they want to be right by people, they never bite.
RD: Not going to throw up on the floor.
DTD: [sarcastically] Almost never.
RD: I thought they couldn’t.
DTD: They can’t.
RD: Right, they can’t. that’s the whole reason I said it.
DTD: There you go. Rats, horses…
RD: Horses can’t throw up?
DTD: Nope…rabbits, guinea pigs. None of them can do it.
RD: Is that why they’re easy to poison?
DTD: Yeah. Because it doesn’t come out.
RD: I meant more rats, and less horses. That’s not my intent.
Rob Daviau. Horse poisoner. I knew it.
DTD: I’m just going to go with a “yes.” [laughing] And a lot of them cannot breathe through their mouth. Horses, guinea pigs, they cannot breathe through their mouths effectively.
RD: Like it doesn’t connect in back?
DTD: The little flappy bits in back that make you sound old and guttural – they don’t work right, they work different in a lot of these critters, so you can’t do the switch…
RD: Does the esophagus and the trachea just go down separate tubes?
DTD: It’s the epiglottis. It’s in a bizarre position.
RD: I’ll take your word for it, you’re the pro.
DTD: Guinea pigs, actually…this is way too much, but in guinea pigs the epiglottis flips all the way up and blocks the entire airway, so there’s a hole through the epiglottis where food can go down. It’s a very bizarre setup; makes it impossible to work on them as a veterinarian.
It’s called the palatal ostium. Chinchillas have it too. And knowing is half the battle.
RD: That is an odd evolutionary step, that the ones with a perforated epiglottis were the ones that survived. Is that like a genetic defense, like a defect like a dimple in their epiglottis were the ones that passed on their genetic markers?
DTD: I think what it is, and someone told me this at some point, this isn’t me, is their mouths are very, very deep, and they are always full of food, so they need to have extra protection against food flying into the wrong place, so they have this barrier epiglottis. But it just makes it weird.
DTD: Alright, so you made it to Hasbro.
RD: Yes, circling back. Is this a chapter break on the tape?
DTD: [laughing] yeah, probably. Did you look at the website at all?
RD: I did not.
DTD: That’s cool.
RD: I did not want to look at it, because it would color how I talked.
DTD: And I did not want to read interviews of you, because I didn’t want to know too much. But I did look up your ludology and some of your background, just to leave it fair. Basically, I do just this, and it is usually about 2 hours-ish of recording. I transcribe it, and split into about 6 pieces, and it flows, it works.
RD: Who else have you done this way?
DTD: Matt Leacock, and he said I should hunt you down. So, you can blame him.
RD: OK, I am the chattier of the two. I feel bad, because he is right up the road and I didn’t see him, but I was literally just getting in yesterday afternoon and I didn’t have any time.
DTD: It was funny, when I went to dinner with Matt he told me that that day you guys had made the final change on legacy 3, Pandemic Legacy 3.
RD: Oh, so this wasn’t that long ago. This was…
DTD: October, I think. September?
I went to dinner with Matt on September 18, 2019. Thank you again, research department.
RD: We turned it over earlier than that. Unless there was…there was an unexpected change that came about, but that was later, like November or December.
DTD: That might be. But Matt also wouldn’t give many details about future projects, he was very tight lipped about everything. Some people do, some people don’t.
RD: I’m fine with that change. I’ve worked on projects, like I’ve turned stuff over to the publisher after years, and they say “Yeah, I don’t like it anymore.”
DTD: Well, things get changed sometimes in your control, and sometimes out of your control.
RD: And then you build hype too early. You say you’re working on a game, and people are like “What about this?!? And what about this?!?” And even if you are like, “Its going it take me a couple of years,” they say “It’s late. Where’s the game?”
DTD: I totally get it.
RD: I kind of like talking about stuff when its on the boat. “Here’s something that’s coming out in 2 months.”
DTD: Well, some people have just spilled everything. My first interview was John D. Clair, Space Base and Mystic Vale were his big ones. Ecos is his recent one. And he told me the next several projects.
RD: I kind of got trained at Hasbro. When we are working on stuff for movies; I worked on the Star Wars prequels before they came out. I went and saw Revenge of the Sith, a cut about a year before it was released, with just blocked-in special effects, so I could take notes to make games.
DTD: The workprint, that’s awesome.
RD: I saw it at Skywalker Ranch, and I remember just telling my inner 7-year old, he did it. “You’re here watching a Star Wars movie a year before it comes out, at Skywalker Ranch.” And then I remember the adult part of my head going, “This will be better when they do another edit, right?” I still haven’t seen the last movie. Don’t talk about it.
DTD: I have a funny Star Wars story for you. I haven’t seen the most recent one either. So, when I was…when Star Wars came out, 1977, so I was 9. It was marketed as a kids’ movie when it first came out, and everyone in my Dad’s office wanted to see it, but they were all embarrassed. So, my Dad rented me out as the token kid to go see Star Wars with.
RD: How many times did you go see it?
RD: OK, that number is higher than mine. I don’t remember the exact number, but I remember I went again and again and again that summer.
DTD: Oh, that was the thing to do. It was incredible; it changed my life.
RD: Looking back, at some point I had a better idea what the number [was]; my guess is somewhere between 7 and 10 times in one summer. Which is still the record for going to the movies and seeing the same movie.
DTD: I don’t do that anymore at all.
RD: 35 is…
DTD: Well, it was always with someone different.
RD: Yeah, but that broke a lot of records, that is a record that cannot be broken. Like Cal Ripken Jr’s consecutive starts.
Seventeen years. 2,632 games.
To be fair, a young Mark Streed of the Dice Tower went to the theater so many times to see Star Wars, that after a while the owner just let him in for free, so he has far surpassed my record.
DTD: I don’t know about that. It was fun. It was just fun being a kid. But my Dad knew the special effects people who were doing some of the computer stuff in Star Wars. So, we had a little bit of inside…
RD: Which ones? Do you remember the names?
DTD: Tom Duff is the big one. And he is the guy who did Renderman and all the computer software for PIXAR now. And he has been a family friend forever. He gave me a salad bowl for my engagement party.
RD: There you go.
Next time Rob touches on some of the rockier days at Hasbro, his decision to leave the company, and his final hurrah at the company – Risk Legacy.