April 17, 2024


Travel Adventure

‘Food Is Stupid’ Is the Weird Newsletter the Food World Needs

2 min read

Over the past few years, Lee’s Substack has amassed an audience of more than 4,500 total subscribers, resulting in appearances on high-profile podcasts like The Sporkful with Dan Pashman and Chewing with Louisa Chu and Monica Eng. But the newsletter is still somewhere between a labor of love and a side hustle: He earns almost $20,000 a year from paid subscriptions—which surpassed his expectations, but isn’t enough for him to give up his day job as a correspondent covering more conventional food-related news for The Takeout, a food culture website.

What distinguishes the content on Food Is Stupid from today’s viral rage-bait recipes like TikTok tabletop nachos and ice cream sundaes scooped into toilet bowls is Lee’s methodology. “I would never think of making any of his recipes, but sometimes when I read his stuff I think, ‘This really makes sense from a cooking standpoint,’” says Dave Park, the chef of Jeong, a Korean fine dining restaurant in Chicago’s West Town. Lee’s legit kitchen chops—he worked in a professional pizza kitchen for five years—make many chefs feel even more clued in on the joke, no matter how outlandish his recipes get.

“Dennis is like ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic,” says Kenji López-Alt, a chef and author of The Food Lab cookbook. “Weird Al is technically great. He’s a great musician, and he treats his songs seriously, but the subject matter is ridiculous.” Food writers, who are often expected to take food seriously for a living, revel in the silliness. “He doesn’t get stuck thinking of food as this holy, precious thing that we’re not allowed to fuck around with,” says Rosner. “The truth is: food is stupid. Finding freedom in that stupidity is so liberating.”

In person, Lee is nothing like his newsletter persona. He can be a bit shy, but an occasional sinister giggle will remind you of the mad scientist lurking behind his cherubic looks and mild-mannered demeanor. His wife Davida makes cameo appearances in the newsletter as a reluctant taste-tester, but many of his mutant creations are too scary for her to sample. Even Lee was surprised when she took a bite of his Puppy Chow puppy chow—a riff on the Midwestern confection, which is typically made with Chex cereal tossed in peanut butter, chocolate, and powdered sugar. Lee replaces the Chex with actual Puppy Chow, the dog food. He wasn’t surprised when she spit it into a nearby garbage can within seconds. “Usually, I wait to see if he spits it out first before I try it,” she says.


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