Delicious Mischief, the popular food and wine radio show that began in New Orleans more than 20 years ago and moved to Houston eight years ago, has a bright new sibling on Austin’s Talk 1370. The program, hosted by veteran journalist John DeMers and showcasing Austin’s best chefs and restaurants along with winemakers and master distillers from every corner of the globe, airs Saturdays from 10-11 a.m. Like its older brother in Houston, this new Delicious Mischief is a presentation of Spec’s Wines, Spirits and Finer Foods, which now operates seven stores in the Austin area.
The first Austin show on Feb. 6 featured two important Austin chefs: Tyson Cole of Uchi, who has done so much to celebrate Japanese culinary influence deep in the heart of Texas, and Terry Conlan of Lake Austin Spa – who cooks delicious food that’s actually healthy. In between those bookends, there’s an extended Grape and Grain segment devoted to “winetales,” the hip new spin on cocktails that use wines where the booze used to be. Upcoming Austin broadcasts include behind-the-scenes visits to Lockhart, the officially legislated Barbecue Capital of Texas, as well as to the international chili cook-off way out in Terlingua, complete with an extended tasting of Austin-based Republic Tequila. Well, at least the company is based in Austin – the tequila, of course, is “based” in the state of Jalisco in Mexico.
“Over the years I’ve been in Texas, more and more food stories take me to Austin more and more often,” John says. “In food and drink, as in music and politics, Austin has a remarkable amount of fascinating stuff going on. Great drama, great personalities, great ambitions – oh, and did I mention great things for me to eat and drink? This new Austin show gives me the opportunity to say what I love about Austin, each and every Saturday morning.”
John ate his way through 136 foreign countries before discovering he could get all the same food right here in Texas. A native of New Orleans, John grew up with parents who read cookbooks to each other after dinner while drinking cans of Dixie beer. They also cooked most meals together, a trick that John later learned from his own relationships is not the easiest thing in the world. After studying history at Boston University and earning his BA and MA in journalism at Louisiana State University, John embarked on the predictable career writing for newspapers. He had no idea how unpredictable a career writing for newspapers could be.
Among his most formative experiences were eight years as a reporter and editor for United Press International, before being laid off as part of UPI’s regularly scheduled bankruptcies: covering plane crashes and Mafia trials, elections and oil rig explosions, Super Bowls and championship fights. And that was before he transferred to UPI’s overnight Foreign Desk in Washington or became UPI’s globetrotting food editor almost without knowing such a job existed. Asked (especially by his children) what he did at work, the best John could ever come up with was, “I go places to eat things.”
Commerce raised its ugly head with increasing frequency. John ended up spending five years as Director of Promotions and Public Relations for the Fairmont Hotel in New Orleans and then almost 15 years creating his own magazines New Orleans Hospitality, EasyFood, CoastFood and finally Texas Foodlover. Of that experience he invariably reports, “You go to bed at night an editor – and you wake up the next morning a salesman.” It was a return to newspapers, his first love, that brought John to Texas to follow the beloved Ann Criswell as food editor of the Houston Chronicle. By the time that job went away, his longtime New Orleans food and wine radio show Delicious Mischief had made it onto the airwaves here – and he saw no reason to let himself be run out of town. By then, in other words, Texas was his home.
At present, John is the author of 40 published books, including “Follow the Smoke: 14,783 Miles of Great Texas Barbecue,” reflecting the total distance he drove to overeat in 119 different places in all corners of the Lone Star State. Upcoming books include his first mystery novel, “Marfa Shadows,” as well as “Lone Star Chefs” and “Energy Cuisine,” all from Bright Sky Press. He is a constant contributor to regional and national magazines. His article in Hemispheres about the heartbreak of seeing his hometown after Hurricane Katrina won that year’s Lowell Thomas Award for “cultural travel writing.” John insists he doesn’t know much about any other kind.
As part of one mid-life crisis or another (or perhaps just hoping for a different way to put his four kids through various colleges and graduate schools), John rediscovered his inner musician. Decades after playing in a rock band as a teenager, John starting writing one-man shows for the stage (and even a one-woman show, for an African-American actress) and finally created two musicals about Texas. The first, a love story titled “Deep in the Heart,” enjoyed its world premiere at the Hobby Center for the Performing Arts before touring Texas cities. The second, titled “Texas at Heart,” is a series of musical vignettes from 175 years of the state’s colorful history. It is currently awaiting production. Then again, asks John, isn’t almost everything?