Morning Joe’s Willie Geist on Strange Meal Times, the Cruelty of Children, and Dining With Rick Sanchez


Morning Joe‘s Willie Geist, our favorite TV co-host, has written a book. (Apparently they do indeed teach typing at Vanderbilt.) American Freak Show: The Completely Fabricated Stories of Our New National Treasures, out this week from Hyperion, offers up 19 comic pieces, satirical imaginings such as Sarah Palin’s inaugural address, TV coverage of the Kim Jong-Il Celebrity Golf Tournament, and some Blago wiretap transcripts that have yet to see the light of day.

We thought we’d take advantage of Willie’s moment in the literary spotlight, so tore him away from a party at Andrew Wylie’s and sent him along a few questions–about food and his Morning Joe cohorts Joe Scarborough, Mika Brzezinski, and Mike Barnicle.

You have to get up extremely early. What’s your daily eating cycle like?
I wake up at 3:30 a.m. every morning, so I don’t have a lot of time to think about breakfast. I usually roll out of bed, take a quick shower, and just whip up something easy–maybe a pan-roasted Monkfish in a turnip-ginger emulsion using the recipe from Le Bernardin. I wash that down with a pouch of Capri Sun and head out the door. The upside of my ungodly schedule is that hip New York restaurants tend to have plenty of good tables available for 10:30 a.m. lunch and 5 p.m. dinner. Dear Lord, I’m a loser.

Who has the oddest eating habit on Morning Joe?
Mika eats like a delicate fawn, nibbling at plants and nourishing herself primarily with salt licks. The rest of us are not bashful about enjoying the fruits of our daily delivery of complimentary Starbucks products. And by “fruits” I mean “giant pastries.” If you can find a flakier, more buttery croissant anywhere, I’ll give you a free Cat Stevens CD from the Starbucks “Random Music We Leave Out by the Register” collection.

As a father, what have you learned about kids and food?
That their table manners are utterly egregious. My 15-month-old son employs the time-tested “Rake ‘n’ Smash” method, where he rakes in every last piece of food on the highchair tray, smashes it into a pulp with a series of quick blows, then stuffs the resulting purée into his toothless pie hole all in a single handful. It’s primitive, and actually quite scary to watch.

They also display a complete lack of respect for the feelings of the chef. Their critiques are swift, certain, and often quite cruel. Just imagine Bobby Flay making the rounds at one of his restaurants and having guests spit the Corn and Crab chowder back in his face, hurl his spice-rubbed steaks across the room, or perhaps most offensively, rub creamed spinach in their own hair. What an odd way to protest a free meal.

Do the bartenders at P.J. Clarke’s have a nickname for Barnicle?

They call him “Ole Stiffy.” Not because he likes a stiff drink, but because he stiffs the bartenders on the tip every time he spends a long afternoon pounding Shirley Temples and griping loudly about the lack of respect he gets around the office. What restaurant is Joe mostly likely to take Arianna Huffington to?
It would have to be somewhere Greek in honor of Arianna, and Joe is a man who likes the finer things in life. So probably the souvlaki street-meat cart on Sixth Avenue.

What has frequent Morning Joe guest Andrew Ross Sorkin taught you about tipping?
As much as I love Andrew personally, I generally don’t understand what he’s talking about. So if he mentioned something about tipping it happened well after I’d zoned out during his explanation of credit default swaps. While he’s talking financial gobbledygook and dropping names of all the Wall Street CEOs he spent the weekend with in Davos, I’m usually daydreaming about what C.C. Sabathia might have had for lunch, or wondering why they ever canceled Twin Peaks.

If it was your job to take Rick Sanchez out to dinner to make him feel better, where would you go?
I don’t know Rick, but actually I’d bet he’s a fun guy to have a meal with. I’d take him back inside the belly of the beast and go to Masa in the Time Warner Center. We’d each have the $500 prix-fixe lunch and charge it to CNN’s house tab. Then we’d catch a carriage ride at Columbus Circle and see where the day took us.