What’s a Reunion Without Food?

Adult ISH hosts Nyge Turner and Dominique French reconnect with two of the people who helped mix the first batch of Adult ISH secret sauce, creating Sr. Producer Davey Kim and original co-host Merk Nguyen, to catch up and dish about the show’s earlier days.

What’s a Reunion Without Food?

In this episode of YR’s Adult ISH podcast, co-hosts Nyge Turner and Dominique “Dom” French are joined by creating Sr. Producer Davey Kim and original co-host Merk Nguyen to reminisce on how far the show has come, what they’re up to now and an epic cooking show down from seasons past. 

Adult ISH is produced by YR Media. Be sure to follow all our socials @YRAdultISH!

Our podcast is distributed by Radiotopia from PRX. Please show your support for Adult ISH during our fall fundraiser by making a donation at: https://on.prx.org/Adultish. THANK YOU!

Episode Transcript

Dom: Welcome to Adult ISH…produced by Y-R Media…and brought to you by Radiotopia from PRX. I’m Dominique French. 

And, today we’re taking another trip into the Adult ISH past…to share the iconic Cook-Off between Nyge and former host Merk Nguyen, and judged by former Senior Producer Davey Kim.

But first, we got the chance to check in with Merk and Davey — reminiscing about the epic cabbage cooking challenge, the early days of Adult ISH, and how much the show has grown !

Nyge: So I’m so happy to bring on two of my favorite podcasters ever. The two people who started the show with me, the amazing Merk and Davey. Welcome back to Adult ISH, y’all. How y’all feeling? 

Davey: Oh, I can’t believe it. 

Merk: (screaming) Like. Like Toad. Like Toad, like. Oh, yeah. Like, you know the — the clip of him singing “Chandelier” on YouTube? Yeah, I’m feeling great. Yeah. (singing like Toad)

Dom: Oh, so this is my first time seeing, well Davey, but also Merk. I had a theory that, like, if we were in the same Zoom at the same time, like, the computers would explode or something would. 

Merk: They would explode. If we were in the same room IRL, I think the world would go – Uh-uh. Everyone would feel it. (laughter)

Davey: Yeah. My computer fan is working harder than it ever has before. (laughter)

Merk: Not sorry about it. 

Davey: So, kudos to the engineer that will take out the hum sound. (laughter)

Nyge: Shout out to James. Shout out to James. 

Dom: I wanted to kick us off with like, a question posed to the three OGs of Adult ISH. How do you feel that Adult ISH made it to season ten, and not just season ten, but a million downloads? How’s that feel? 

Davey: A million downloads?! AAAHHH…

Dom: That’s what they say. 

Merk: You know, when you smile so much, there’s that tingly part of the back of your head that’s like, “Woo, hey!” That’s what it feels like. If you know what I’m talking about. (laughter)

Dom: Oh, I do. 

Merk: Yeah, Dom. Dom would understand. Yes. 

Dom: I be smiling. 

Nyge: Davey, how do you feel? I’ll go… I’ll go last. 

Davey: I can’t believe it’s, first of all, season ten. Like, I feel like you all just made up that number. I feel like I left around season four, and now y’all are in double digits, that’s wild! So first off, major congrats. Like, it’s really cool to see, like, you know – I listen to an episode here and there, and it’s really cool to hear, like, all these ideas that, like, you know, Merk and Nyge and like, you know, Dominique, I never got to work with you – But, all these ideas that I heard way back when, like, come back recently, like that is so cool. Like the kernel of an idea is that I wasn’t feeling too hot about, but y’all brought it back and crushed it. So, like that’s really cool to hear. 

Dom: We did that. 

Davey: Yeah. 

Nyge: Yeah. Nah, it’s, it’s wild for me to like the 1 million downloads thing. Like, I had to really check that. I think Sam Sam, I think some somebody… 

Dom: Georgia. It was Georgia, I think. 

Nyge: Georgia brought it up, and shout out to G… 

Merk: Ow ow! 

Nyge: …because we got to include G in this convo, too… 

Merk: Shrek! 

Nyge: Shout out, Shrek. But yeah, just like when G brought it up and then Sam pulled up the stats and you could actually see it on the graph. I’m like, “Whoa!” Like that, that is wild. It is really a wild thing. And you see all the country, and all like the regions that of like, people listening and the, the reach. It’s just… it’s mind blowing that we all set out with this idea, with this goal to do this thing and, and we did it and in a way that we never even could have, like, imagined. 

Merk: Hmm.

Nyge: Dom, how do you feel?

Merk: Yeah?

Dom: Oh, man, I — you know, when you, like, just transferred to a school and the school’s like, “We’re number one in the state!” You’re like, “Great for you!” (laughter) I kinda, feel a little bit like that. I feel like I snuck in, like, right under the wire. And, like, I do get congratulated for a lot of stuff that was done before I got here. So, definitely trying to challenge some of those notions that, “Ah, it had nothing to do with me. I got here, like right before it happened. It would have happened with or without me.” And, kind of buy into this very like, multi-generational iteration of this amazing show that has had so many different people adding to its like history and its legacy and, you know, letting myself be a part of that. 

Nyge: You say it like it’s your first season. But you’re like three seasons in. (laughter) 

Merk: No, you’re killing it! 

Dom: I think I did it single-handedly. (laughter)

Nyge: Exactly. The truth comes out. 

Davey: Dang, y’all. I don’t know about you, but I’m having — my cheeks are sore. (laughter) I like what Merk said earlier. Like, I’m having like, proud dad moments right now, just sitting in this chair, just hearing about all this. I remember seeing y’alls live show and I was just like, cheering the heck, heck out on my couch in like, Salt Lake City because, like, that’s something that we wanted to do and, y’all finally got to do it. 

Merk: But also, all the ideas that have come about, like the audio fiction stuff, and Dom, the Choose Your Own Adventure scary thing. I listened to that twice. I was very scared both times. And just like that stuff, like we’re all part of the adult ish family here. You are living, breathing Adult ISH fam right now.

And, like even your guests gets, like Aubrey Gordon – such a fan too, like…

Dom: Oh my god, yeah. 

Merk: It’s amazing! So, it’s so cool to be on the other side of things, just to hear how how the show is growing. And it’s like, cool, where — If we’re thinking of Adult ISH like this garden, we all kind of, you know, put in some fertilizer here, and a little bit of water here, little rake, rake, little hoe, hoe there – you know what I mean? (laughter) It’s, it’s — I think I’m still kind of processing that’s like 1 million. I don’t know. Maybe after this, I’ll have a moment where I’m going to cry and be like. 

Nyge: (sniffs tears, dramatic tone) We did it, Joe. (laughter)

Merk: But in this case, we did it, y’all. (laughter)

[YR Music]

Merk: And now it’s time for a special challenge segment between me and Nyge. To ensure it was COVID-compliant, we recorded over 2 days and through Zoom. ‘Nuff said. Take it away, announcer.

Announcer: Welcome to the first annual “Adult ISH Cabbage Co-Host Cooking Competition.” This is a very fancy announcer and not Nyge. Day one: we have Nygel Turner and the Southern Fried Cabbage. 

Nyge: What I’m about to do is first I’m going to heat up the skillet. I’m gonna make southern fried cabbage because my family is from the south, so I was like, “Why not lean into my culture?” So… 

Merk: The rules of this challenge were that we had 40 minutes to cook one dish that had cabbage, a protein of choice, one acidic ingredient, one dairy ingredient, any kind of cooking oil we wanted, and up to four seasonings that does not include salt and pepper, plus a miscellaneous veggie.

Nyge: But the cabbage needed to be the star.

Merk: So what is your miscellaneous vegetable?

Nyge: What do you mean which one? This one that I’m using right now or?

Merk: Wait, do you have more than one miscellaneous vegetable bro?

Nyge: What vegetables was I supposed to have?

Nyge: I didn’t break the rules. I just had to make a last minute adjustment.

Merk: Because Nyge bought too many vegetables and didn’t see we only had one miscellaneous veggie that we could use. 

Nyge: Slight oversight.

Nyge: If I have to only use one now, because I didn’t know the rules well enough —

Merk: One now? One from the beginning, just saying!

Nyge: Yeah, I’m just saying because I mean it was on me… 

Nyge: So basically we told Dan Gusti that we had wanted one ingredient to base the whole entire dish around and he picked cabbage, which was … a shocker. 

Merk: I was pretty stoked when I found out we were cooking with cabbage because I’m like, “Yeah, this is great. I get to make a vegetarian dish if I want, which means Nyge’s at a disadvantage.” 

Nyge: I was pretty irritated when I found out we were going to cook with cabbage because, yeah, I don’t cook with cabbage like ever. So I was like, “Man, I’m going to lose.”

Nyge: Like when I cook I’m a very like therapeutic cook, so I take my time. I usually have like some oldies bumping … (singing) I was born by the river … in a little tent. (laughs) That’s it, that’s all you get.

Merk: (laughs)

Nyge: So I prepared for the challenge by talking to some family members. I called my grandma. I was like, “Grandma, I need to do something with cabbage.” And yeah, we talked about some possible options. Chopped it with my grandma.

Merk: Grandma assist.

Nyge: Cut it in half and then now I need to get this pit out of the — what’s the core of the cabbage. That’s where all the bitterness comes from. A lot of people add sugar to their cabbage because it’s so bitter, but if you just cut the core out, you won’t get any of the bitterness. Now, I’m going to add some Cajun seasoning. The Cajun seasoning isn’t super spicy. It’s just like … I don’t know how else to describe the flavor palate of Cajun seasoning, but not really so much of a spicy, more of a twang. 

Merk: Is that the first test taste? What are you thinking?

Nyge: Oh, it’s doing good. 

Merk: You’re dancing, so yeah, that looks like a good sign.

Nyge: Red pepper, because I think that’s what’s missing, is that kick, you know what I mean? Oh yeah, we going crazy … Little vinegar in that thing! Just added a touch more Cajun seasoning, just to top it off, just so it’s bustin’, you know, when you get it … Yeah, I’m probably going to go with a pretty small serving size, to be honest, because…

Merk: “So I can have more for myself.”

Nyge: I mean, yeah, and then also, like in fine dining, like they don’t serve you a ton of food anyway. So I got this nice little bowl. 

Merk: Oh, I see. So you’re going for like the Michelin star restaurant. 

Nyge: Yes. Those are Davey’s utensils.

Merk: We chose our judge, former senior producer, Davey Kim, as a nod to all the times we’ve had food with him, someone who likes to talk about food all the time and because he’s decently local to both of us. It was a very quarantine-safe cooking challenge.

Merk: You have it in a napkin wrapped in that nice fancy paper?

Nyge: (laughs) Yeah.

Merk: What?

Nyge: That’s what we’re doing, and there, we’re done.


Nyge: So when I finished, I didn’t really have a lot like a ton of time on the clock. And so I brought it out the door and immediately, I’m hit by the cold air, which made me nervous because I was like, “Oh, man, it’s going to cool off.” And so then I’m like walking kind of fast and I’m trying to get to Davey. But then I’m like, “I’m walking too fast. And that might be cooling it off.” And then, yeah, I gave it to Davey. He pulled up in his car and stayed in the car and I handed it to him in the window and he did his thing.

Davey: Oh my gosh, he’s coming.

Nyge: Yep.

Davey: Nyge! 

Nyge: There you go. 

Davey: Oooh… My car smells amazing already. 

Nyge: Thank you, thank you.

Davey: How are you doing?

Nyge: Doing good.

Davey: How are you feeling?

Nyge: I’m feeling really confident, really confident. Yeah, I really like how it came out, so…

Davey: Okay, alright.

Nyge: Yeah, can’t wait for you to dig in. 

Davey: Alright, well I’ll get started then.

[YR Music]

Davey: It’s got a nice balance. I can see some bacon and cabbage. I don’t know if you noticed, but I’m not a big cabbage eater. Oh yeah, I like cabbage, crunchy and Korean. I like certain types of Korean cabbage dishes and cabbage and salad. But this is going to be an experience. 

Nyge: Tastes southern.

Davey: Mmm, well, that taste really develops. Wow, this is so good. 

Nyge: Thank you, thank you.

Davey: Do you have more of this?

Nyge: Yeah.

Merk: So there were specific criteria for this challenge, and there were six categories. One, originality and creativity. Two, texture and color. Three, cooking techniques. Four, flavor profiles. Five, recipe ingredients, and the last one, judge’s discretion. This was all on a five point scale.

Davey: I will say, one, I don’t know if the dish is supposed to be on the slightly less salty side. I guess maybe I’m just a fan of saltier dishes. Your final score for this dish is a 4.3. This is like a meal I would eat once a week over rice with some hot sauce. Overall, I thought this was a fantastic dish and great job. 

Nyge: Cool, thank you.

Davey: Thank you.

Nyge: If I was to make the dish again, I would put a little more salt. That’s it. (laughs)

[YR Music Break]

Announcer: Day two: we have Merk Nguyen and the Cabbage Basil Sweet Soy Sauce Stir Fry.

Nyge: Alright, three, two, one, go!

Merk: Alright, so, everybody, today I am making food. I’m gonna start out by chopping this onion in half. And this dish I’m going to be making today is going to be stir fry cabbage. The seasoning is going to be a soy sauce with brown sugar in warm water and basil, so it’s like a sweeter soy sauce. 

Merk: I prepared for this challenge by writing down a whole bunch of ingredients that I thought would make this dish pop. I’m like, “Oooh this texture would go good with this texture.” And I physically wrote it down on a big piece of paper. Did I actually practice the ingredients? No, but the thought was there. 

Merk: Right now, I’m just going to start by dicing my onion. Now, I’m going to get a small little “spatuler.” That’s what Mr. Krabs says, and make sure all my onions are coated in oil and lower my heat because the key to caramelized onions is slow and steady wins the race. However, I did not a good job of peeling the onion so our judge might get some onion skins. Let’s hope that’s not the case. I’m going to try to get them all out now. How we at on time? Okay.

Nyge: Nah, you can leave them in there. It’ll be alright. 

Merk: Nah, you know what? I kinda want to win. Do you not know what my last name is? It’s Nguyen. Because you know why?

Nyge: Because winning would be new. (laughs)

Merk: You’re going to the graveyard. Okay, I have put in three pinches of brown sugar into the sauce. The reason why I want this sweet is because I know that I’m going to be using the cabbage, which is kind of bland in flavor, and because I want to use the harder parts of it, since the onion is already going to be soft and caramelized, I want him to have a crunch factor when he bites into it. Now, I’m putting some basil. This is one of my seasonings into my soy sauce, brown sugar water mixture. I just love the flavor of basil. It reminds me of when I have phở. It’s, I mean, basil is served with it and, you know, it’s funny. People are like, “Oh my gosh, you’re Vietnamese. Did you grow up eating phở all the time?” No, bitch, I didn’t, because well, no — I did. I did. 

Nyge: (laughs)

Merk: But there are so many other Viet dishes. Phở’s fine. But I think anyone from any cultural background, they know there’s so much more food other than, like the staple, what everyone else knows. But basil just reminds me of the homeland. You know, if I had long chopsticks like my mom does back home, I would cook with those. But like, my mom’s not here and I have tongs, so Imma use those. Hear that sizzle. Let me try some cabbage real quick. Oh, yeah baby, I’m going to put in the soy sauce right now.

Nyge: I’ve been watching like “MasterChef,” like nonstop and they just always, like, commentate when people are, like, doing that. They’re like, “Soy sauce is going in. Merk’s got her cabbage in the pan.”

Merk: Ok, I’m gonna… (burps) Okay, excuse me. …run down the list. Okay, so with that, I have not used a dairy ingredient yet. And because this is not a vegan dish — it’s vegetarian — I’m going to use unsalted butter. Okay, so the protein I have chosen for today are eggs. I wanted to make this a vegetarian friendly dish. I’m going to the pan — it’s low heat, stick of butter. Hear a little bit of that sizzle. Now I’m going to crack the egg.

Nyge: See, what Merk is doing right now when she puts the lid on, she’s just trying to get a nice little nice glaze over the top of the egg. Very nice technique. I learned this technique as well. South of France.

Merk: What?!

Nyge: Just talking. 

Merk: Yeah, clearly. 

Nyge: Narrating your movements. 

Merk: Okay, now I’m going to carefully…

Nyge: Now, here’s the moment of truth. It’s a very difficult maneuver. The yolk is intact. 

Merk: Yolk is intact. 

Nyge: Wow. (claps)

Merk: I believe I’m done. Service, ding ding.

Nyge: Service!

Merk: So once I put my final touches on it with cherry tomatoes, put it on the plate, put the sauce in a little thing. I opened the door, went down a flight of stairs and then another, and then I walked up to the pool where I had to strategically open up the gate without dropping anything and then boom. 

Davey: Okay! Yum! Let me start off by saying this is something that I could eat every day for like that kind of, like, brunch hour, you know, like a little — I’m not a big breakfast eater, but if I’m, like, hungry and I don’t want to eat lunch, this is perfect for that. 

Merk: Awesome. 

Davey: And this sauce – could tell me a little bit about the sauce?

Merk: Yeah, it’s a brown sugar soy sauce with diluted in water and basil. Dried basil, semi-dried basil.

Davey: Right, and I know you mentioned these are some of the flavors that you grew up with. And, yeah, I would have never, ever personally have created a dish with all these kind of veggies and sauces. I do like how the tomatoes are pretty fresh, but there is a little bit of like a disconnect between, like the dish where it’s cooked and then a tomato that’s like really fresh. And so it was a little bit tricky to kind of like, grab everything with the fork. It’s really good. I love the sauce and I feel like it was seasoned well. But as someone who prefers to overseason as a default, I felt like maybe it could use a little bit more of a — maybe a little bit more of a pungent garlic or something that gives it a little bit more of an edge. 

Announcer: And now it’s time to announce the winner. 

Davey: So, Merk, I have done the math here and across six categories, you get 25 points and if we were to average that out, you get 4.167 points, which rounds to 4.2 points, which is an amazing score. Nyge, he came in with 4.33, which amounts to 4.3. He does edge you out by 0.1 point.

Nyge: By 0.1 point.

Merk: Argh!

Davey: And while he may have won this competition, I think this is an excellent dish. 

Nyge: I was really excited to win because the last time Merk and I competed, I lost. And I was like, “Alright, I’m not trying to rack up my second loss.” And so, I was juiced. I’ve been getting, like, a lot back into cooking lately. And it was good for my soul to get a win on this because I was like, “Man, if I don’t win this, I’m not going to cook anymore.”

Nyge: So it’s really — it’s really a win for cabbage. 

Davey: It really is. I told my parents on the way, “I’m going to go eat some cabbage.” And they’re like, “Why would you do that?” 

Merk: (laughs)

Davey: And I’m like, “I have zero clue, but I’ll let you know after.” And so I’m excited to report back to them that, like, cabbage can actually be really good like this. So… 

Merk: Nyge, I think you did a really good job. Congrats on the win and thank you for teaching me some stuff about cabbage that I didn’t know. 

Nyge: Merk, I think you did a really great job. Your dish looked amazing and also nutritious because if you ate my dish every day, it would not be good for your body. 

Merk: You would sweat bacon. 

Nyge: Yeah, facts.

Announcer: This has been the first annual Adult ISH Nomnom Cooking Challenge. Thanks for listening. 

[YR Music Break]

Nyge: So today’s top takeaways are make do with what you have, and make sure that even when you’re following your passion, you’re doing it in a way that brings you fulfillment. 

Merk: And two, cooking has so many real-life applications. Just like with our cabbage, with a little creativity you can make one of the most humble ingredients, sing … like Nyge in the kitchen.

Nyge: (sings) Ahhhh.

Dom: Hi there, it’s Dom again! Thanks so much for joining us for this cook-off flashback.

And, before we say goodbye Davey and Merk are coming back to sign us off in style. 

Davey:I will say though. I remember when after I tried y’all’s dishes, I was like, “Oh, yeah, I’m going to cook with cabbage – so much, so hard.” And I’m still like, “Yeah, I’m going to cook with cabbage. (laughter)

Dom: One day. One day.

Davey: Yeah…

Nyge: Yeah, one day. We might have to, we might have to bring it back. There might have to just be a, Adult ISH host cook off.

Merk: Yeah, I’d love to see Dom and Nyge.

Nyge: Nah, I was going to say it’s going to be me, Dom and Merk. We all got to go head to head.

Merk: Oh, snap! Dom, how are your…

Dom: I make, like,  two things.

Merk: Okay, so what are those two things? We just gotta know…

Davey: Yeah.

Dom: So, I make this really great lasagna, with a homemade basil-spinach pesto.

Merk: Oh, the basil! Mmm.

Davey: Okay!

Dom: And, I make a salmon with asparagus and hollandaise.

Merk: Ooh!

Nyge: Ooh…

Merk: Fancy!

Dom: So it’s like, what I can make – I can make. But it’s like, outside of those two things… If you gave me, like, a hunk of cabbage, I’d be like, dear God. (laughter)

Davey: That’s how I still feel. (laughter)


Nyge: Adult ISH is produced by Y-R Media…(pause)….a national network of young journalists and artists creating content for this generation. Our show is produced by shaylyn martos, Dominique French, and by me, ya boy Nyge Turner.

Dom: Special shout out to our co-adventurer and former Sr Producer, Georgia Wright. 

Dom: Our engineer is James Riley and our audio engineering fellow is Christian Romo.

YR’s podcasting director and EP is Sam Choo.

Nyge: YR’s senior director of podcasting and partnerships is Rebecca Martin

Dom: Our interns are Menelik Ransom and Jalen Black.

Original music for this episode created by these young musicians at YR: Christian Romo, Anders Knutstad, Noah Holt, Jacob Armenta, Chaz Whitley, Michael Diaz, Sean Luciano Galarza, David Lawrence.

Nyge: Music direction by Oliver “Kuya” Rodriguez and Maya Drexler. 

Dom: Art for this episode was produced by the youth co-led design team at YR Media.

Nyge: Creative Direction by Pedro Vega Jr. Design by Marjerrie Masicat and Brigido Bautista. Project management by Eli Arbreton. 

Dom: Special thanks to Shirley Yee, Sergio Mojica, Vivienne Alcantar, Binx (Bianca) Taylor, Teresa Weirzbianska, Wen Yu, Jazmyn Burton, Shavonne Graham, Donielle Conley, Kathy Chaney, and Kyra Kyles. 

Nyge: Adult ISH is a proud member of Radiotopia from PRX — a network of independent, creator-owned, listener-supported podcasts. Discover audio with vision at Radiotopia.fm.

And, if you haven’t reviewed our show on Apple podcasts, please be sure to do so. Five stars is much appreciated. 

Dom: You can follow us on all the socials @yradultish and on that note, we will see y’all later.

Nyge: Later! (laughter)

Support the Next Generation of Content Creators
Invest in the diverse voices that will shape and lead the future of journalism and art.
donate now
Support the Next Generation of Content Creators
Invest in the diverse voices that will shape and lead the future of journalism and art.
donate now