There is room for variation within that template. In one episode, he visited an expensive restaurant with the rapper Rhymefest, who was pressed into performing an impromptu verse about his meal. (Sample line: “This was not just a Super Bowl Shuffle. You’ve never had a fry ‘til you’ve tried it with a truffle.”) “Rhymefest is very articulate about food,” says Pang. In another episode, after a montage in which he availed himself of the free beer, wine, and cocktails on offer at the National Restaurant Show, Pang drunkenly accosted Chicago’s mayor in the convention hall. (Pang: “Bra bra bra bra bra bra bra. Mayor. Mayor. Why won’t you answer my questions?”)
The show is still a side project for Pang, who enlisted some newsroom colleagues and shot the first six episodes in his spare time. But the Tribune has embraced it nevertheless. In April, to promote the program’s debut episode, a photograph of a grinning, cheeseburger-wielding Pang ran adjacent to the nameplate on the paper’s front page. “It scared the shit out of me,” he says. “The only time you should be on the front page is if you commit a murder or win a Pulitzer. This was neither.”
Still, it’s something. Ratings are high, reviews are positive (“I’m a vegetarian who hasn’t had a cheeseburger since maybe 1996. And yet I still find The Cheeseburger Show to be educational and entertaining on a level with the best programming in this medium”), and his bosses are enthusiastic. While Pang can sound somewhat bemused on the turn his career has taken—“Burgers aren’t even my favorite food,” he admits. “I’d rather have a nice piece of well-done fried chicken, or a porterhouse steak”—he nevertheless knows a good gig when he sees one. “I have to step back and realize that I’m getting paid to eat burgers,” he says. “Thank you, Mr. Zell.”
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