CP: What with you being so famous and all, is there a standout teacher in your past? You know, a Mr. Chips who set you on the path of lifelong learning? Someone who recognized budding talent in your review of the Fritos salad at your eighth-grade lunchroom? Who saw in you a wee Craig Claiborne yearning to flower?

RN: I've had influential teachers on my mind, after learning that a favorite college professor, Arthur Ballet, died last week. It may have been more than 30 years -- what a loathsome admission -- since I sat in Rarig Hall and soaked up his lectures, but I can recall him reciting "The Duchess of Malfi" as if I'd heard it last month. He was a force of nature, that one.

CP: I remember him perfectly from his theater-critic spots on KSTP-TV. Yes, that was theater -- and film -- being reviewed on local television.

RN: Talk about a biting wit -- he could casually consume whole sections of that tacky "Eyewitness News" set in a single chomp.

CP: Humor is all too rare in teaching. In a 20th-century pop-culture college course at Macalester, Norm Rosenberg was like having Nathan Lane instruct us. He was so manic that the back of his shirt was soon covered with chalk from leaning on and rolling against the blackboard.

RN: Then there was Mr. Mraz, my high school drama teacher. He wasn't an ace classroom instructor -- the man never met a filmstrip he didn't like -- but he gave me a Ph.D.-level education on the value of hard work and the importance of teamwork. He was magnificent.

CP: Sure sounds like you studied a lot of drama. Hmmm.

RN: High school wasn't all show tunes. The unstoppably talented Mary Ellen Spector made "Women in America" -- jeez, that's so 1970s, isn't it? -- leap right off the syllabus. Oh, and my art history teacher, Mr. Beehler, was amazing. I learned more in his class in one hour -- how many other 17-year-olds were having heated discussions about chiaroscuro? -- than I did for all of my other mods, combined, at good old Burnsville High.

CP: For sheer intellectual prowess, no one ever has topped Emily Rosenberg (married to aforementioned Norm). She could make Latin American and diplomatic history sing like an 11 o'clock song on Broadway. One dared not nap.

RN: Well, we still crave our teachers' approval, don't we? A few years ago, I bumped into a former ballet teacher of mine. She gave me a big hug, and then looked me up and down in the way only a reed-thin dancer can, and said, "It looks like you've still got that food job." I was devastated, naturally.

CP: That's when you toss back your head to laugh, replying: "And I see that after all these years, you and carbs remain complete strangers."