I’m Comedian Eric Wareheim and I Eat Like That
If your idea of Erik Wareheim was formed solely from watching The Amazing Show and Tom Goes to the Mayor, you might think that this person hates food or wants you to hate food, but this is far from the truth. Eric Wareheim loves food, respects food and values food, and he wants you to do the same. His new (and first) cookbook Foodheim: A Culinary Adventure is full of inspiring yet accessible recipes, party tips and sheer joyous enthusiasm. Food is no joke for Wareheim, but it’s fun and I recently had the good fortune to talk to him about appetizer plates, airport dinners and his favorite shrimp drink.
What do you usually eat for breakfast?
I drink La Colombe coffee and coffee , which I grew up with in Philadelphia, when it was just one store, one store in Rittenhouse Square. This is the same mixture. I just love it. I don’t really eat breakfast. I’m just making an early lunch. Just like today, and for many days in a row, I make a light roast. And when I say light, I mean I don’t usually use meat. I just make all the vegetables I have in the fridge and I make some fried tofu and I make this homemade, really lemon stir-fry sauce and I use rice for sushi. I do everything from scratch.
And then do you eat more leisurely?
It definitely depends on the day. I mean, during the [peak] of the pandemic, I cooked huge, gourmet dinners because there was nothing to do. I did something like a full burgundy beef, stews, ribs – everything that took hours and hours. I just really loved the house that smells like food. I woke up and thought about what wines I would serve with this dish, you know? Like, “Oh, I’ll make a cheese plate. I’m going to show them a wonderful premier cru chablis, and then I’ll switch to red wine, ”you know? This is what helped me get through it all. But I have a couple of wine clubs and we all get together and cook for each other. So it happens once or twice a week.
I read that you are an expert in making snack plates. Could you describe your perfect snack?
Yes, I just spent a three week vacation in Spain and Italy, and basically it’s always the same: it’s like really fresh, beautiful, jerky, like prosciutto, or Serrano, or Jamon Iberico. And I always make contrasting cheese: one nice triple cream brie, kind of nice and sticky; and then something more solid, like the French Conte. And always a fresh baguette. Heat it slightly in the oven and serve with fruit – jam or fresh fruit if it’s summer. Another favorite food of mine is really good French butter with beautiful Calabrian anchovies.
Do you like a lot of canned fish?
Yes. I use a lot in my cooking and there are so many different quality levels. If you’re going to eat it simply, you need to get the really good stuff.
I have noticed that throughout the cookbook there is a constant emphasis on really good ingredients that I really love, especially when it comes to meat. But I wanted to ask you: is there anything – I hesitate to use the phrase “guilty pleasure”, but …
Oh sure. My SmashHeim recipe uses American cheese and there really is no substitute for it. It just melts great. Although a friend of mine from Sonoma is developing a cheddar cheese that melts like this. But I love tacos in Los Angeles. This meat is definitely not organic beef or grass-fed pork. But if you grind enough spices or simmer for long enough, it will be delicious.
I just put this in my book because not many people know that there is a difference between the things you buy at your grocery store – and it doesn’t cost much more if you just search a little. For me, it was a revolution in the field of wine and food. Being like, “Oh! I don’t even need to season this piece of steak. Ideally. I don’t need to pour sauce on it. ” I believe you should eat this way, including from foods. Try to find good foods if you can afford them and have a hard time preparing them, and that’s life.
Another thing I really like about the book is the acid head concept. Could you briefly describe this philosophy?
Yeah. I mean, as for my stir-fry sauce – you get a lot of chips and it’s too sweet and there is a little acid in the soy sauce, but I add lemon and Shaoxing vinegar to my teriyaki and stir the stir fry sauce and it gets brighter. … Sometimes I want raw sweet molasses, and sometimes I just want bright freshness. For example, I had broccoli today. I wanted to try broccoli, I didn’t want it to be sweet. But acid is like salt. It kind of opens up the aromas. It’s the same with wine. There is nothing worse than wine without acid. In my wine company – Las Jaras – this is the number one thing. We want a strong, acidic aftertaste that quenches our thirst [wincing sound], making us want to keep eating and drinking. This is all part of a chemical reaction that happens to your body, and I love it.
Do you ever plan your tours of the cities you want to eat in?
Oh my God. Very often. When we were filming the second season of Master of None, we thought, “We want to shoot in Italy.” Just because we like it. Aziz and I went there on vacation many, many times before filming there. And we want to shoot the fourth season in Japan. I mean, it’s just an idea, but we really love this food. And when Tim and I are touring, you know you have to go to the big cities because there are the most people there. But I have to hit Atlanta for the fried chicken. I need to go to Texas to do Franklin’s barbecue. So it looks like a necessity.
I know Tampa is not a big food city by many people’s standards, but I really appreciated your review of Bern’s Steak House .
Oh my God. You were there?
I was there. I used to live in the area. What did you order there, and did you make dessert?
I completely agreed. Do you know the secret wine is there?
Yeah. That is why we go, I go once a year, because it is considered one of the best cellars in the world , and we only go when there is a certain sommelier there who can help us. It’s pretty damn cool. The food is similar to your classic steakhouse. Chicken Bern is our favorite restaurant. When we go there, we eat there for about eight hours, because there is so much wine there. So we have a whole lunch and then we start again. We order two rounds of Chicken Bern, go to dessert and order champagne and beautiful sauternes or whatever, or dessert wine. And then we take a tour of the cellars, which is incredible. We are like children in pastry shops. This is amazing.
Are there any hidden culinary highlights at the airports you’ve been to?
I mean, does Barcelona count? Are you talking about an American woman?
Yeah, that’s so interesting. We’ve just gone to Spain and Barcelona – all we need are automatic machines like tomato bread and Jamón Ibérico. And at Barcelona airport, in the international terminal, there is the best tomato bread and the best ham I have eaten in the whole country. I don’t mean to say that, but as it was, you know, they just do it. And they have amazing coffee all over the place. I love, I love, I love Spanish airports. They really care about food. But I’m also a big fan of going back to Los Angeles, and I’m going – what kind of hamburgers are there, is that really good? – Shake Shack! They make a mushroom burger. I couldn’t eat a regular burger after a long flight, but a good mushroom burger is a good welcome in LA in my opinion.
I know you were a vegetarian for a while, back in the 90s, when they didn’t have all this new tech meats. Have you tried any tech meats?
Yes, I was. I did a couple of events with the Impossible Burger because it shocked me. I would make burgers with it and even Beyond Meat – I’m kind of shocked at how good it is if cooked right. It’s all about getting really good grilled meats, getting that caramelization. So you are deceiving yourself. But, you know, if you add enough good ingredients to it, I’m very impressed. I’m very happy. My sister is vegetarian and my partner at Las Jaras is pescatarian, so he cooks Beyond sausages for pizza, which is really good.
Dairy-free foods have come a long way, too.
Oh my God. Yeah. I have vegan ice cream sandwiches in my freezer. I participate in this.
Are there any retro dishes that you think will make a comeback?
Yeah. I really love Wellington beef, and when I was filming Master None season 3 we were in England, so all I wanted was to eat a Sunday roast that looks like Yorkshire pudding, Wellington beef. I love ribs like Lawry’s and the like. I’d like someone to cook a steakhouse in downtown Los Angeles that was old school. It seems really old. Duck a l’orange is all my favorite dish. There are a couple of cool steak houses and they do steaks, salads and stuff, but there are some dishes like old French dishes that I think would be awesome.
I think here in Portland we also miss that old school sensibility. Do you have a favorite restaurant in Portland?
If it was necessary to pick, it would be Kachka . This place – I couldn’t believe it. My mom is German and we had a lot of bread with pickled herring and dumplings, that was my upbringing. So it was so soulful to be there. Plus, when you get the horseradish ice vodka, you feel really good.
One dish that I really enjoyed in the book is sexy trimmed pasta, which in my opinion is such a clever way to teach people how to cook. Is this how you cook at home – is this continuous use of ingredients as they come in?
I’m so glad you said that. I kind of fought to put it in because we didn’t shoot it. But I thought, “This is such an easy way to teach people to make pasta out of anything.” We’ll get a farmers market box or something, and we’ll have some pumpkin left over. Some of these babies are difficult to use, but as if you roasted them and put in enough garlic and maybe anchovies or capers, Italians eat that way. Eating is very simple. It’s not all these great tomato sauces all the time. Very lightweight. So I just wanted to give an idea, like try different noodles, try different combinations, just add it in there and have some fun.
Are there any other dishes in this genre?
Yeah, if I go to a steak house and I have pieces of steak, I really love the fried rice in the egg. I always keep some old rice in the refrigerator, very well sealed. Or steak and eggs. I’ll just make a soft porridge and add the avocado and tomato meat again. This is amazing to me.
How to make a soft fight?
I just beat a couple of eggs, sometimes add a little to it to thicken, and then over medium heat. As soon as I fry the meat and some flavorings – some garlic or shallots or whatever – I just slowly pour the eggs into my skillet and then just keep them in constant motion with a spatula. Then you turn off the heat for 30 seconds and it just kind of forms this beautiful thing, maybe a little like grated cheddar if you have one.
Some crazy egg fun: I wanted to talk about the shrimp cocktail because it’s one of my favorites. Can you describe your perfect shrimp cocktail?
This was my first food that I fell in love with as a child. I went to Ocean City, Maryland. They had really good shrimp and I can only remember adding more horseradish to my sauce. I like the very spicy and, of course, very flavorful shrimp. In my recipe, you add a little spice to make the broth run out a little. I love the steakhouse style. I love being served in a dangling martini glass, along with some parsley and lemon. It’s just a classic cold, beautiful thing.
What do you usually drink with him?
I mean, definitely start with a gin martini, dry, always with olives.
What kind of gin do you like?
I love Raj, Fords and St. George – now my three. Plus, Monkey 47 is really good.
In the pizza chapter of the book, you say that whenever you go to a new pizzeria, start with a margarita pie because that’s a landmark. Do you have any other similar test dishes?
Oh, that’s a good question. Definitely in sushi restaurants, I start with the basics, like a lovely slice of chutoro like medium fat tuna, just to check out the very basics before you move on to the wilder rolls or something. I always love getting really simple things – it’s the same with taco establishments. I just start with the basics – tacos carne asada, tacos cochinita pibil, and then you start driving out because I feel like you can define the craft of a place by the simplest thing. Just like when you walk into a restaurant and taste bread, you get Parker House buns and say, “Oh my God.” And you go to a beef bread restaurant, you know they don’t care. There is no love in this food. I always think about it. Basics are very important to me.
Yes, I am like that with glazed donuts.
Yes. You know, I like simple things, this is really the best way.
Do you have any tips for those on a limited income how to make food special on a budget?
I tried to think about it a lot in this book, because this book was written for me 10 years ago, before I started to cook a lot. I wanted it all. Take chicken parmesan, for example. This is a very inexpensive dish. It will turn out like two chicken breasts. It costs less than five dollars. You make your own tomato sauce. That also costs less than five dollars, and then some mozzarella cheese, which costs less than five dollars. Then you just follow my recipe, which is perfect. And you will have that feeling that I had, which is, “Damn it, I can cook better than my Italian restaurant, which I go to and spend twenty-five dollars on chicken.” For me, this is a large part of the book. I can’t even go to a steakhouse because I cook better steaks. Now I know how to do it. I think about things like chicken and even salads. I wanted to put on a couple of salads, which are very simple, because someday you will learn how to make a good vinaigrette? It seems sublime and very cheap.