If your concept of Eric Wareheim was formed purely through viewings of Awesome Show and Tom Goes to the Mayor, you might think the man hates food, or wants you to hate food, but that could not be further from the truth. Eric Wareheim loves food, respects food, and cherishes food, and he wants you to do the same. His new (and first) cookbook Foodheim: A Culinary Adventure is packed with aspirational, but still accessible, recipes, party-hosting tips, and pure, gleeful enthusiasm. Food is not a joke to Wareheim, but it is fun, and I recently had the good fortune of talking to him about snack plates, airport dining, and his favourite beverage to sip with prawns.
What do you usually eat for breakfast?
I do a coffee, and I drink La Colombe coffee, which is what I grew up with in Philadelphia when it was just one store, one shop in Rittenhouse Square Park. It’s the same blend. I just love it. I don’t really have breakfast. I just do an early lunch. Like today, and many days, I’m doing these light stir-fries. And when I say “light” I mean I don’t usually use meat. I just do whatever veggies I have in the fridge and I do a little fried tofu and I make this homemade, really lemony stir fry sauce, and I use sushi rice. I make it all from scratch.
And then do you do a more leisurely dinner?
It definitely depends on the day. I mean, during [the height of] the pandemic, I was making huge, elaborate dinners because there’s nothing to do. I was doing like, full boeuf bourguignon, braised meats, ribs — stuff that took hours and hours. I just loved the house smelling like food. I would wake up and think about what wines I would pair with that dish, you know? Like, “Ooh, I’m gonna make a cheese plate. I’m going to pop open a beautiful premier cru chablis with that, then I’m going to move to red wine,” you know? That was what got me through the whole thing. But I have a couple of wine clubs and we all get together and we cook for each other. So that happens once a week or twice a week.
I read that you are an expert at preparing snack plates. Could describe your perfect snack plate?
Yeah, I just did a three-week vacation in Spain and Italy and it’s basically always the same things: It’s like really fresh, beautiful, cured meat like prosciutto or Serrano or Jamón Ibérico. And I always do contrasting cheese: one beautiful triple cream brie, something like nice and gooey; and then something more firm, like a French Comté. And always a fresh baguette. Warm it up in the oven a little bit and serve it with a little fruit — either a little jam or, if it’s summer, some fresh fruit. My other all-time go-to is a really nice French butter with a beautiful Calabrian anchovy.
You like a lot of the tinned fish, right?
Yes. I use a lot in my cooking and there are so many different levels of quality. If you’re going to eat it just plain, you’ve got to get a really good one.
I did notice a running theme throughout the cookbook is an emphasis on really good ingredients, which I love, especially in regards to meat. But I wanted to ask you: Are there any — I hesitate to use the phrase “guilty pleasure,” but…
Yeah, of course. In my SmashHeim recipe, it calls for American cheese and there’s really no substitute for that. It just melts perfectly. Although my friend in Sonoma is developing a cheddar cheese that kind of melts like that. But I love tacos in Los Angeles. That meat is definitely not grass-fed organic beef or pork. But if you pound enough spices or simmer for enough hours, it’ll get to a point where it’s delicious.
I just put it in my book because not a lot of people know that there’s a difference between the stuff you get at your grocery store — and it’s not that much more expensive if you just search it out a little bit. It was just a revolution for me, in wine and food. Being like, “Oh! I don’t even have to season this piece of steak. It’s perfect. I don’t have to put any sauce on it.” That’s how I think you should be eating, with produce, too.
Another thing I absolutely love from the book is this concept of an “acid head.” Could you briefly describe that philosophy?
Yeah. I mean, in regards to my stir-fry sauce — you get a lot of stir-fries and they’re just kind of overly sweet, and there’s a little acid in the soy sauce, but I add lemon and Shaoxing vinegar to my teriyaki and stir fry sauce, and it brightens it up. Sometimes you want that dank, sweet molasses, but other times I just want this bright freshness. Like, I had broccoli today. I wanted to taste the broccoli, I didn’t want to coat it with sweetness. But acid, it’s like salt. It sort of brings out the flavours. Same with wine. There’s nothing worse than a wine with no acidity. At my wine company — Las Jaras — that’s the number one thing. We want a strong acid finish that gives you that thirst quenching [puckering sound], that makes you want to keep drinking and eating. It’s all part of the chemical reaction that happens to your body that I love.
Do you ever route your tours based on cities that you want to eat in?
Oh, my god. Yeah, a lot of the times. When we shot season two of Master of None, we were like “We want to shoot in Italy.” Just because we love it. Aziz and I went travelling there on vacation many, many times before we shot there. And we want to shoot season four in Japan. I mean, it’s just an idea, but we love the food so much. And when Tim and I tour, you know, you have to go to large cities because the most people are there. But I got to hit Atlanta for the fried chicken. I have to go to Texas to get Franklin’s barbecue. So those are like — it’s a must.
I know Tampa isn’t a big food city by a lot of people’s standards, but I did appreciate your shoutout of Bern’s Steak House.
Oh my god. Have you been there?
I have been there. I used to live in that area. What did you order there, and did you do the dessert room?
I totally did. Do you know about the secret wine there?
Yeah. So that’s why we go, I go like once a year because it’s considered one of the best cellars in the world, and we only go when there’s a certain sommelier there that can help us. It’s a whole fucking thing. The food is like your classic steakhouse. The Chicken Bern is our favourite — when we go there, we eat there for about eight hours because there’s so much wine. So we have a whole dinner, and then we start again. We order two rounds of Chicken Bern, and we go to the dessert room, and we order some Champagne and some beautiful sauternes or something or some dessert wine. And then we do a tour of the cellars, which is like, unbelievable. We’re like kids in candy shops. It’s amazing.
Are any hidden culinary gems in any of the airports you’ve been to?
I mean, does Barcelona count? Are you talking about American?
Yeah, it’s so interesting. We just went to Spain and in Barcelona — all we want is pan con tomate — like tomato bread and Jamón Ibérico. And there’s a place in the Barcelona airport, in the international terminal that has the best tomato bread and the best ham I had in the whole country. I hate to say that, but like it was on, you know, they just do it. And they have amazing coffees everywhere. I love, love, love Spanish airports. They really care about the food there. But also I’m a big fan of coming back in LAX and I go — what’s the burger place now that’s really good? — Shake Shack! They do a mushroom burger. I couldn’t do a regular burger after a long flight but a nice mushroom burger, it’s kind of a nice welcome back to L.A., in my opinion.
I know you were a vegetarian for a while, in the 90s, when they didn’t have all these new tech meats. Have you tried any of the tech meats?
Yeah, I was. I did a couple events with Impossible Burger because I was truly blown away by it. I would make burgers with it and even the Beyond Meat — I’m kind of shocked by how good it is if you cook it right. It’s all about getting that real nice sear, getting that caramelization. So, you trick yourself. But, you know, if you put enough good ingredients on it, I’m pretty impressed. I’m very happy. My sister’s vegetarian and my partner at Las Jaras is pescatarian, so he cooks Beyond sausages on his pizzas, and it’s really good.
The dairy-free stuff has come a long way, too.
Oh my god. Yeah. I have vegan ice cream sandwiches in my freezer. I’m into it.
Are there any retro dishes that you wish would make a comeback?
Yeah. I’m really into beef Wellington, and when I was shooting Master of None season three, we were in England, so all I wanted to do is get a Sunday roast, which is like Yorkshire pudding, beef Wellington. I love prime rib places like Lawry’s and that kind of stuff. I wish someone would make a steakhouse in downtown L.A. that was old school. Like really old. Duck a l’orange — all that stuff is kind of my favourite food. There’s a couple of cool steakhouses and they do steaks and wedge salads and stuff, but there are some dishes, like old French dishes that I think would be fucking awesome.
I think that’s what we’re lacking here in Portland, too, is that kind of old school sensibility. Do you have a favourite Portland restaurant?
If I had to pick, it would be Kachka. That place is — I couldn’t believe it. My mum’s German and we had a lot of breads with pickled herring and dumplings, that sort of was my upbringing. So it just felt so soulful to be there. Plus getting that ice-cold horseradish vodka just makes you feel really good.
One dish I really appreciated in the book was the sexy scraps pasta, which I think is such a smart way to teach people to cook. Is that how you cook at home — that sort of continuous using of ingredients as they’re available?
I’m so glad you said that. I kind of fought to put that in, because we didn’t shoot it. But I was like, “This is such an easy way to teach people how to make pasta out of anything.” We’ll get a farmer’s market box or something and we’ll have some squash left over. Some of these babies are hard to use, but like you sauté it up and put enough garlic and maybe an anchovy or some capers — and that’s how Italians eat. They eat very simply. It’s not these big tomato sauces all the time. It’s very light. So I just wanted to put an idea of, like, try different noodles, try different combinations, just throw it in there and have fun.
Are there any other dishes you make that are kind of in that genre?
Yeah, if I go to a steakhouse, and I have pieces of steak, I do like egg-fried rice. I always keep some old rice in the fridge sealed up really nice. Or steak and eggs. I’ll just make a soft scramble and toss the meat back in with some avocado and some tomatoes. It’s amazing to me.
How do you make your soft scramble?
I just whip up a couple eggs, sometimes I’ll pour just a touch of cream in it to kind of thicken it up, and then over medium heat. Once I fry up the meat and a little bit of the aromatics — a little garlic or shallots or whatever — I’ll just slowly pour the eggs into my pan and then, with my spatula, just kind of keep it constantly moving. Then you turn off the heat within 30 seconds and it just kind of forms this beautiful thing, maybe a little like shredded cheddar if you have it.
Pivoting kind of wildly from eggs: I wanted to talk about prawn cocktail because it’s one of my favourites. Can you describe your perfect prawn cocktail experience?
That was my first food that I fell in love with as a kid. I went to Ocean City, Maryland lot. They had really good prawns, and I just remember adding extra horseradish to my sauce. I like it really spicy and, of course, I like the prawn really flavorful. In my recipe, you add some spices just to kind of give the broth a little boom. I like it like steakhouse style. I love it served in a martini glass with them hanging off and a little parsley and a lemon. It’s just this classic cold, beautiful thing.
What do you usually drink with it?
I mean, definitely start with a gin martini, dry, with an olive, for sure.
What kind of gin do you like?
I love Raj, Fords, and St.George — those are my three right now. Also, that Monkey 47 is really good, too.
In the pizza chapter of the book, you say that whenever you go to a new pizza place, start with the margarita pie, because that’s the benchmark. Do you have any other benchmark dishes like that?
Oh, that’s a good question. Definitely at sushi restaurants, I start with the basics like a beautiful piece of chūtoro, like medium fatty tuna just to test out the very basics before you go into some wilder rolls or something. I always love to get the really simple things — same with taco places. I just start with the basics — a carne asada taco, cochinita pibil taco, and then then you start moving out, because I feel like you could tell the craft of a place by the simplest thing. Just like when you go in a restaurant and you try the bread, you get the Parker house rolls and you’re like “Oh my god.” And you go to a restaurant with shit bread, you know they don’t care. There’s no love in that food. I always think about that. The basics are very important to me.
Yeah, I’m that way with glazed doughnuts.
Yes. I love simple stuff, you know, it’s really the way to go.
Do you have any tips for people with limited income on how to make food feel special on a budget?
I tried to think about that a lot in this book because this book is for me 10 years ago, before I started cooking a lot. I wanted all this stuff. Take the chicken parmesan, for example. That is a very inexpensive dish. You get like two chicken breasts. That costs under five dollars. You make your own tomato sauce. That also costs under five dollars, and then a little mozzarella cheese, which is under five dollars. Then you just follow my recipe, which is perfect. And you’ll have that feeling that I had, which is: “Holy shit, I can make food better than my Italian restaurant that I go to and spend twenty five dollars on chicken parm.” To me, that’s big part of the book. I can’t even go to a steak house because I cook better steaks. I know how to do it now. I think things like the chicken parm, and even the salad stuff. I wanted to put a couple of salads that are very easy because once you learn how to make a good vinaigrette? It feels elevated and it’s very cheap.
This interview was edited for clarity and brevity.