Friendsgiving is a way less stressful experience than Thanksgiving. Who knew that swapping out all your crazy, conspiracy-obsessed cousins and uncles — you know, the people you have to love and accept — for a group of people that you actually like to be around would lead to a good dinner party? What genius might have predicted it?
But one major edge that the family Thanksgiving has over Friendsgiving is that there’s a higher chance at least someone in your family knows how to cook, and they’re probably bringing their best efforts to the (potentially judgy) family table. Friendsgiving, while full of great company, is a mixed bag when it comes to the food.
Comedy legend Eric Wareheim wants to change that. To help make the food at your Friendsgiving as epically delicious as your grandma’s best mashed potato recipe (just potatoes, sour cream, salt, pepper, that’s all it takes), Wareheim teamed up with Messenger for an episode on the platform’s Watch Together series. On How We Friendsgiving: Level Up Friendsgiving With Eric Wareheim, would-be home cooks will be treated to Wareheim goofing around in the kitchen while he shows off his serious cooking chops.
If you thought the actor and author just played a food obsessive on Master Of None, you probably don’t follow his Instagram which looks more like what you’d find on a modern chef’s page than a comedian’s. In addition to his food porn-filled IG, Wareheim just dropped his first cookbook, FOODHEIM: A Culinary Adventure which chronicles his deep love and passion for food and the stories that live on through family recipes.
This week, we hit up Wareheim over Zoom and asked him to share the keys to throwing the perfect Friendsgiving.
How did a Friendsgiving show come about?
Messenger reached out because they needed a formal expert on Friendsgiving, and as everyone knows, I am the formal expert. I just released a cookbook called FOODHEIM and, in the book, it has a lot of chapters on how to do parties with your friends. I think that’s such an important part of life, maybe you’re not with your family, maybe you just have your friends together.
How do you execute that?
Try new things. It’s not just about the turkey and the mashed potatoes. We did a kind of Eric Wareheim Friendsgiving which is kind of an Italian American thing. Using lots of recipes from my book like Nonna sauce, which is grandma’s gravy and meatballs and we did my famous garlic bread. It’s just cool because you can watch it together with your friends which I think is a cool concept, that’s just part of the holidays, bringing people together.
I wanted to talk to you about your book FOODHEIM and your overall journey with food, what made you want to embark on writing a cookbook?
I started a wine business maybe seven years ago because I’m truly an avid foodie and wine person. I switched my Instagram to just a food blog because that’s what I was interested in. I was still directing and making comedy and stuff but I kind of made this big creative pivot into that food space, and I hang out with tons of chefs, it’s just people I like to be around — freaks.
I feel like comedians and chefs are from the same freakish world. I traveled the world, had all these recipes, all this inspiration from my family, so I wanted to put it down and a big part of the book is like what I said, how do you bring your friends together, how do you do things like Friendsgiving, and do it in a fun way?
As you were writing FOODHEIM did you take inspiration from any other cookbooks? What were the influences behind what you were doing with yours?
I wrote it for the Eric ten years ago, when I was just starting cooking. It has all the kitchen utensils you need when you start out, how to execute, how to sear steaks properly at a high temperature, it teaches you all the things you’re afraid of when you’re a beginner cook. Thinking things like “I don’t think I can make homemade pasta” but it’s actually very easy. I studied tons of pizza books and Julia Child’s stuff, all the classics, Thomas Keller. This Salvador Dali cookbook he put out in the 1970s is a huge inspiration visually because it’s very abstract and cool and decadent and one of the chapters is called “Bliss Mode Party,” which is crazy art food and stuff.
It’s everything I love put into one book.
You mentioned being around other chefs, one of the most obvious similarities between comedians and chefs is that both parties travel a lot more than the average person, do you have a favorite food destination?
Wow, I have so many but if I had to say one I’d say Japan. That’s one I haven’t been to in a while because of lockdown scenarios. It was one of the first food cities that really changed me because you dive so deep into a different culture and it’s the first time you understand, “Oh sushi is this art, it’s very different” I grew up in Philadelphia where the sushi scene wasn’t that big. You realize how important the food is to the people and how soulful it is and how deep it is. That’s something I put into the book too, every chapter is like “here is this pasta and here is why it’s so important, “ or “here is my grandma’s recipe, and this has been in her family for hundreds of years,” it’s a very powerful thing that I wanted to translate.
Same with this Friendsgiving, I would also say Philadelphia is one of my favorite food cities. I grew up there, it’s very Italian American, you would smell meatballs cooking every Sunday. That’s why I wanted to put it on my Watch Together show.
Can you take us through one of your secret sauce recipes featured in the book?
The Smashburger is such an easy secret sauce. It’s literally equal parts mustard, ketchup, and mayonnaise. I use specific things like kewpie mayonnaise which has a little bit of sweetness, I use Sir Kensington’s Ketchup which I just think is a really great flavor, a little mustard powder, and a little splash of Sriracha just for a little kick. It’s almost like a Russian Dressing in a way, and I put some relish in there. It’s a big acid kick, you need that to balance out all the fat and cheese.
One of the proudest sauces I’ve developed is this sauce I use in a Parisian chicken recipe. I do a very creamy mushroom sauce that you dip French fries into. It’s something I had when I was in Paris and I just figured it out with the help of some of my chef friends. How to make this sauce from the pan drippings and a little bit of flour. There is some traditional stuff and some new school sauces that I get into. And of course, the Nonna sauce is a red sauce, I just figured out a way to cook the garlic really slow and low to really extract the flavor into the oil and that’s what I show in the Friendsgiving video.
Do you have tips for amateur at-home chefs?
First of all buy the book, haha! Second of all watch my Messenger video because I show you how fun it is to cook. My whole philosophy is, buy organic stuff, spend the money on the good stuff. Find your farmer’s market, find the organic produce shop, and get good chicken and meats. There is a huge difference between your grocery store chicken and chicken that’s raised ethically. Every recipe I have, your cooking will be so much easier if you’re starting with good product.
Also, get one good knife. You can get one for like $35 dollars, honor it, wash it after every use, don’t let it rust, don’t put it in the dishwasher. Also one good pan, like a 12-inch steel pan, try to learn to cook without the nonstick because that is so important to getting proper browning and getting the Maillard reaction on all your proteins.
I’m an online video person, I get caught up in them, watching videos of cooking. That’s why I wanted to do something with Messenger so you could watch my recipes with friends, not to keep coming back to the Messenger thing, but it’s true. It’s how I learned throughout the pandemic, I watched so many videos and you find a couple of people you like, my favorite is J. Kenji López-Alt, he’s legit.
You just find the people where you’re like “okay I trust you, I made one of your recipes and it worked,” so I just trust him, and I watch all of his stuff and then I make a list, like “oh I gotta make those carnitas someday,” that’s just my process. I find it fun, my whole vibe is, I’m a comedian and I make silly stuff but I also make really good food, so no matter who you are with a few tips you can do it.
Can you run us through your go-to Thanksgiving specialty?
Lately, I’ve been doing Friendsgiving because my family can’t come out to LA, so I literally do what I love the most which are pizza, meatballs, Nonna’s sauces and I developed this garlic bread for the Watch Together show and it’s so good. It’s a combination of olive oil and butter and roasted garlic, it’s just overload. I love traditional Thanksgiving food but it’s fun to change it up, especially when you live in a warm area like LA, you can really do anything.
I also use to do Momofuko brussels sprouts. Which are like roasted brussels sprouts with fish sauce and chilis and a lot of cilantro and mint. It’s a weird flavor profile to mix with traditional Thanksgiving, but people would just freak out for it because it’s so vibrant and not like grandma’s gravy, it’s a little crazy.
So how do we ensure the perfect Friendsgiving?
It’s really setting up everything in advance. I make a little playlist. Tonight I’m having a pizza party and I made a playlist that’s what I’m thinking about right now, and I think about what wines I want to pair with whatever food I’m doing, you just take a little time to figure out how to make it a little special so when your friends leave they’re like “oh shit that was really nice.”
This year I bought these little to-go containers and I’m going to make little leftovers for people with King’s Hawaiian rolls and kewpie mayo, so they can take home a little and have a sandwich the next day. Friendsgiving is all about giving back to your friends and going over the top and making them feel loved. The older I get the more I care about that stuff because when friends do that to you it’s like “oh shit they love me.” Going the extra mile is the short answer to all of that — life is short, give back to the people that love you and that’s it.
Could you build out your ideal Thanksgiving plate?
We’d go back to Japan, it would be a couple of pieces of chutoro from a restaurant called Sawada, it would also have a fried chicken thigh from Willie Mae’s in New Orleans, … and that’s it. To me that’s the perfect thing, a little sushi, and a little fried chicken. That’s also my final meal if I had to pick one. That would be ideal, but I’m also just so in love with pizza and pasta, I make that every Sunday pretty much. My wife and I just make meatballs and Nonna sauce, and it just fills up your kitchen, and you watch a rerun of Sopranos and life is good.
Tune in to Watch Together via Messenger and Instagram here.