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 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 flavors. 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 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 traveling 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 favorite—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 I 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 favorite 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 favorite Portland restaurant?
If I had to pick, it would be Kachka. That place is—I couldn’t believe it. My mom’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 pastas 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 I whip up a couple eggs, sometimes I’ll pour just a touch a half & half 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 shrimp cocktail because it’s one of my favorites. Can you describe your perfect shrimp 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 shrimp, and I just remember adding extra horseradish to my my sauce. I like it really spicy and, of course, I like the shrimp 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 donuts.
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.