Los Angeles — On Sunday, April 18, actor Jesse Tyler Ferguson best known for “Modern Family” talked about his new cookbook called “Food Between Friends” during the 2021 Los Angeles Times Festival of Books. The virtual discussion was moderated by L.A. Times television editor Matt Brennan.
“Food Between Friends” is a new cookbook that features modern California food with Southern and Southwestern spins. Ferguson developed the book alongside recipe developer Julie Tanous. Some of the foods featured in the book include chicken, beef, pork, lamb, fish as well as meatless entrees and even desserts.
Matt Brennan: I would love to start things off. In the introduction, you tell us a great story about how you and Julie got together and how you sort of became friends. I’m wondering if you could share a little bit of that with viewers and talk about how being friends translated into your food blog.
Jesse Tyler Ferguson: “Julie and I met at a dinner party that my friend was throwing. They were doing one in Los Angeles and Julie and I were both invited to go to that. Julie had actually given birth to her first daughter, Josephine, and was suffering from a bit of postpartum depression. She was having a hard time getting out of the house and her husband really encouraged her… just go to this dinner party. She ended up going and the only seat that was available was at the end of the table. I was sitting across from his husband and he was sitting across from his best friend, Todd. She told me later and said, ‘Oh gosh, now I have to sit next to the celebrity.’ She said, ‘My name is Julie and I’m having Spring Street social anxiety right now.’ We ended up having a really fantastic time together. It was kind of like a first date. When she asked me what I did for a living, I was like, ‘Oh, she doesn’t know that I’m an actor on television.’ This is fantastic, she actually wants to get to know me because she just finds me interesting. She told me that she went to culinary school and was a recipe developer. We talked about our passion for cooking. I told her I always wanted to go to culinary school but never had the opportunity or time. We basically exchanged numbers and let’s like cook together. I told Julie I’m going to ask you to come over and teach me some of your culinary skills because there’s so many things that I’m desperate to learn. She came over and we started developing recipes together just sort of to ourselves. It was a year or two later that she actually admitted that she fully knew who I was and she was just playing it cool. She wanted to put me at ease as much I wanted to put her at ease.”
Matt Brennan: Was there a moment that you remember that the two of you sort of had the lightbulb go off this should be a blog, this should be a cookbook. I want to share this with people kind of beyond our own social circle.
Jesse Tyler Ferguson: “It’s funny because Julie pitched me an idea for a cookbook idea that she had in the back of her brain from the past few years. That’s not the concept we ended up going with but at the time, I was like this is fantastic. Let’s take this to my agent. I took them to my agent and the book editor and she was like, ‘How long have you guys known each other?’ I was like three weeks and she’s got this great idea. My agent was like, ‘Calm down, why don’t you guys get to know each other and cook in the kitchen and see what naturally develops.’ So we were like, okay. We started creating recipes together and posting them on Instagram. People would ask us, what’s the recipe for this? This looks amazing. We decided to create a blog. The title of our blog originally was called ‘Julie and Jesse Cook.’ Don’t ask me how I came up with that title. It was a stroke of genius. We had this blog and we just put all of our recipes there. Some of our first recipes, I’m like oomph, we certainly got better with time. Cooking with someone in the kitchen or a friend is really like a dating process. You get to know one another and know one another’s quirks, what your skills are and what your strengths are, how you can collaborate with one another. It was definitely a process. For that whole early phase of creating our blog, we were just figuring out what our relationship was. As we kept creating together, the recipes got more and more interesting. We started pulling in inspirations from our backgrounds and our histories. Julie is from Alabama and I’m from New Mexico so we started pulling in things from our home states and creating with those ingredients that we love so much. We always had this idea of maybe doing a cookbook. But it was actually the editors at Clarkson Potter who came to us and said, ‘We would love to turn your blog into a cookbook.’ And I feel like their confidence in us was all we needed to hear because initially when I pitched the idea of doing a cookbook with them, my agent was like, ‘Wow, hold up, get to know one another.’ So it was nice that a fancy publishing house came to us and said, ‘We think this could really be something.’”
Matt Brennan: I’m curious since you brought it up…do you have a kitchen quirk that you feel Julie really needed to get used to? Or you were trying to downplay during the getting-to-know-you process?
Jesse Tyler Ferguson: “Yeah, I think I do. I’m an impulsive cleaner and that came from me being not a good cleaner in the kitchen. I would finish making a simple pie crust and there would be flour on the ceiling. I used to be really bad. I’ve gotten very kind of laser focused on like keeping things clean. I have to not be quite so micromanaging I guess. I’d be there like looking over her shoulder to see if she was spilling some flour and I’d be there with a rag like immediately wiping it up. ‘Ok…Jesse, calm down, the kitchen will be clean later.’ For Julie, I don’t know what her quirks are. I do know that I don’t cook with as much butter and sugar as Julie does. Julie is a true Southerner and if you turn your back on her for free seconds, she is going to add some butter to something you’re making. For her, she had to learn to sort of pump those brakes a little bit. Not to say that the cookbook has plenty of butter and sugar. I would always ask…do we really need that? Do we need it at all? Also, our very first recipe that we made together was a roasted chicken. Normally, you would rub tons of butter all over the bird so it would get that beautiful brown skin and I was like, ‘Let’s try to make it a little healthier.’ My husband and I were eating Paleo at the time so we rubbed the skin with ghee which is just purified butter with the milk taken out which makes it Paleo and healthier. It doesn’t brown the chicken as beautifully as butter would. Whereas the chicken tasted great, it looked like it was raw. There is something to be said for using the techniques that have been around for hundreds and hundreds of years. Julie is a master for showing what to do in the kitchen and I just sort of learn from her.”
Matt Brennan: Was it intimidating for you to work on a cookbook without a lot of formal training or by the time you got to the actual cookbook process did you feel confident enough?
Jesse Tyler Ferguson: “I’m so curious. Julie and I are both first-time authors. I truly wonder how many first-time authors have poster syndrome. I certainly had it. Also being someone who just admires people in the culinary world so much, I didn’t want to come in and present myself who had this rich history with food and creating recipes. I am a new home cook and I love doing it. I think I’m really good at it. I’m a sponge and I love to learn but I’m a home cook. I’m not going to compare what I do to like some of the greatest chefs in the world. I actually hosted the James Beard awards for two years. The James Beard awards, for those who don’t know, are basically the Oscars of the culinary world. I had pressure to be in this room with all of these people who I admired so greatly. I felt like I was part of that community but at the same time sort of an outsider and I was like, ‘I just want them to laugh and have an amazing night. I want this night to be special for them. This is their big evening. In the culinary world, the James Beard awards is like their big night.’ I felt the same pressure when we were creating the book. There’s going to be a lot of eyes in this book from people who are both chefs and non chefs, experienced cooks and non experienced cooks. I just didn’t want to disappoint anyone. I have a great desire to be liked. I’m working on all of these things with my therapist. I don’t think I’ll ever have that feeling of should I ever be in this room. I felt that way about my acting career to. Sometimes I was at the Emmy Awards and Bryan Cranston is here. I don’t think I should be nominated. It’s just a burden I have to carry.”
Matt Brennan: “I think that’s a relatively common feeling for avid home cooks because cooking is so much a part of culture now with food competition shows, celebrity chefs. But then you watch an episode of “Top Chef” and you’re like that felt like a whole different level from my being an ambitious home cook.
Jesse Tyler Ferguson: “I was watching a new episode of ‘Top Chef.’ There was liquid Nitrogen flowing and I was like, ‘I would never.’ I thought I was good and I feel like I could never do that. But this is also something I really relate to. When people were buying our book ‘Food Between Friends’ and were posting on Instagram, a lot of people were saying, ‘I’m not a good cook, but I’m going to try this and hopefully it will teach me to be a better cook.’ There’s such a fear of messing up and ruining something and putting all this time and effort and money into something that might not turn out, but that’s the beauty of well-done cookbooks. I feel like ours is one of those books that is really well done. All of these recipes have been tested. If you just follow the recipes, read through everything first and get all of your ingredients, there’s really very few ways you can mess up. It’s really not that hard. That’s what I love about people who create that first successful dish, it’s really exciting.”
Look for “Food Between Friends: A Cookbook” in bookstores everywhere and on Amazon at: https://www.amazon.com/Between-Friends-Jesse-Tyler-Ferguson/dp/0593136535; Autographed copies can be purchased below: https://www.pagesabookstore.com/jesse-tyler-ferguson-columnist-matt-brennan. 272 pages. Clarkson Potter publishing. Released March 9, 2021
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