Eric Wareheim Is Luring Fans of Gross-Out Comedy to the World of Fine Food

The comedian and author of the new cookbook ’Foodheim: A Culinary Adventure’ talks about setting out to write ”a real food bible”

If Eric Wareheim’s name conjures any associations with food, it’s usually pretty gross. Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!, his cult series on Adult Swim with Tim Heidecker, featured fake commercials for all manner of revolting loafs (“H’amb!”) and surgical digestion devices (“Food Tube!”). The spinoff show Check It Out! with Dr. Steve Brule (starring John C. Reilly) advertised rancid clams and horse meat that comes in giant, brown cans.

I bring this up during a Zoom interview with Wareheim about his new cookbook, Foodheim: A Culinary Adventure, and he laughs. “Yeah, I know,” he says. “That’s a huge hurdle, and we’ll see.”

Foodheim is a serious food book…well, mostly serious. It is full of silly photos and drawings of Wareheim, a glossary of terms like “bonk” and “dankadence,” and even a “Small Horse Chapter” (just cute photos; no horse recipes). The writing is very much in the comedian’s goofy, abbreviation-loving voice, and there are fun stories about his family, his foodie friend Aziz Ansari and their mock-serious Food Club—where they wear captain’s hats and suits to restaurants—and Reilly buying Wareheim a real saber to open sparkling wine the fancy way.

But the recipes themselves, the gorgeous food photography, and Wareheim’s passion for delicious meals, high-quality ingredients, smartly paired wines, and throwing food-centric parties is one hundred percent sincere. And infectious. You may be tempted to laugh off the idea of taking culinary advice from the tall, cartoonish dude who made his name making gross-out, David Lynchian, midnight comedy… but Eric Wareheim and his nonna sauce might just defiantly make your mouth water.

A lot of people would be surprised to know you’re into food as much as you are. But as you point out in the book, there is this spiritual link between comedians and chefs. Can you elaborate on that?

I think fundamentally we both have the same sort of work ethic, and a pretty crazy attitude of passion. I think comedians, or filmmakers, are very intense. They want to make the best thing. They’re all in. Same with chefs—or good chefs. They’re just working all day, they’re trying to perfect their craft. And at the end of the night we’re both so exhausted, we just want to party and find the good food. We’re both obsessed with that. We were touring a lot, or I’d be hanging out with Aziz, and the chefs would come to our shows. And then we’d hang out with them and they would show us their secret spots, and it became this brotherhood. I also think chefs want to be comedians, just like everyone in a band wants to be funny, and everyone that’s funny wants to be in a band—or a chef. We just kind of want to be around each other, because our energies are similar but different. We respect each other’s crafts. And when it comes down to it, you need to eat. And when you’re on the road, you want to eat good food. It really became a mission for me, to tour and be like, “I’m gonna have a great dinner before the show, and then after the show find where the burger spot is or the late-night taco spot.” It became a religion.

I would think a lot of comedians, or just traveling performers, have trash taste—or just eat junk all the time.

Well, that’s definitely true as well. There are a lot of comedians that don’t give a fuck. And I think it’s just bad for them, because your body is so sacred when you tour. Like, if you don’t put good fuel, if you’re just doing McDonald’s and Denny’s, you’re fucked. You’re just drinking and you’re doing that. So it was really when I moved to L.A., and I was like, oh wow, you can have this amazing experience and it’s not that bad for your body. It became part of your health. I started wanting to drink better vodka, because I wasn’t as hung over the next day. Same with wine. It’s also the bug. Like, some people either get the food bug or they don’t. And I still have a lot of friends who don’t give a shit. But, you know, I love it.

In the book you straddle the line between, yes, you like really refined things—whether that’s the fanciest restaurants or the best ingredients, the imported tomatoes and that kind of thing—while also demystifying that and taking it off its pedestal, and even poking fun at it. So you get the best of both worlds.

I think what I’m trying to do…even with my wine [Las Jaras]—that was my first project that was outside of the comedy community, and people that aren’t into wine think it’s this stuffy, pretentious, rich-guy thing. Where I’m trying to come at it as, like, yes, there are levels of that, and it’s gross, and I don’t want to take part in that. But when you look at it as a more soulful, artisanal thing, of winemakers in France and Italy that have been doing it for 2,000 years, dating back to monks that are really making art—that’s how I look at it. It sucks that some of the prices are jacked up, but the reason is, it’s fucking the best thing on earth. Most of my fans can’t do that kind of experience. So part of it—I hate to use the word “aspirational”—but part of it’s like, I want people to see that there’s this cool part of the world where, yeah, caviar is really good, and wine is good, and treat yourself every once a while. But here’s another way to do it, where you can make a pasta for five bucks and it’s very good. But the whole thing about like the Michelin stars and that kind of thing, that’s all just hype and bullshit. That’s why we did the the captain’s thing, the Food Club, just to fuck with the system. I do like a fancy sit-down meal. I think the whole celebration of the art of food is really cool. But right now I’m more into literally just cooking stir fry, or going and getting a taco. I’m very into simplicity right now.

Did the pandemic change your cooking game?

Yeah, totally. I had so much time to finish the book and really do it well, so I just tested the recipes over and over again. We tweaked it. And then I’m also obsessed with cooking videos. I just watched a million of them, tried a bunch of stuff. I’m really into wok cooking right now, like really simple, healthy stir fries—like nailing a teriyaki sauce. Once you do that with real light and dark soy sauce—like, the real sauces that are a dollar to buy—it changes everything. I’ll never buy Chinese takeout. It’s just crazy how simple it is and how good it is at home. It’s kind of fucked me for a lot of restaurants, because I go out and I’m like: I don’t want to spend 200 bucks on a steak and it might not be perfect. Where, at home, I know the suppliers, I’ve mastered it. So I’m in a weird place right now where I go to restaurants and my wife and I are like, “Fuck this. We just spent so much money.” That’s also an L.A. thing. I feel like we have the really amazing simple things, like tacos, sushi—that stuff is on point. But when you want that fancy steakhouse or French vibe, I don’t think we have a lot of that offered here. I don’t want to talk shit about L.A. I love it. But sometimes I want that kind of New York, London experience—fine dining, servers that have been there 30 years. I’m gonna save my moments for those kinds of things.

Your book seems tailor-made for someone like me, who doesn’t cook at all and is too intimidated and preemptively bored with how much time and effort it takes. So what would you tell someone like me who is hell bent on never cooking, but loves food?

That’s a huge part of what I want to do. If my fans can see me making homemade pizza at home, they’re like: “I could do that. He’s just a fucking funny guy.” I did not go to culinary school. I just know lots of chefs, and people have trained me, and I’m obsessed with researching all that stuff. But the book… I wanted the pictures to be like food porn. You’ll look at these pastas and be like, “Aw man, I’m going to give this a try.” And I’m doing this show called Heimy’s House, which is just a silly show of me cooking, and hopefully you’ll watch that and be like, “Oh fuck, that really just takes 20 minutes,” and you can make like the craziest, simple pasta. I don’t know. That’s my goal, is to show people like you. This book is kind of for me maybe 15 years ago, when I was just starting out. Like, I wish I had this book. I wish I knew how to make freakin’ chicken parm and meatballs and fried chicken. So I wanted to put all the basics in there for people like you to be like, “Alright, I’m gonna give this a try.” And hopefully I wrote it in a way that’s not too cheffy.

What was it that got you over your own hurdle 15 years ago?

I got into it, you know. It was also working with Aziz. When we shot season two of Master of None, we went to Italy a couple months early and literally trained with nonnas that were making pasta. We had to learn how to do the shapes, because we shot it all. And to see a grandma who’s been doing it for so many years, and see the love and care and how she’s so specific about it, and will only use this kind of flour and only this particular egg, and every region is different—that just turned me on. Same with wine, like just talking to a couple of winemakers I realized the art of it. And then I took a couple lessons. If I was in Thailand, I would just take a random lesson. And after one lesson I got excited about, oh, that’s all you need to do to make a curry? You just put a couple things together and simmer it for a couple hours? Then you do it at home once and you’re like, “Oh, this is better than any Thai spot in L.A.” Like, no joke. It’s just the freshness factor. So I think you’ve just got to take the plunge. Do you have a loved one in your life?

My wife is an incredible cook, yeah.

OK, so that’s another reason why you probably don’t cook.

It is. I’ve never had to.

Here’s what you do. Pick a recipe. I’ll help you. And surprise her. That’s an important thing I want to say, is: giving to someone. I think cooking is a lot like comedy. To make someone laugh is maybe the best feeling in the world. It’s just such a gift. And when you cook for someone, like when I cook for my wife and she’s like “Holy shit!” I feel really happy that I gave her this thing that I made. So I think that’s another hurdle. Once you try it once, you’ll be like: oh, wow!

That is my my pledge to you. I will cook something from your book.

That would be awesome.

So you feel like your persona as a silly comedy guy is actually an asset, in terms of getting people to try these recipes?

Yeah, I think so. Like with the wine, with Las Jaras, we put John C. Reilly’s face on the first bottle, and that was sort of a trick to lure our comedy fans into trying really good wine. And then with the book…there’s a lot of cookbooks that suck, that are just really serious and boring. I just wanted you to open this, to any page, and just be like: oh shit, that looks fun. You know, “I want to do that.” And the silliness of me hopefully making fun of some things, I just hope that is enticing. I don’t know that many books that have this combo. And obviously the ultimate goal, for me, is for someone to be like: “Oh, that’s a fucking comedian,” and look at it and be like, “Oh, no, this is a real food bible.”

What about the people who have connotations of your comedy that involves very gross food?

Tim and I loved making fun of food so much, but it’ll be interesting to see if people take it seriously. I mean, I think a lot of my fans will buy it just to have a little bit of me in their home. But hopefully with this show… the reason I’m making Heimy’s House is to be like, “Oh, he can actually cook, and it’s gonna be a fun ride.” I love having parties, and part of the book is like, how do you have a party and have fun and laugh and eat? That’s all it is. Life is making your wife happy, laughing till you cry, and eating some good pizza. Like, what else do you need? [Laughs]

eric wareheim

Photo by Julia Stotz

Why did you go vegetarian when you were in college?

I was in a punk rock scene. I was playing in a lot of hardcore bands. We were very politically charged and environmentally charged, and it was just like part of the scene—like “meat is murder” was a thing, and we were just like activists. And for a long time I was very passionate about it. And then I became not passionate about it after I learned more about, oh, you don’t have to buy factory-farmed meat, and all that kind of stuff. This was a long time ago, before Whole Foods and all that shit existed.

If you became a vegetarian now, you’d probably be much happier than you were then.

Oh, dude. Yeah. And also, I put a whole chapter, “Green Foods,” in there just to have some veggie options. When I work, when I shoot, I try to eat vegan at lunch, just because it’s so much more power to not have like cheese and meat and stuff. But at home I also cook vegetarian a lot, just because I want to make meat a special occasion thing. It might not be evident in this book, because there’s lots of chicken and meat and stuff, but I think that’s another goal: you should make steak a special thing. You should not have it more than once a week. I still have those kind of feelings about the environment and animals and stuff.

Is it weird we spend so much time obsessing over food and treating it like art, when really it’s just going to turn into poop?

[Laughs] Yeah, I mean, that’s one way to look at it. I look at it just like I said, with being on tour, it’s like: you have to eat—why not make it fucking special? I’ve never been the kind of guy that’s like, “Let’s just get a chicken Caesar wrap to go,” you know. I’m more like, “Let’s just find a quick Vietnamese noodle spot.” We don’t have much time here—let’s make it special.

Did writing about food come naturally to you? That’s definitely an art, finding a way to creatively but accurately describe a taste, a flavor, or a specific instruction of how to prepare something.

Yeah, writing about it came naturally because it’s almost like comedy. I don’t have a lot of like culinary terms, but I just kind of wrote how I think of things. I’m like, “That piece looks gorgeous,” or I created words like “dank” or “bonk”—I just made up funny words that will describe different levels of the taste experience. But I also have a cowriter, Emily Timberlake, who’s a pro. I picked her because she went to a Tim and Eric show ten years ago on a first date, and then she ended up marrying this guy. So we have this crazy connection, and she just got it. Once she got my tone, she helped. But I was very hands-on, because I care about it so much, like every little detail. It was fun to write the intro and stuff, and talk about my life in a funny way. I just used the same kind of skills as I would if I wrote a script, just kind of trying to keep it interesting and funny.

What else do you have cooking, besides Heimy’s House?

Tim Heidecker and I wrote a pilot for FX, so we’re hoping that we can make a series. It’s kind of like the next-level Tim and Eric show. It’s similar to Bedtime Stories, which is our more cinematic, dark comedy. I’m getting back into making music videos. And then the biggest thing is, I’m writing an Eric Wareheim-written-and-directed feature, that’s also kind of a dark horror comedy. So I just have a lot of ideas right now, and I hope to be making something soon. Sick of sitting around with my mask on.

So if I make one meal out of the book to impress my wife, what would you recommend?

Alright, let me look at the table of contents. I would just go with something that’s like really loving. Like, I would do…

Keeping in mind this is a true first-timer, absolute novice…

I know. I know. Literally I would do “Sexy Scraps Pasta,” because that’s the easiest recipe in the book. That’s literally like, you put some fucking pasta on, you sauté some garlic, some parsley. It’s basically like Aglio e Olio, the classic, easy pasta. It takes ten minutes. And you do it at home and it just pops. Good Parmesan cheese, and then a little veg, whatever you want to put in there—like a little broccolini or something. It’s a version of taking scraps from your fridge—that your wife cooks the night before, just take whatever veggies she has—sauté it real quick and then stir it up. I think she’ll like it. And get a nice bottle of white wine. Maybe get Las Jaras, who knows? [Laughs]

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