The Modern Family star (and new cookbook author!) chats with EatingWell about quarantine cocktails and what's on his grill right now.

Lucy M. Casale
March 01, 2021
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Jesse Tyler Ferguson
Credit: Eva Kolenko

You probably know him from the hit show Modern Family, Jesse Tyler Ferguson is an avid home cook and just published his first book, Food Between Friends (buy it: $28.49, Amazon.com). We spoke with him about his favorite beverages to unwind, his favorite childhood food, the one food trend he can't understand and more. Read on for our full interview with actor and cookbook author, Jesse Tyler Ferguson.

Q: Finish this sentence: To me, cooking is …

Love. When I put a plate of food in front of someone, I want it to feel like a hug.

Q: What is always in your fridge?

Sardines and Sriracha sauce—not together!—but I like big, bold flavors that can enhance dishes. Also fish sauce.

Q: What's a kitchen tool that you can't live without?

I find myself using a citrus zester almost every day. I include a lot of lime and lemon zest in dressings and marinades.

Q: Beer, wine or cocktail?

I love cocktails! I sort of feel like my time in quarantine could be marked by the cocktails I've been drinking at that point. It started with Cosmopolitans. Then Aperol spritzes. Now I'm in a martinis and Manhattans phase.

Q: What's your if-I-only-had-one-meal-left meal?

Sushi dinner. And a lot of sake. A lot of sake. For dessert: a piece of vanilla confetti cake—that's my favorite kind of cake.

Q: What is your all-time favorite dish to cook on the BBQ?

Nothing will ever beat grilled hamburgers and hotdogs, but I have recently been doing more chicken too. Allowing the chicken to marinate for at least four hours is my secret to delicious, juicy grilled chicken.

Q: What health ritual do you never skip, no matter how hectic life gets?

The one thing I always, always, always do? Feed my dogs. [Laughs.]

Q: What do the words "eating well" mean to you"?

Sounds like a really good magazine! [Laughs.] But also: I think people's minds go to eating healthy, eating greens. For me, it's eating food that makes you happy, sustains you, promotes a better lifestyle.

Q: What food says home to you, and why?

I grew up in Albuquerque, New Mexico, so I think of green chile chicken enchiladas. It's one of my favorite dishes my mom would make—and what I would order whenever I went to a restaurant. It's the epitome of childhood to me.

Q: Tell us about your forthcoming cookbook, Food Between Friends, with recipe developer Julie Tanous.

Julie and I have known each other for many years, and she would come to my house to teach me basic cooking techniques: knife skills, how to spatchcock a chicken… Eventually we started developing recipes together and created the blog Julie & Jesse Cook. Then [book publisher] Clarkson Potter asked if we wanted to expand on our story of friendship cultivated in the kitchen and make a cookbook out of it. It's a really fun hybrid of recipes I grew up eating in New Mexico, and recipes Julie grew up eating in Alabama. I love that mashup of South meets Southwest. It's also inspired by things our husbands love, travels we've taken and our friendship. There's a lot of humor in the book too.

Q: What are some of your favorite recipes from the book?

We have these spicy Albuquerque hush puppies, plus Julie has a spoon bread that I love. And there's a sorghum spatchcocked chicken. Now that I know how to cook with sorghum (it's a super-rich layered molasses), I use it all the time!

Q: If you could have dinner with anyone, who would it be?

Kamala Harris. I feel like she would not only be really interesting to have over for dinner, but really fun!

Q: What is your go-to burger, toppings and everything?

I love a burger! But recently, my doctor told me my cholesterol is high, so I've been eating less meat. I consider myself a flexitarian. There are weeks I decide I don't want meat and just cut it out of my diet. I'm also a partner with OZO—they make plant-based protein products—which hit all the marks for me and my family: clean ingredients, rich in nutrition and it tastes really good. The OZO burger is really delicious—full of so much flavor—and it's what I've been substituting recently. On top? Hatch green chiles.

Q: What's one food or diet trend you can't understand the hype for?

I'll say I don't like a juice cleanse. They make me feel really groggy and tired. I lose a lot of weight and then immediately gain it back.

Q: What do you typically eat in a day?

I try and start off my day with something that's filling enough, but also healthy and heart-conscious. Breakfast is usually a smoothie and/or a bowl of oatmeal with jam and almond butter, or maybe honey and nuts on top—a loaded oatmeal. Lunch is typically a salad with some sort of protein, usually chicken. And for dinner—that's my time to be creative in the kitchen and pull something out of my cookbook or pull a cookbook off the shelf and try something I haven't tried yet! Now I'm looking out for healthier recipes in particular.

Q: What does healthy mean to you?

I think healthy is a state of mind. You're happy with where you are in your life, with your body, and you have a healthy relationship with that. I don't believe it's a certain weight or doing certain things like exercise.

Q: We're all about balancing eating deliciously with being healthy. How do you walk that line?

Speaking of exercise, I try to exercise every single day. It really clears my head and I never regret doing it! It always makes me happy.

Q: EatingWell has promoted sustainability since day one. What environmental issue speaks to you the most?

Global warming is a huge concern. I believe that it's science and it's fact and it's something we could be doing so much more to slow down. I'm disappointed that we're living in a country that isn't doing much about it and I'm sad we've politicized it. We should all be caring for this Earth.

EatingWell, April 2021