“Harissa explains it all!” Jesse Tyler Ferguson is gliding toward the refrigerator in the kitchen of his Los Feliz home after proclaiming that the collard greens he’s been braising in beer need more spice. His blog partner, Julie Tanous, bursts out laughing while simultaneously rolling out dough for the sweet potato gnocchi they're making as part of their Thanksgiving recipes post.
“We’re just taking Thanksgiving flavors and doing other dishes that would complement,” says Ferguson, referring to the Thai spiced pumpkin pie, collard greens with beer, bacon and harissa and sweet potato gnocchi with sage brown butter recipes the two have been developing. “I don’t feel like I’m going to come up with anything that hasn’t already been done brilliantly. I just go to Martha Stewart and she has the best brining. So why not add things to Thanksgiving dinner instead of being quite so obvious?” Ferguson’s love of cooking is self-evident both from the way he talks about food and the fact that he’s spending his entire day off from the set of Modern Family toiling in the kitchen.
Tanous, a professional recipe tester who formerly worked in the test kitchen at Saveur magazine, met Ferguson at a Spring Street Social Society pop-up dinner a few years ago. "I started talking to Julie, who was sitting right across the way from me, and she just says [mimicking Julie's Southern drawl] 'I have Spring Street Social anxiety,'" Ferguson laughs at this defining moment that launched their friendship.
In addition to social anxiety, the two bonded over a mutual love of cooking, and from that dinner sprang the idea to write a cookbook together. "We took this idea to my agency and they kind of said, well, you maybe need to cook a little bit more together," says Ferguson. From this came their blog. But this foray into blogging isn’t Ferguson’s only involvement in the culinary industry. Ferguson and his husband, Justin Mikita, are among the original investors in Beverly Boulevard French restaurant Terrine.
“I was a fan of Stephane Bombet’s restaurants. We always told him we’d love to work with him on something, and he brought us in to that project. It was our first time investing in a restaurant. We’re not gamblers. We don’t spend our money. I mean we spend our money, but we don’t do it in risky ways. We thought, if this is a risky investment, it’s a risky investment. We are really careful in other aspects of our lives. So we felt OK investing in a restaurant and putting some money into it. But we were cautious about it,” says Ferguson, acknowledging the high-risk reputation of restaurant investments.
Ferguson has found it very rewarding. “Just feeling like you’re part of that family. Being able to go in. There’s a sense of pride that you have. And I bring family and friends there. A lot of people know that I have invested in that restaurant. So I go in, people come up to me, strangers, and say that they’ve enjoyed the food. It feels like you’re a part of something, even though I’ve had very little to do with that artistically or in the culinary way. Justin and I are such foodies, so to be a part of a restaurant that we’re proud of, it’s a nice feeling.”
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Ferguson hopes to continue in such ventures. “Now that we’ve done it once, we’ll be a little bit more ambitious. We’d like to do more. It’s great being a part of that.” Exactly what that will be is not clear yet. "We talk a lot with Dustin Lancaster," says Ferguson of the Eastside restaurateur behind L&E Oyster Bar, Bar Covell, Hotel Covell and many more. "I’d love to do something with him. He’s great. I’ve known him since he was bartending at Cafe Stella. When I first moved to L.A., he was just starting off as well, so I’ve seen him through the whole trajectory of his career. It’s been fun keeping in touch with him."
In the meantime, Jesse is busy cooking with Julie who has taught him a lot of technique. Their cooking style is an amalgamation of Julie's Southern roots and Jesse's New Mexico upbringing. "I’m always wanting to add chili to things," says Ferguson. "Jesse always has Hatch green chilies in his freezer. So I feel like we throw those in to a lot of dishes," says Tanous, who grew up in Alabama and is responsible for the collard greens on the stove.
"If I wasn’t an actor, I would love to put myself through culinary school," Ferguson says, "and that’s something I haven’t been able to do. So this is a great way of learning how to be better at something I love."
This Thanksgiving, Ferguson won't be cooking the dinner. But he remembers fondly the one time he did. "I was like Martha Stewart on crack. It’s because I had been denied the opportunity for so many years. I mean, I spent days preparing this meal and I loved every minute of it."