Every visit to Josh Scherer’s Mythical Kitchen on YouTube is an adventure in food.
Who among us hasn’t heard the admonition “don’t play with your food!”, presumably when we were kids? If you’ve heard it more recently, that’s a conversation for another day, but I digress. While most of us heeded those words and have long since stopped playing with our food, it could be said that Josh Scherer has built a thriving career out of defying them.
In his role as the P.T. Barnum of Mythical Kitchen, Josh Scherer is a curious curator of culinary content. And while I’m not personally inclined to try replicating his BBQ Pork Twinkies or Spam Jalapeno Poppers recipes, let alone taste them, Mythical Chef Josh is nothing if not laugh-out-loud funny and entertaining as he prepares the dishes on his show. And when he says that “there need to be more meat-stuffed cakes”, you know he actually means it.
Having an instant appreciation for Josh’s whip-fast humor, I decided to engage him through atypical interview questions, choosing to co-opt his obvious flair for witty repartee. He didn’t disappoint.
On Mythical Kitchen’s Food Fears, the daring Mythical Chef, often joined by celebrity guests like America’s Got Talent host Terry Crews, ventures into gastronomic territory that no self-respecting adult should ever step foot into. Turkey testicles anyone?
So Josh, what was your inspiration for Food Fears?
“The whole “gross food” (I put that in quotes because no food is truly gross) genre exploded with Fear Factor and I was an avid viewer as a kid. I enjoy watching people squirm at the thought of eating something “gross” because, for me, it’s just so silly. Rich people spend thousands of dollars on a tin of fish eggs, and you’re gagging on national TV at the thought of eating cod sperm? How are they different? I watched Fear Factor with the academic curiosity of a Martian anthropologist. So with Food Fears, I really wanted to capture that initial sense of entertained revulsion, and then flip it by creating a truly delicious dish.”
And once you did decide to take the turkey testicles plunge, how were you able to have the, um, nerve to actually ingest them and the other oh so delectable-looking stuff you taste-tested?
“Ahh, the ol’ teste plunge! I’ve never had any problem eating all parts of the animal. In fact, we should be eating all parts of the animal. Why let perfectly good, nutritious testicles go to waste? It’s become a bit of a cliché at this point, but squeamishness around specific animal bits truly is all about perception. Think of the haggis/hot dog dichotomy: Haggis has been turned into a gross, silly punchline in America and people recoil when they hear it’s innards boiled in a sheep’s stomach. Like do you know what a hot dog is? They’re both just food.”
Many of your Food Fears episodes attract well over a million views. Other than the obvious fact that I’m an unabashed wuss in this case, what are those crazies seeing that I don’t? Is it the culinary car crash effect?
“I think part of the popularity is certainly the car crash effect—and that’s had a long history of success on YouTube. I mean, dang, pimple-popping videos (which I do NOT mess with) have billions of views on the platform. But I really want to subvert all that. I want to draw people in with the promise of a car crash, then through some clever cookery and treating the ingredients with reverence, flip their expectations by the end of the episode. I want viewers to come in expecting to see mangled bodies scattered on the road, and instead, be delighted that they saw a certified pre-owned 2017 Nissan Altima in mint condition except for a few dings suffered in the Whole Foods parking lot.”
As someone who could take the findings from beneath your sofa cushions and fashion them into a tasty, sensible meal, has being quarantined been easier for you than it might be for others?
“It really has! And I’ve tried to channel that spirit of “cook with whatever ya got” into some YouTube videos. We did a series of instant ramen hacks that I’m very proud of where I made a really dope recipe for a 4-ingredient French onion soup noodles. Any cook will tell you that restriction brings out creativity. Tell me to make a great dish with a fully stocked pantry and I won’t know where to start—tell me to make something out of a 3-year-old can of tuna and some frozen green beans and I’ll bang out a super tasty fagioli tonnato. I have not had a single boring meal while quarantining, and I feel very lucky for that.”
Speaking of instant ramen, talk about the origins of your appreciation for the underrated and underestimated Swiss Army Knife of food.
“I’ve had a life-long fascination with instant ramen. I didn’t grow up with much, so when instant ramen went on sale ten-for-a-dollar, we’d stock up and I’d eat noodles for every meal. Instant noodles are also such a universal experience—damn near every country eats them. They’re filling, comforting, easy-to-make, and infinitely customizable.”
“Supple and creamy chickpeas”. Discuss.
“I decided to splurge and order takeout from a fancy restaurant I’ve always wanted to try and I got their chickpeas and they were so undercooked they tasted like microwaved peanuts and they were like $26 with tax & tip and it made me realize that so many people undercook meat, vegetables, beans, pasta—literally everything—in the name of culinary chic and it saddens me greatly. Let chickpeas be creamy. Let them be supple. Let pot liquor press against their skins. Let joy take precedent over faddishness.”
Proving that he’s much more than a YouTube stalwart, Josh is also a cookbook author. So revenue aside, why should someone buy The Culinary Bro-Down Cookbook?
“I’m really proud of the work I put into that book. I wrote it when I was like 24-years-old and it was a total whirlwind experience. I wrote a good chunk of it on a Greyhound bus from LA to Reno because I was procrastinating so badly and needed to isolate myself to finish the thing. Before I got into YouTube, I was a full-time writer, and writing is still one of my biggest passions. So even if you aren’t someone who cooks a lot, there are a bunch of hilarious (I think) essays about my life and philosophies. I have a 5,000-word essay in there about accidentally crashing Guy Fieri’s son’s 18th birthday party and another one about my thoughts on masculine gender performance. It’s honestly wild that a publisher gave me money to write it. Please buy it so I can one day purchase a small island in the Caribbean on which to raise hybrid pig-horses. Porses, if you will.”
What role did food play in your family when you were a kid? Were you interested and involved in the kitchen?
“It’s funny, neither of my parents knew how to cook and both worked so much that microwaved TV dinners were a majority of my diet growing up. Food is actually the first thing I noticed that separated people along class lines, which is a very strange and very serious thing to say. My obsession with food comes from taking a plain peanut butter sandwich to school and watching my more well-off classmates eat home-cooked meals and Capri Suns and Milano cookies. I always thought that if I could learn how to cook, I could have a sense of power and ownership over at least one part of my life. And honestly, it was true. I started watching Food Network—shoutout to Rachael Ray and Sandra Lee for keeping it real with home cooks on a budget—and gradually added new dishes to my repertoire over years of trial & error. All that experimentation with no supervision somehow makes me uniquely qualified to fry turkey testicles on YouTube now.”
I realize this is like asking Kate Gosselin which of her kids is her favorite, but which of the shows that you do for Mythical is your favorite?
“Cara Nicole is her favorite. You can see it in her eyes. It’s gotta be a tie between Food Fears and Fancy Fast Food. I love Food Fears for all the reasons I talked about before. I get a lot of pleasure from watching guests enjoy a dish made from tarantulas, or turkey testicles, or fish eyeballs, and I take each episode as a personal challenge. But Fancy Fast Food is my absolute dream show. I’m obsessed with fast food, and having a production company bankroll me to hand chop a wagyu ribeye and fashion it into a Wendy’s Baconator with bourbon-cured duck bacon…I feel like I’ve hit a high-point in my life, and I’m totally fine with the rest of it going downhill after that.”
Nostradamus, I’m not, but if I were to predict, Josh Scherer’s culinary career has far from peaked. The downhill descent that he suggests he’d be fine with is nothing more than a figment of his vivid imagination. As long as the Mythical Chef has his wit, cast-iron stomach, and Evel Knievel-like daring, he’ll continue to concoct dishes that amuse, inspire, and occasionally mortify viewers. He’s obviously having a ball(s).
What’s the most adventurous thing you’ve tasted? Would you try Mythical Chef Josh’s turkey testicles?