Currently known best as meat-loving Ron Swanson on Parks and Recreation, actor (and woodworker extraordinaire) Nick Offerman is about to embark on a US comedy tour entitled "American Ham." He swings by The Wilbur in Boston on Saturday, August 31st, for two evening shows, as well as a third on September 2nd. Offerman chatted with Eater Boston about dining out and in, from the Legal Sea Foods meal that knocked him "on [his] fanny" and the still-going-strong cronut craze to cooking fresh-caught fish and making his signature mashed corn dish. Read on to learn just how many pieces of bacon he eats on set, what he puts in his tour rider to get the perfect local meal, and more.
Have you spent enough time in Boston to talk about specific restaurants that you've been to, or should we talk about food more generally?
There's only one restaurant that I can speak to. I was there in the spring, doing my show at The Wilbur, and they brought me a ridiculous, resplendent dinner from the seafood place that I want to say was called...Legal?
Oh, Legal Sea Foods.
Yeah, and holy crap, it knocked me on my fanny. I specifically remember some sort of wild crab dip. Oh my God. And it was chilly out, so between that and the chowder, I was one happy eater.
[Photo: Legal Sea Foods, Harborside/Facebook]
Anything you're hoping to try on your next trip?
Sure, I mean one of the great things about touring a show is that you get to sample whatever the community thinks is their best food, and it's even in my rider. Instead of some kind of specific needs like a bowl of Skittles or green M+Ms, it just says, "Please ask the crew to supply whatever they consider to be the local meat specialty."
I like that. What kinds of things have you ended up with in various cities?
My rider used to just ask for some meats and some nice cheeses, but then I was driving into South Carolina, and I passed, like, nine barbecue joints, and I said, You know, I'm going about this all wrong.
And that's when I changed the language in my contract, because I realized that every place would have something more delicious if I simply let them choose what was good.
Is there one meal that you'd say is the most memorable that you've ever had in a restaurant?
Gosh...I'm a lucky son-of-a-bitch, because probably a couple times a week, I get to enjoy a really memorable meal. My wife Megan [Mullally] and I love to eat at great restaurants. We just took a really wonderful vacation through Greece and the island of Madeira and then ended up in London, and we had an incredibly romantic dinner in London at a restaurant called Bleeding Heart Restaurant, and it was recommended by the concierge at our hotel. I have to say, we capped an incredibly romantic evening with a beautiful meal. It makes me feel like a very lucky farm boy when you ask me that question. I think, God, I wouldn't know which one to choose. I get to have so many great meals. I guess I'm spoiled.
[Photo: Bleeding Heart Restaurant/Official Site]
Is there a food trend you've enjoyed when visiting the East Coast that you wish you had more of back home — or vice versa, something popular on the West Coast that we don't really have out here?
Well, good food has become really rather ubiquitous. I mean, I can find almost anything I want in LA, and then I can go to New York and find the same kind of stuff. I think we probably have a better variety and more authentic Mexican food in Los Angeles. On the East Coast, I definitely enjoy the seafood.
My first experience with it was over twenty years ago when I was performing in Philadelphia. A bunch of us drove over to the Maryland coast and got a bunch of soft-shell crabs. I thought that was pretty terrific. That was generally something I couldn't lay my hands on growing up in Illinois. Beyond that, nothing really jumps to mind. I find that generally no matter where I am, I look for a great cheeseburger or steak or pork chop, and you kind of find those all over the place.
Have you heard of the whole cronut craze that started in New York?
You know, I've heard that term, but I don't even know what it is. What is a cronut?
It's a hybrid croissant-doughnut. It looks kind of like a donut on the outside, but the inside is, like, flaky croissant layers, and you have to wait in line for hours to get one of them. The real thing is made at this bakery in New York City, and the line is literally hours long.
First of all, that sounds amazing. I'm going to have to look up a cronut for myself. You know, I love when that happens. Starting a bakery or a restaurant or any kind of specialty food establishment is such a crapshoot, and I'm always so charmed when a place, like a little pastry joint, will latch on to something that has lines around the block.
Invariably it has to come to pass at some point as a bit of a fad, but hopefully a few people will be able to put their kids through college thanks to a clever rendering of fried dough.
So, you said that you seek out things like steak and cheeseburgers. Your Parks and Recreation character Ron Swanson obviously has a pretty significant relationship with food. Does your own diet reach quite that level — would we ever find you eating a "turf 'n' turf," for example?
No. Ron Swanson is a fictional character, and as such, his digestive system maintains superpowers that I think would lay really any human flat on the ground, dead of clogged arteries. I greatly enjoy coming to work at a job where I'm asked to consume bacon take after take. There are much worse things to be paid for. But as a mammal existing in real life, I have to invoke some moderation in consumption of meat when held up against Ron. Ron's eating habits would make a weeping schoolgirl of me.
So when you're on set, you're not actually swallowing everything...right?
I'm swallowing everything I can get away with. It depends on what we're shooting, of course, but if a pile of bacon is put in front of me, I've learned to eat one piece of bacon per take. On average, we'll do about twelve takes, which makes for a very happy scene indeed. As a greenhorn, as a younger man, I would have maybe tried two or three pieces per take, and then at the end of thirty-six pieces, I would have been in some pain.
I've read that you come from a family of fishermen. Do you still have much time to fish?
My family takes a week in Minnesota every summer — since I was five years old, it's been a tradition — and I don't miss that if I can help it. I just did it a few weeks ago. That's my main fishing time, and once or twice a year, if I get lucky, I get to sneak out and fish elsewhere. But mainly it's with my family, and as a Midwesterner growing up on lakes and rivers, it's something we find very peaceful, you know? It's an answer to the hectic lives we all lead — to get out in a boat and sit in the quiet, maybe drink a beer, and drown some worms.
What's your favorite way to prepare fish that you've caught?
We really are a one-trick pony. The optimal way to prepare a fish is as soon as we get in out of the boat, we run up to the fish house and clean the fish. We filet it, and then we bread it, and then we fry it. Sometimes within an hour or two, we can be eating the fish we just caught, and the freshness gives it the most delicious flavor.
What are the most common fish that you're catching in Minnesota?
Well, the tastiest fish in the lake are what they call panfish — bluegill, crappie, largemouth bass. We also catch Northern pike and walleye, and those are also good for eating, but they're a lot more fun to catch. They're a much more substantial wrestling match than the panfish.
Do you find yourself cooking or going out to restaurants more often?
Megan and I are incredible workaholics, so all our time for cooking has woefully gone by the wayside. On the rare occasion that I do get to cook, I usually turn to the grill, and we enjoy my cooking out quite a bit, but by and large we depend on the frying pan of others.
If a chef wanted to put your name on a dish, what would be in it?
I do have a dish that is my signature dish, and the name of that dish is "Corn...My Way." And there's an ellipses in there, so it's corn, dot dot dot, my way. It's quite simple. I have this tool that I found many years ago with which you scrape the full ear of fresh corn across this blade, and it gleans all of the juice and pulp from the kernels into a pot, and you do this with about two or three ears per guest, and then you simmer this mix down. So you have everything of the corn kernel except the skin. You have all of the juicy treasure from within each kernel. You simmer this down, get rid of a bunch of the water, and you're left with this sort of mashed corn...corn mash...that has the consistency of mashed potatoes. And there's so much sugar and sweetness in it.
I add a little bit of fresh chive and just a little butter, and you can almost serve it for dessert. It's the one dish that I put out at the holidays that everybody just licks the bowl clean. And I come from a family of corn farmers, so I always feel somewhat loyal to sweet corn. In fact, there's an ear of sweet corn in my wood shop logo. As a kid, my cousin and I used to have a sweet corn stand, and we'd sell sweet corn by the dozen. It's always been an incredibly charismatic starch in my household.
As a woodworker and a musician, do you find yourself paying attention to things like the furniture and the music when you're walking into a restaurant, or is it all about the food for you?
I pay a great deal of attention, especially when an establishment is playing music that's in my wheelhouse. Makes me just immediately want to embrace the proprietor. When you walk into a place ready for a savory meal, and they're playing Tom Waits or Neil Young or Wilco or Bob Dylan, I just want to find somebody and hug them and say, thank you for making the auditory meal just as savory as the slab of meat you're about to place in front of me.
And furniture on the other hand is quite interesting. Many times restaurants will make a charming use of wood, and I love wood, of course — I really appreciate that — but by and large, a restaurant can never afford fine woodworking. So frequently an establishment will have beautiful wood involved in their tables or in their decor, but I always notice that they had to have somebody whip it up quickly, because when they were opening a restaurant — if they had had 30 tables and 120 chairs made by a fine woodworker, the price tag would bury them before they ever opened for business. So they usually have some facsimile of fine woodworking, and I get that. I love when eating in a restaurant, I think, man, I wish you had had me make your tables.
I love making furniture that people are going to eat off of. It seems like a really noble pursuit.
Have you done any woodworking commissions for restaurants?
Nothing to speak of, but there was a Korean barbecue place on the Lower East Side in New York that a friend of mine and I were commissioned to make a whole bunch of stools, sort of Japanese stools, and that felt good. I've done some carpentry for restaurants, but very little fine woodworking.
Do you have any embarrassing restaurant stories — the most embarrassing thing to happen to you at a meal?
Gosh, these questions are always tough for me, because I'm such an asswipe that I kind of live my life in a way that would embarrass most people. Oh, I know something good. My wife and I were on a very romantic trip in Paris some years ago, and a friend of ours had given us some great recommendations all over the city, both for fine restaurants and for smaller, more experimental holes-in-the-wall, little crappy dark joints that were just opened by someone out of culinary school, and those were really fun and often quite delicious and more adventurous.
We were in such a place, and many of these places would have a sort of prix fixe or tasting menu of, say, seven or nine courses. So you'd have things that you could recognize coming across the sequence, but then sometimes there would be something outlandish. Megan is a more conservative eater, but when I'm in an establishment that has something on the menu like flank of boar, I'm like, well, you don't see that every day. I'm going to try the boar. So all these bizarre dishes would come across the table in these little places in France in the 9th Arrondissement, and I would just dig in and try everything and be very adventurous.
One course came, and it was a plate with a mound of a sort of white, granular substance, with an ostrich egg seated on the mound of granules. The top of the ostrich egg had a hole cut out, like a window, and I said, oh, this is amazing looking, first of all. I guess nothing for it but to tuck in.
And I took my spoon and scooped up a large spoonful of the white granular substance and wolfed it down...and it was rock salt.
Was the dish good once you got to the non-salt part?
It took a few mouthfuls to sort of cleanse my palate of delicious Mediterranean sea salt, but once I did, it was mighty tasty.
So, you were in a music video recently ["Cocaine" by FIDLAR; very NSFW] and you're drinking a whole lot of Mickey's. Is that something that you'd, uh, normally recommend, or what's your drink of choice?
Mickey's is the drink for a very specific mood. In the case of being unreasonably fired by text while I'm working in a woodshop, that would certainly send me out for more than two 40-ounce Mickey's big mouths.
When in a more sedate frame of mind, I would reach for a Guinness or Old Rasputin. There's a great brewery outside of Chicago called Solemn Oath Brewery that I've really been enjoying. And I'm a big fan of single malts. I really enjoy Lagavulin, The Balvenie, Talisker. Big peaty, smoky single malts from Scotland are my favorite cocktail.
Anything you'd like to say about your upcoming show?
If you're feeling down, if you're depressed or feeling the weight of ennui that is created from all the time we spend in this modern age looking at the Internet and staring at our smartphones, my show should be a breath of fresh air, where you can see a real flesh-and-blood human being talk about all the stupid things he's done over the years. Chances are I'll fall flat on my ass at least twice during the show. That tends to give people a healthy chuckle, so you should definitely be well-cheered when you walk out of my performance.
Nick Offerman performs at The Wilbur on Saturday, August 31st, at 7PM and 9:45PM, as well as September 2nd at 7PM. All shows feature Offerman's wife, Megan Mullally, as a special guest, performing with her band. Purchase tickets here.
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