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My life in food: Jesse Tyler Ferguson on New Mexican cuisine

The Modern Family star talks about growing up in New Mexico, the joys of tiramisu and his new cookbook, Food Between Friends.
Photograph by Luke Fontana
Published 3 Feb 2021, 11:00 GMT, Updated 21 Jul 2021, 15:55 BST

Almost every dish you get in New Mexico has the option of hatch green chile. It’s indigenous to that part of the world. If you get a hamburger, a cheeseburger, scrambled egg — there’s invariably a hatch green chile option. For me, it’s always been the star player of the dishes I get in Albuquerque, where I grew up.

In the ’80s, there were a lot of canned soups poured over dishes. The most iconic dish from my childhood is green chile chicken enchiladas. They’re fantastic; my mom made them a lot. She would pour a can of mushroom soup over them, and it was delicious. But when I make them now, I do it with fresher ingredients.

I’m an avid cookbook collector. It feels like I get a new cookbook at least once a month. Even before lockdown, I’d cook at least five days a week. I recently watched Taste the Nation with Padma Lakshmi, which talks about the immigrants who came to America and the great foods they brought with them. I think I ordered three cookbooks mid-episode, including Bottom of the Pot, a fantastic collection of Persian recipes.

There aren’t a lot of cookbooks about two people sharing their culinary histories and creating recipes together. When I met Julie [Tanous, Jesse’s co-author of Food Between Friends], we bonded over our love of cookbooks and confessed we’d always dreamed of writing one. Julie is from Cullman, Alabama, and we both love the food we grew up eating. It’s a real divide of food from the south and food from the southwest, and there are a lot of places where we’ve taken those histories and mashed them together — like spoonbread [a cornmeal-based dish]. It’s popular in Alabama, but we’ve added flavours from New Mexico. I have a green chile chicken enchilada potpie recipe that’s also a hybrid of the two regions. There are straight-up dishes, too. There’s a garlicky sorghum chicken stir-fry I make probably once a week.

Food Between Friends, by Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Julie Tanous, is published 9 March (£25, Clarkson Potter).

Photograph by Eva Kolenko

Some of the most interesting food I’ve ever eaten was in Paris, and also some of the most beautifully rustic. I like the highs and lows of Paris. You can have a Michelin-starred dinner or go to a little cafe for some cheese and a baguette and eat it on a park bench, and it’s going to be delicious. In the US, I’m always really impressed with Chicago. Again, it’s about the highs and lows. There are places like Alinea, which was on Chef’s Table and has fantastic, unique dishes, and Girl & The Goat, which has super-rustic, simple dishes that are amazing.

I have a strong sweet tooth. I love tiramisu, and it’s Justin’s [Jesse’s husband] favourite. He doesn’t have a sweet tooth, which is torture for me because when we go out, I have to beg him to share a dessert with me. But if there’s tiramisu on the menu, he’s absolutely going to order it. I also love pumpkin pie. My parents made it during the holidays, but I feel it can be enjoyed any day of the year.

I’d love to go to Japan. I haven’t been to any countries in east Asia, and it’s somewhere I really want to go. Back in Albuquerque, I’d go to restaurants where they’d cook at your table and flip the shrimp onto your plate. It was like theatre. That’s how I was first exposed to Japanese food — but I want to be in the country where I’d get the authentic version.

When I moved to California, I was taken aback by the range of fresh ingredients. The farmers’ markets were bursting with such great produce. It’s where I decided to take a lot of these recipes that I grew up eating and recreate them with fresher ingredients. 

Albuquerque’s culinary scene has changed since I grew up there. Going back as a visitor, I’m discovering all the new places that are popping up. My favourite restaurant is Campo at the Los Poblanos inn and farm. It’s a lavender farm with alpacas and peacocks. The chef at Campo was one of the finalists for the James Beard [Best Chef: Southwest] Award, and has done great stuff in elevating Albuquerque’s cuisine in a really beautiful way. 

My three dream dinner guests would be Joan Rivers, Adele, and either Kamala Harris or Michelle Obama. I actually had Adele over for dinner once. She’s a remarkable person and I had a great time with her.

Food Between Friends, by Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Julie Tanous, is published 9 March (£25, Clarkson Potter).

Published in Issue 11 (spring 2021) of National Geographic Traveller Food, out 4 March

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