Max Silvestri’s Ambitious Kitchen

On stage, comedian Max Silvestri’s bits about food illuminate the widest range of human behavior: our relationship to discipline, our obsessive habits, the overzealous and sometimes remorseful feelings that we might experience with our meals. Earlier this summer, Silvestri—who is also a food writer—released his first comedy album, King Piglet; a reference to his running joke that his ideal job would be to sit on a throne, gorge himself, and nap. When he is not touring the country with his stand-up, he hosts the comedy show Big Terrific every Wednesday in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.  Silvestri also hosts two food-related television shows on the FYI network: Pressure Cooker and—alongside Top Chef judge Gail Simmons and chef Marcus Samuelsson—The Feed. You may have seen posters of him around Manhattan with sushi stuffed in his mouth.

My pantry is filled with ambitious plans to enter into various cuisines, which ultimately don’t go anywhere. I’ll get excited about a cookbook, and then I’ll buy all these specific ingredients from Kalustyan’s, this amazing store on 28th and Lex that’s famous for having every international spice and condiment. I got this Sichuan food cookbook called Land of Plenty and bought all the requirements: broad bean paste, preserved vegetables, these lemony peppercorns. I have made Sichuan food about four times.

My cooking has gotten a lot less ambitious. When I was more into it, I cooked two or three times a week, would use every pan in the kitchen, crazy recipes, fifty dollars of grocery shopping to make dinner for two. That’s how I learned how to cook; I wanted to impress people and have dinner parties. I’d have nine cookbooks open and two days of prep.

But dinner parties are such a hassle. I really thought that when I stopped working a day job, I would cook during the day, throw a weeknight party, but I have a very zero-to-sixty approach to food: I can’t be excessive at home because I’m always excessive when I go out or when I’m traveling. I mean, I still treat free meals like I’m a character from Little Rascals, squirreling away dinner rolls in my pocket.

I threw a dinner party in June and spent a day and a half preparing for it. It wasn’t as ambitious as I was in the past—this was steak, vegetables, chocolate pudding for dessert. It was still a lot of work. So, I’m wrestling with the dinner party thing. I love cooking, but when I have people over, I always get so harried and need it to be so perfect, that it makes it not fun for me until I’m two hours into it. But I make it seem like I’m doing great. I whip off my apron as they walk in the door—”just in time, I made a pitcher of cocktails.” I  am good at the performance, less interested in the execution.

“I picked up Martha Stewart’s Homekeeping Handbook at the library.  It is so obsessive and crazy.”

I also have a lot of weird appliances left over from former cooking phases. I have a sausage grinder attachment that I got as a gift. I asked for it. I went through a breakfast sausage phase, thinking that I needed to start every day with two fried eggs and breakfast sausage. I also had a slow-cooker phase: I bought a couple of cookbooks for it, thinking that I would eat bean chillis and beef burgundy nonstop. I had a freezer full of slow-cooker meals. I have a potato ricer because I got really into making gnocchi with lamb ragout. It’s still one of my favorite dishes to make. Once, I thought I was going to get into making bread—I bought these bread molds, thinking ‘I’m all about baguettes.’ But, come on, it’s 2014, how much bread can we eat? Carbs are over!

As a kid, I rejected learning how to cook. My parents were already doing it. I had my own interests. All the food that I cook now is filtered through the memory of my parents’ cooking, but are new recipes. That said, there are a few recipes that I and asked for from my parents—the marinara sauce I grew up eating, my dad’s pizza dough—but I only asked as an adult.

My utensil rack was my first ever DIY project. I had to watch fifty youtube videos, go back and forth to Crest Hardware while I figured out what I needed. I felt like such an idiot, learning how to build it from a grizzled Williamsburg hardware store employee as opposed to having it ingrained in me. I’m pretty proud of it. Maybe should have painted it. Whatever, it’s fine.

Currently, I feel very much that I am in a homemaking phase. I’m home a lot, and have writing to do, and there are only so many times I can tidy the house. I picked up Martha Stewart’s Homekeeping Handbook at the library.  It is so obsessive and crazy. I’ve only looked at five pages so far. It has all these lists that I need to learn: do these six things every day, do these once a week, do this monthly, this is seasonal. I could get behind that check list.