Julia Sherman: Tell me about your relationship to salad. The salad you made was fantastic, but the burger and cocktail seemed to come a little easier to you…
Max Silvestri: Look, salad is great. I make them and eat them often, and I like eating them out. Vegetables are wonderful, and the world should eat less meat. All that being said, I can’t shake the way I was raised, in an Italian-American house. Feeding people was how we showed friends and family love, and when we’d be entertaining, nothing shows more love than heavy, homey, meat-centered dishes. It’s the wrong impulse, and it’s nice your site is trying to spread the correct gospel, but it still feels a little rude to me to invite a guest over to my house and then serve them just a salad. It’s not “special,” it feels incomplete. It’s like if I asked somebody over to watch the Super Bowl and then when they got there I asked them to help me hook up the radio so we could listen to it on that. That’s not what I think they were expecting, or what I think is my responsibility as a host to provide. That’s why I made you a pretty nice salad but also a great drink and even better burger.
JS: Alright, I can respect a contrarian stance on the salad blog, I guess it is about time… The Feed was a show hosted by you alongside two massive food tv celebs. How the fuck did that happen?
MS: Show business is crazy! But yes, Marcus [Samuelsson] and Gail [Simmons] are these two huge talents that I have watched on TV and admired from afar for years, so to get to sit alongside them and make jokes and eat their food was a surreal experience and one I still can’t believe I got to have. The way it happened was fast. The show was looking for a third host to be the comedic relief, somebody outside the food world who could sort of be the voice of the audience. A producer knew me from a comedy TV pilot years ago and also from my Eater and Grantland writing he knew that I had this more-than-normal interest in food. They wanted someone who was not a professional cook but also knew a little bit beyond, “All I eat is cold hot dogs!” I luckily fit right inside awkward middle space. And then like any new job you maybe shouldn’t have gotten, I just faked it until people stopped giving me looks.
JS: You said you have “written approximately 250,000 words about Top Chef ” on Eater. What about that show that warrants that kind of attention?
MS: No show warrants that kind of attention. Life is short and our planet is dying. When I think of the hours of my youth spent describing in prose what foods different chefs cooked, to an audience of people who’d already watched the show, I get dizzy. But it was also very fun and I met a lot of cool people through doing it. I wouldn’t be here if it hadn’t been for the email I sent to Amanda Kludt, the editor of Eater, that I wanted to take a shot at recapping the third season of Top Chef.
JS: Eater sent you on a cruise for the finale of Top Chef. Can you sum that experience up in one sentence?
MS: Take that disgusting physical sensation you feel after eating too huge a meal and then imagine you felt like that every moment for five days.
JS: What is a “Padmatini?”
MS: Oh boy. I barely remember. Like all of the themed drinks on that cruise, it was probably a regular drink (a martini), but renamed to be a portmanteau with a word from Top Chef. Very clever. Maybe it was really strong and it was called that because it made you slur your words, like Padma always does?
JS: If you could make your own food show, what would it be?
MS: If I had the perfect answer to this question, I probably wouldn’t share it on this blog. I’d try to make it before someone else did it first. But my ideal show is one where I travel around the world eating whatever I want, but there are no cameras, and it’s not filmed. But a large media company still backs up a dump truck full of money to my house. That seems pretty unlikely, though.
JS: It seems like you started out critiquing food culture and food television, and then you were somehow absorbed into that world. Are you actually obsessed by food, or worse, are you a foodie?
MS: I’ve always liked eating food; I do it all the time. But I’m not obsessed by food, and the word “foodie” is disgusting. That said, I do hate wasting a meal on something bad. I don’t mean I need to always eat at the coolest or most interesting place, but like you get a finite number of meals in life, and you spend a lot of your day eating or thinking about eating, or at least I do, so it’s a shame to then get a miserable refrigerated turkey sandwich from an airport kiosk. I try to avoid that when I can.
JS: Is it important to you that your weekly live TV show the Big Terrific remain free to the public?
MS: I’ve been hosting Big Terrific for almost seven years, so it’s more important that Big Terrific remain fun and relaxed for me, otherwise I’d stop doing it. I don’t want it to feel like homework. Keeping it free lowers the administrative headaches to almost nil, and it takes pressure off me and the other performers. It means it’s a place where the lineup can be in flux until 10 minutes before and somebody huge and famous can drop in and try out jokes straight from their notebook, and where I can always just sit back and enjoy the show.
Julia: You tweeted, “Having a dog means that I now find meaning in phrases like, ‘She loves cheese in her kong.'” Do you worry that dog-centric jokes might alienate cat people? It takes all my willpower not to post images of my dog on social media everyday.
Max: No, that’s what I’m going for. I want all the cat people gone. Why are they following me? Aren’t they busy cleaning up indoor shit and being ignored by the living being they pay for and take care of? I kid cat people. Jokes aside, I’m just really excited about my new puppy. I don’t care who it alienates.
JS: The cover of your album, King Piglet, features you holding a slice of pizza with a fried chicken drumstick on top. Did you actually eat that? And where the title come from?
MS: I did eat both! But not at once. There was a bone in the drumstick and I probably would have cracked a tooth chomping straight down on the drumstick-slice. The title comes from a joke on the album, that I realized my ideal life would be to just to sit on a throne and nap and have meals brought to me on a tray, like some kind of disgusting King Piglet.
JS: How did you end up at Questlove’s Food Salon? Is it stressful to eat with so many video cameras around?
MS: I don’t remember why I was invited. Are you asking me because you’d like to go? It’s very fun, you should figure out how to get in. He hosts a great party and there were lots of cool guests. The food was great too. And no it was not stressful to eat with cameras around. One, because I’m pretty used to that, and two, because I’m a gross eater, and food gets all over my face and falls out of my mouth and I do it too fast, so if they did film me looking like that, I’m confident a video editor would smartly remove it from the finished video. They were trying to show a cool hip food salon party, not a party with me looking like a bull dog that climbed his way into the dumpster behind a Arby’s.
JS: Who do you rely on to tell you when something in not funny?
MS: I usually trust my own instincts, but the real answer is: audiences. Comedy is the hardest and easiest thing because it’s the only art form where your audience provides an audible objective marker of success: laughs. So, in that way it’s pretty straight forward. I wonder who everybody ELSE relies on. Like, if you’re an artist or an academic or something, how do you know what you made is good? Critics? Your friends? LOL good luck. Everyone is a fraud.