There have been a lot of Thanksgiving disasters in my life. Like the time we attempted to deep fry a turkey outside but it was so windy the fire kept going out, or when the dishwasher broke just as everything was coming out of the oven, submerging the kitchen floor in an inch of gray dishwater. There was the year a family member (who is dearly beloved so I will leave her unnamed) borrowed my sweater and then threw up on it. So while I understand and have enjoyed Friendsgiving — presumably a chiller, more fun but still celebratory fall meal — the task of hosting an additional opportunity for mayhem and disappointment has remained daunting.
Comedian, winemaker, and cookbook author Eric Wareheim understands how to throw a party, so this year, he’s lending his expertise to Friendsgiving through a How We Friendsgiving Watch Together special (there’s another episode led by Jojo Siwa) called Levelling Up With Eric Wareheim on Messenger. The format for the special is novel: “Fans can view Watch Together episodes with friends on Messenger or Instagram by simply starting a video call, tapping the media button in the bottom right on Instagram, or swiping up to access the menu on Messenger, selecting ‘Watch Together’ and searching for ‘How to Friendsgiving.’” In the video, Wareheim will walk viewers through how to cook an Italian-themed Friendsgiving dinner, and give tips on how to host and entertain when you have no idea what you’re doing.
Eater spoke to Wareheim about the true meaning of Friendsgiving: A late November opportunity to share chill vibes, and how even if you burn the meatballs, it’ll be hard to ruin the evening. This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
Eater: When did you start doing Friendsgiving? What does it mean to you?
Eric Wareheim: I grew up in Philadelphia, and I was part of the hardcore punk rock scene, and we were all vegetarian at the same time for political and animal rights reasons. We would get together and make these huge Friendsgivings together, and we’d all try a dish. Some of them were inedible, because we were 18-year-old cooks, and some of them were amazing. But it really was about getting your buddies together, and cooking together, and just hanging all night, not even thinking about the traditions of turkey and mashed potatoes. That’s what I tried to do in my cookbook [Foodheim: A Culinary Adventure], as well. There’s four party sections about bringing your friends together, and cooking together. That joy of giving to someone else, I think, is what I’m all about. I love that part of it.
That really comes across in the cookbook. It’s not just about cooking, it’s about crafting an event and a space where people feel really comfortable. Does Thanksgiving not necessarily have that for you? What makes Friendsgiving special that way?
I think it comes down to family sometimes. Some people have lovely families, and some people don’t. Some people have no families. I think Friendsgiving is just something you do with your new family, whoever you want. To me, I live far from my parents, so I rarely get to do Thanksgiving, and you bring your new family in, it’s just your friends. And I really think it’s about what I try to get across in my episode is, you can do whatever you want. You can make it an Italian Friendsgiving, and that’s why I did the simple things like Nonna’s sauce and meatballs. It’s fun that way, because turkeys are very intimidating to cook.
I feel like my whole life, every year, someone comes up with like, “Okay, now we’ve got the right turkey recipe, and it’s going to be great,” and it’s still so much.
I’m so stressed with my brine. How long do I brine this thing?
On that note, I think one of the great things about this is you can do whatever you want. You can throw tradition out the window. But on the other hand, that can be sort of terrifying because you can do literally anything. How do you approach building a menu when there are no rules?
That’s kind of why I made this video with Messenger, because I am an expert on Friendsgiving. I find that a theme is sometimes nice. My episode is kind of an Italian-American vibe. I think when I was 18, it was literally anything you could find that you could afford, just bring it out. But I think depending on who you are and who your friends are, I think it’s nice to say okay, this is Italian-American, we can make a little salad.
Another thing that I put in the episode just set the tone: Go a little further than you normally would. Get a playlist together, and just get some candles. Little things like that I think will help make it special. A lot happened in the pandemic. We had so much time, so I was just like, “Man, let’s just make this dinner amazing.” Let’s go overboard, because these are your people, and these are your friends, so why not?
As a comedian, and someone with what seems like a big, fun personality, do you feel pressure to be particularly funny during Friendsgiving, or do you feel like this comes very naturally?
It is just part of my personality to be silly. But with the book, and with the show, there are some skills you actually need to know. You need to make good food, and I take that seriously. There’s a balance of making good food, but also laughing along the way, and dancing, and singing. I don’t know, I just think it’s very important to have fun, no matter what the heck you’re doing.
Do you have any tips for that? Like, if someone’s prone to being one of those hosts who really stresses getting everything perfect, or if suddenly something is burning and you mess up a dish, how do you keep it fun even when disaster strikes?
I think a huge thing I learned is ti get your prep done early. Do all your [mis-en-place] way ahead of time. You can cook the meatballs and the sauce the day before. It’s all about reheating and doing your broiling right at the end. And also, another tip is you’ve just got to focus. The art of talking to your friends and cooking is so hard, and I’m still not there yet, because I can sometimes only do one thing at a time. But especially when you’re broiling mozzarella over meatballs, just stay there. Don’t move. Just look at it, talk to everyone, but don’t take your eyes off that broil, because if you do burn it, it does set it back. It just smells gross.
At the same time, it’s also your friends, and they’re going to be fine. Also, in disaster, it’s this bonding thing. I had a pizza party with my friends, and it was all couples, and this one couple threw the pizza in, and it stuck to the back of the oven and set off the smoke alarm, and we all had to go outside. But that’s kind of a fun story to have, and everyone still had fun. I would just say, everyone chill out, and it’ll be fine.
Is there anything you think people should absolutely avoid during Friendsgiving?
I wouldn’t attempt things that you haven’t tried before. It’s fun to experiment at home, and then I think it’s nice to have — I had many dishes that I brought to Friendsgivings over the years, and I knew they would hit, and they would be crowd-pleasers. Just use those recipes. Don’t try this new crazy baked brie thing that you saw on the internet that you’ve never tried or seen before.
Ooh, “Viral Recipes Only” would be a good theme for Friendsgiving, though.
I am obsessed with those things. I save so many of those saved. I have recipe inspirations from Instagram and stuff. I would just say, give it a try first, because seeing it on the internet is one thing, and then doing it is a whole other thing.
Is there any viral recipe that you’ve tried that you actually really love?
Definitely the garlic bread that I put in my episode is inspired by a few of these internet, fast-paced “Here’s the baguette. You melt the butter, roast the garlic” videos. I changed it and made it mine, but I think that started from one of those 11-second things. I was like, “That is so delicious.” I saved it, I screengrabbed it. And then, I have this notes system that I do. I have literally notes like, “Recipes I Want to Cook.” And then, there’s hundreds of little clips in there.
What do you hope people get out of this episode?
I hope just the vibe of sharing with your friends, and just learning from me a little bit. I feel like a little bit of a mentor here, because I do it a lot. I just do it personally a lot. I have a lot of house parties, a lot of dinner parties, and I feel like you have the recipes now, so hopefully you’ll see how fun it is, and you’ll have some ammunition to bang out some fun Friendsgivings.