There are times when actors who live to eat, like “Silicon Valley” star T.J. Miller, must eat to work. For the hit HBO tech satire, on which he plays blustering, bud-smoking blowhard, Erlich Bachman, that meant binging on pizza and beer to pack on the pounds. Now that he’s moving on, after four seasons, to meatier leading roles in major motion pictures: “Walden,” Steven Spielberg’s “Ready Player One,” “Deadpool 2,” and “Underwater,” he’s finding himself eating healthier to get in shape for the parts.
For Miller, who will next be seen in his own stand-up special “Meticulously Ridiculous,” premiering on HBO on June 17 at 10p.m., that means a mostly pescatarian and paleolithic diet. But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t indulge occasionally.
Chowhound caught up with Miller at San Francisco’s inaugural Clusterfest – Comedy Central’s cooked-up three-day comedy, music, and food festival, where the comedian was giving fans a taste of his stand-up act – to discuss his healthy oyster obsession, his unhealthy ice cream cake infatuation, and San Francisco’s culinary superiority.
First off, what is that you’re eating right now?
The festival’s provided this. They give you dry falafel, which makes it difficult to talk, and pita bread without any sort of sauce — almost as if it’s a napkin. There’s no flavor. Just enough salad to make you feel good about yourself, but it doesn’t work for very long. Rice, which is like handing a Molotov cocktail and a lighter to someone from Los Angeles. There is no reason that you would ever eat this rice. Then very delicious vegetables. It’s a delectable culinary afternoon in the city of the Golden Gate Bridge at Colossal Clusterfest.
What’s your first food memory?
The first funny food memory was my father. My mother said, “Stop playing with your food” or something like that; she was probably in a bad mood. My father said, “Yes, stop playing with your food,” and then he went face first into the mashed potatoes. My mother did not stop laughing for the rest of the night. Even after people were getting ready for bed, she would not stop laughing, thinking about how dumb that was. But he was like that; he would have a drink or two and then take the corn on the cob and wear it as a hat. He was very silly, but so is my mother.
- Get our Classic Mashed Potatoes recipe (but maybe don’t dunk your face into them).
What was one dish that you hated as a child but love now?
Brussels sprouts and cauliflower: don’t we dislike those in the beginning because they’re bitter? Oh, and beets. When you’re growing up, you’re like, “What’s the point?” and then they put them with goat cheese and arugula and it gets real.
- Get our Roasted Beet Salad with Goat Cheese, Arugula, and Pistachios recipe and it will indeed get real (real delicious).
Happy recent birthday. What is your favorite birthday cake?
I can’t even remember my last birthday. What does that mean? That I smoke an immense amount of marijuana? Absolutely. But my favorite store-bought cake is ice cream cake, a wild card in the cake world. It’s the only cake that needs to be refrigerated or eaten. You decide, when it comes to ice cream cake.
- If you’re up for making your own, get our Chocolate Coffee-Almond Crunch Ice Cream Cake with Ganache recipe.
Do you make it a point to watch what you eat, or do you eat what you want?
One of the great things about doing “Silicon Valley” was that I would gain weight for that. I’d go between 240 and 255 pounds, because the more pompous that character is and the more dumpy and toddler-like he looks, the funnier that is. So that was great. I could eat pizza every night. I replaced water with beer. It is the greatest time in a human being’s life.
Then I just did this movie “Underwater,” and it’s like being an athlete in all the worst ways. You become famous, which is terrifyingly dark, and then you have to cut weight for roles. So I had to get really strong because the suit was 110 pounds. So it’s like carrying two 55-pound weights all day. You’re just standing, and the director’s like, “You know, could it be, it wants to be,” and you’re like, “I’m fucking holding 110 pounds, just explain what you need me to do now, please!” You had to get strong in order to do that, so that’s what I did. I cut weight for roles, so it gets very boring.
How do you and your wife keep things spicy in the kitchen?
She’s a really good cook with macrobiotic food, but we never have time to cook. We’re working too hard for the American public, so we often have to eat out. It’s lucky that she’s a pescatarian because if you go to raw bars, you don’t have to be like, “I’d like a steak, but could you not put half a stick of butter on it, please?” In Omaha, they’re like, “Then why’re you ordering a steak?” I say, “Because I want to taste the meat.” So we tend to eat oysters and drink a lot. That’s sort of our M.O.
- If you want to taste the meat too, get our Grilled Skirt Steak with Red Miso recipe.
What is your favorite restaurant?
Since my wife is a pescatarian and very hardcore about that and I love all things seafood, our favorite place is The Hungry Cat, in Los Angeles; it’s the most amazing seafood. She’ll drink and eat oysters for lunch. That’s my dream girl. I happened to find her and trick her into marrying me. So we eat a lot of seafood, and that’s very healthy. Then I do, when the time comes, paleolithic. It’s what you could have killed or found, and it’s not rice, buddy. It’s not pita bread. I never heard of this, I’ve never foraged for this. I don’t go hunting for no pita. No, thank you, no no.
- Get our Grilled Chile Salmon with Lime Crema recipe (super tasty and still healthy, if not quite paleo).
How does the San Francisco food scene compare to LA’s?
I know that you guys take yourselves too seriously, and I make fun of you about it, but the restaurants here are astounding. You have always seen food as art and think a restaurant is an art museum and are presenting art that you can eat, so it’s really cool to be here.
Food is our bread and butter, here in San Francisco.
You love food in San Francisco, do you know that? You and Portland are like, “We have the best, the greatest, you won’t be able to feast your taste buds on this.” Stop taking yourself so seriously, for God’s sake. No one else does. “We have the best artisan bread; we have the best artisan meat; we have the best artisan cheeses.” You guys have got to chill out and not take yourselves so seriously. But to all of you in the Golden Gates of culinary . . . go forth, eat well, and be merry.
- Check out a bonus recipe from Clusterfest: the Humphry Slocombe 420 Sundae. T.J Miller (or at least Erlich Bachman) would approve!
— Clusterfest photos by: Tuong Nguyen.