Jeffrey Morgenthaler has made a lot of drinks. Though I’m sure he hates the phrase “celebrity bartender,” there’s no denying that his methods and cocktails are famous, nor can you deny that they’re really, really good. In addition to being very good at alcohol, Jeff is also very good at food, and was nice enough to sit down with me and talk about mayonnaise, fast food, and why Instant Pot eggs suck.
Location: Portland, Oregon
Current gig: Bar manager for Clyde Common and Pepé Le Moko, author of The Bar Book: Elements of Cocktail Technique and Drinking Distilled: A User’s Manual.
One word that describes how you eat: Comfort
My breakfast routine is: I get up, and I walk three and a half miles to the coffee shop, and get my coffee, and walk three and a half miles back, and then I eat a protein shake. [Laughs] I do. I have one of those weird, bodybuilder—I’m not a bodybuilder, and I do not go to the gym—but I have one of those protein shakes that I like. I don’t even know what it’s called.
Chocolate. And I mix it with some frozen bananas and a scoop of peanut butter and some milk. It just keeps me from eating just a bunch of horse shit in the morning, because by that time I’ve gotten a cup of coffee and walked for two hours. I’m starving and it’s either I put this sort of low-calorie chocolate protein shake in my body, or I like drive to McDonald’s really quick and eat like four English muffins. So it’s just to stave off the mean hungries.
I drink a cafe au lait.
Almost every day. Unless it’s pouring rain or I have some shit in the morning to do.
Yeah, but I catch up on my podcasts, and my e-mails, and phone calls. You know, I call my parents once a week, and call my friends, and do work-related stuff on the phone.
No. I actually don’t usually do fast food breakfast. I usually do fast food late, late at night, if I’m going to do fast food. But breakfast ... do they still have the McGriddle?
Yeah the, syrup-infused pancake. The sausage McGriddle would have been number one. And I like a breakfast burrito.
Sometime between like noon and two before I start work.
I either cook or I like go out somewhere in the neighborhood.
I get poké up the street a lot. And I go to Lardo and Grassa a lot. I go to all the fast casual places in the neighborhood. Unless I’m meeting a friend or work somebody for lunch. It’s usually either that, or most of the time I cook. Half the time I cook.
Totally, yeah. I wish I had a chest freezer or room for a chest freezer.
I don’t even have room for that. It would have to go in my bedroom, which I’m not opposed to [laughs]. I like the sound too—that kind of “whirrrrr.”
You don’t need a fan in your bedroom. But yeah, I make a lot of stuff and then freeze it and then kind of come back to it.
There’s two pints of jambalaya in my freezer, as we speak. So I make servings for six, I eat four of them, and then put two in the fridge or freezer.
Really simple. Just tuna, Best Foods mayo, coarsely ground pepper and sea salt flake.
It’s Maldon right now but I don’t have a preference; I just use whatever is less expensive at the store.
[Laughs] Let’s get down to the nitty gritty here.
Yes, I do. And it’s the Calve Raffinata. You cannot get it here.
Every time I go to Europe, I go the store I find the Calvé Raffinata. And it is the best mayonnaise I’ve ever had in my life. It is so rich. It is so thick and creamy. It’s the kind of mayonnaise that you wouldn’t—I would never put it in a tuna fish sandwich. It’s too good. You put it in a little ramekin and you dip vegetables in it. It’s that good. It comes in a tube.
I’ve tried and I haven’t found it. They make other products that you can get but you can’t get that specific one, which is, I believe, an olive oil [mayonnaise].
Yes. I use the Kenji immersion blender one. But I don’t do it that often because I find that it kind of goes bad more quickly than Best Foods, and it’s kind of hard for me to—I eat a lot of mayonnaise, but it’s hard for me to go through like a pint in a week.
I have some za’atar that somebody brought me back from Israel that’s delicious. I like black sesame seeds in my ramen. I do like the Korean American ramen with the American cheese.
Oh, hell yeah. Some meat from the freezer. I do the—I think it’s Cook’s Illustrated—steaming the egg. Small pot. Half inch of water. Eggs in. Heat up to medium/medium high. Lid on. Once it starts to boil, steam for seven minutes.
Like fucking heaven. It is the very best method; you get ‘em soft and you get ‘em peelable. They peel like nothing you’ve ever peeled before.
I did and I didn’t like it. It took too long. [There’s] just too much equipment and I didn’t find them as peelable as everybody said. Maybe I did it wrong. I did it once. I had already been doing the steaming method and then I tried that and then I was like “Why am I doing this?” Because it takes no time at all to put a half inch of water in a pan and heat it for seven minutes.
Yes, but I don’t cook meals in it.
Beans. Rice. Stocks. But I like cooking so much that anything that would like ... take chili, right? I know it’s great in the Instant Pot but I like cooking chili. I don’t need it to be done in 45 minutes because I don’t have a family of four to feed, right? It’s just me. So I’m just putting on music, and cooking chili, I don’t need to speed that up.
For sure! And now I use both those tools for one or two things. Like [with] sous vide, I do pork chops—double cut pork chops. You couldn’t do that the traditional way, properly. It’s better with the sous vide. But you’re right, everybody was like “Oh, you gotta do sous-vide hamburgers.” Why the fuck would I want to do sous vide-hamburgers? Why am I sous vide-ing hotdogs? People were just like sous vide-ing everything like [hot] chocolate milk! Like, what? I have a microwave.
You look at the all the blogs out there and they’re just like “you can make every single dish.” I don’t want to roast chicken in an Instant Pot. That’s disgusting. And I have an oven and I have an hour. But I think microwaves were like that when they came out.
Yeah. It came with the house. It’s built in. I use it to heat water or reheat things. I don’t cook anything in it. It’s for boiling water if you need boiling water in a jiffy for [something] like French press. Because it’s not better or worse than doing it on the stove top; it’s just faster. It’s not like the water tastes any different. And then sometimes I’ll pull something out of the fridge. I had some [already cooked] Ortega taco meat, so I made nachos on New Year’s Day. How else are you gonna do that? You’re gonna do it in the microwave.
That’s a really good way to do it. As long as you like keep your eye on it and don’t boil it off.
And do the thing where it explodes?
Wouldn’t that be fun?
I’ve kind of gotten back into Carl’s Jr.—I hadn’t had it since the 80s. They built a nice one. I think it’s on Columbia. Now there’s a triangle of a Jack In The Box, a McDonald’s, and a Carl’s Jr. And they’re all brand new, and they’re all very nice, and they’re all like 24 hours.
Wonderful. I mean most of the time I do not need fast food late at night. But sometimes when it’s been a really hard night, and I kind of forgot to have lunch, and it’s like “I gotta go.” Like when I saw you [at Clyde Common], I was like “I gotta go get some fuckin’ Carl’s Jr.” And Carl’s Jr’s fries are delicious.
[Whistles] They’re those breaded ones. So they’re extra crispy.
I think they do. I can’t remember if I got curly fries when I was there. Curly fries can be tough, though. They need to be crispy, and sometimes they’re underdone, particularly if they’re super long and dense.
Tightly coiled, yeah. You get that, and you’re like “eh, this is kind of like soft potato.” This isn’t crispy.
Every fast food place, I usually just get the regular cheeseburger. Whatever the plain, small cheeseburger is at that fast food [establishment]. Now I do branch out a little bit. I’ve been branching out a little bit. I just don’t want like a monster fucking giant fast food burger.
Yeah, too much shit on it.
Yeah. This was a burger town and now I think it’s more of a pizza town.
Oh, yeah. Wasn’t there a thing where Michael Russell said something about the pizza being good in Portland? [Anthony Falco called it “America’s greatest pizza city.”] Someone said the pizza in Portland was really good and people got pissed.
That is a dumb thing to get upset about. The pizza in Portland is fantastic.
Oh, God! Checkerboard, which is Ken’s. And of course Ken’s, also. Nostrana. Pizza Jerk’s great. Ranch pizza is great. Scottie’s pizza: great. Please Louise is fantastic. Handsome Pizza is pretty good. I mean there’s a lot of great pizza in this town and there used to be a lot of great burgers. Now it’s just like, you have to have a burger and nobody really cares. Like a chef-driven burger.
Have you had Burger Stevens? It’s the best burger in town. Hands down. Like, far and away the best burger. There’s three. It’s a cart on Pioneer Square, there’s a cart behind Wilson High School, and they’re operating inside of Dig A Pony. It’s basically a facsimile of the Shake Shack burger.
It’s like one of the best burgers in the world. [Laughs.] I would put it—in terms of like fast food or just like mass market burgers—that’s one of the top five greats.
Who doesn’t? It’s so good.
Oh yeah. They both do. [Laughs]
Huh. Is there a correlation?
Yeah, you just gravitate towards people who like mayonnaise.
No, but I did read people are doing peanut butter and mayo. Is that a thing? An internet thing now?
Somebody is trying to get mayonnaise and peanut butter started. I’m probably good on that. I don’t need to cross the streams. Because I love peanut butter and I love mayonnaise, but I feel like that if you’re doing that, it’s just to get likes on the Internet. I put mayonnaise on all the normal shit. I mean, sometimes I do a fried spam sandwich with mayonnaise, things like that.
It’s real good. It’s like fried baloney! Toasted white bread—griddled white bread.
Yeah that’s it. Do you get the Japanese bread? Milk bread? It’s the very best version of cheap white bread that you’ve ever had. It hits all of the—it’s soft and dense and sticks to the roof of your mouth and is also a little bit sweet and [has] a little bit of a tang. It’s the perfect white bread.
Yeah Indian food—delivered Indian food. Lamb korma, usually some butter chicken. I get garlic naan, and a shit ton of it. I don’t eat Indian food like some sort of pro. It’s a comfort food, right? Because it’s all butter, and fat, and delicious, and yeah that’s my sad [meal]. Or, if I’ve just worked like a ten day stretch, and I’m like I don’t want to cook. I don’t want to go out. I don’t even want to put on pants,” I get delivered Indian food, and I’ll get eighty five dollars worth of Indian food.
If I don’t care about anything—if I just do not give a fuck—chicken fried steak is one of the greatest things, and one of the greatest meals. If you want to get real snotty about it, it’s in the tradition of Milanese steak, or chicken piccata, or chicken Milanese, or—what’s the Austrian?—schnitzel. But then you put a bunch of American fuckin’ sausage gravy on top of it. Usually I try not to because I’m almost 50. I can’t eat fucking chicken fried steak.
I always get nachos. You gotta get nachos. But I get popcorn, and then two things of Reese’s Pieces and pour them into the popcorn. I just love Reese’s pieces more than any sort of round, oblong-shaped candy, [like] Skittles, M&M’s—Reese’s Pieces is number one. The popcorn and Reese’s pieces move—I’ll do that at home. I’ll make really good fuckin’ popcorn in a pot, and then just cover it in Reese’s Pieces and just watch an Avengers movie.
With just olive oil, and butter and then popcorn salt. I think you need to make popcorn salt.
I just do a spice grinder, but yeah. Which I think is like the Alton Brown thing.
Yeah, I do it on medium. Yeah, I just use a ton of it.
You know I used to, and now, there’s that article that came out earlier this year about how you’re just not cooking it in enough fat. Who was that?
Yes. It was fantastic. And ever since then I kind of stopped measuring because I’m just like, “Oh, the secret is to use a shit ton.” So she’s my hero because she really saved—I’ve always liked popcorn on the stove but I never loved it.
Completely. It tastes like movie theater popcorn! And it’s so much crunchier! Yes! But if you do half olive oil and half butter it works great. And don’t use extra virgin, use the shitty yellow stuff, like Napoleon—like $4.95 for the small. It’s good.
McDonald’s. For sure. That size. I cook fries at home a lot, because I do steak frites. That’s one of my favorite things to make it home.
In duck fat. But buy them frozen.
You have to. Otherwise you’re just getting like McMenamin’s fries or In-n-Out fries. The worst fries.
They’re just not properly made. That’s not how you make french fries.
Well, there’s staff meal which is...you know, they try. And then I kind of snack on through, but a lot of times if I’ve eaten earlier in the day, what I’ll do is go home and make a pretty elaborate meal late at night. But I get home by midnight; I’m not here until four in the morning. So I can go home, and make steak frites, or something that takes an hour. Risotto—I like making risotto at home after work.
Maybe, but that’s how I relax—is cooking. Because I’ve got to do some with my hands, and I can listen to music while I do it, or a podcast or whatever. I can even put open my laptop and kind of eyeball a TV show while I’m doing it.
Yeah. If they have time, or they’re inspired, but they have to do it every fucking day. It’s like a mom that has to do it every day. Like when you’re a kid and sometimes your mom knocked it out of the park, and other times it was just like chicken and rice.
Lasagna. Or! Okay, I actually made this the other night. We call it “mom tacos.” Ground beef—Ortega, or whatever—Lawry’s spice packet, sour cream, cheddar cheese, Ortega shells, giant burrito wrappers, mom-style. I even bought taco sauce. You know, taco sauce? You know what that is?
Okay, so I hadn’t had it since the 80s, and then I saw it at the store and I was like “I’m going to go for the full—I can’t remember what this is like, but I’m going to get taco sauce.” The La Victoria taco sauce—It’s Taco Bell mild sauce.
It tastes almost exactly the same, which is a hack! Because for $1.99 you can get a bottle of La Victoria, and it’s essentially the same thing.
I actually have a panini press. Which is kind of funny. It all started when I moved to Portland and I was crashing on my friend’s couch because my apartment wasn’t ready, and he had a panini press, and I was just ragging on him. “A fucking panini press, like, what year do you think it is?”and he said “Look. I work all the time at the bar, and I’m there all day, and then I come home for a little bit, and then I’m there all night. I go to Whole Foods, I get a sandwich. I brush both sides with olive oil, and I put it in the panini press. And then I have a hot lunch when I come home for half an hour in between shifts, and it’s just like a little treat,” and I was like “I think you’re brilliant,” and I bought a panini press and I was so glad that I did, because I do things like that. I take a pre-made sandwich and heat it up, or just something from the fridge. I don’t have a toaster, so I either do grilled toast in the panini press, or I do toast in the cast iron pan with a little bit of butter. But I love my panini press—if you’re super, super tired, you can do a quesadilla in there. It’s not a great quesadilla but it’s a quesadilla. You can do a lot of kind of dumb shit in there.
Because how much toast am I eating? Every once in a while I’m like “I want some toast with my eggs,” and I just toast it in a pan. But I’m not eating a piece of toast every day, unless you’re like Wallace of Wallace and Gromit.
I do them the Cook’s Illustrated way, kind of on low and sort of pushing them back and forth?
Large curds—let it set, push, let it set, push—do that like six times. I like the large curds. I like the small ones, but it’s a lot of work. But usually what I do is just fry them on medium heat. You get a little bit of a crispy edge, but I’m not trying to—eggs are just so great because like I’m not trying to Instagram my eggs. I just want some eggs that are cooked.
Thanks. I also just—I don’t drink at home. I don’t really drink that much. So I don’t have anything to take pictures of, other than food. Because I’m not coming home and making myself a Mai Tai at the end of the night. I used to, but now I come home and I make risotto.
I have more liquor than either of these bars that I manage. It’s disgusting how much alcohol is in my house. It’s just there to, like, look at, but I’m not buying it. It’s just there and people send it to me. I’m not going to the store and buying bourbon or whatever, there’s just a shit ton of bourbon.
I would say that if there’s an apocalypse, that we should all just meet at my house. Because I don’t want to be on the zombie destruction team, I just want to kill myself within the span of 72 hours with alcohol. I don’t want to fight for my survival every day like the people in The Walking Dead.
Yeah! It’s over! It’s over. So let’s all meet at my house and let’s just kill ourselves with alcohol. We’ll have a raging party. And we’ll just drink until we’re dead.
It’s funny, because everybody I’ve told this to is like “Yeah.” Most people aren’t like “No, we’re gonna find patch of farmland and we’re gonna stay up all night guarding it with our guns, and we’ll just do that for the rest of our lives.” I don’t want to grow watermelons and eat those, I just want to eat all the frozen pizzas.
I think that everybody should have their drink that they know how to make really well, just like everybody should have their dish that they know how to make really well. People that don’t know how to cook, or [don’t] have a dish that they enjoy making, kind of make me sad. And the same thing with a drink; you should have your go-to, whatever it is. It doesn’t matter to me. But if your thing is like that you really love martinis, you should be able to execute a really great martini at home. Because it’s cool and it’s social, and it’s fun to do alone and it’s fun to do with other people. So have your thing, but I think a lot of people get—and I always try to talk people out of this—but people think that in order to have a home bar, you have to have every single brand or type of booze. You know people say “What should I get from my home bar?” and I say, “Well, what do you like?” If you don’t like tequila, I’m not going to tell you to get four different types of tequila for your home bar so you can make a bunch of tequila drinks you’re never gonna drink. If you just like vodka, then get six vodkas.
It’s not a bar! It’s your home! People shouldn’t be coming up to your kitchen counter and ordering a drink. It should be: I’m having a dinner party. You’re all coming over. And guess what? We’re starting with sidecars. You don’t get to order! If somebody’s serving martinis you don’t say “No, I want mine made this way or whatever.” Just like you don’t say “I’ll take my whatever with no onions.” Fuck off. You’re at a dinner party at my house, you’ll eat what I serve.
Well, I wouldn’t have you over. If you’re deathly allergic to onions we’re probably not going to eat together.
People put a lot of pressure on themselves to have everything at home. I’ve been doing this for 20 years, and when I have a dinner party it’s just like, tonight we’re having blended blackberry margaritas. That’s what I made. That’s what you can have. If you’re in such bad shape that you need to have a straight shot out of my liquor collection. Go ahead, I guess. But I’m not gonna make you a separate drink outside of that. You’re gonna have blackberry margaritas and we’re gonna eat mom tacos.
No. I don’t like Trader Joe’s. There’s too much prepackaged food there. It’s weird; I have weird lines that I draw about food. I’ll go to Jack In The Box at the end of the night, but I won’t eat a heat-and-eat Trader Joe’s chicken cacciatore. That offends me more than the fast food and I don’t know why. I can’t explain it. The only pre-prepared meal that I’ll keep and eat at home is the frozen pizza.
Salt would be salt. I’m not enough of an experienced cook to use soy sauce or fish sauce as my salt. Fat would definitely be butter, and acid would probably just be vinegar. I would say champagne vinegar, if I had to, because I like cooking French food more than anything.
That I’ve introduced to the world? Maybe the...uh, that’s a hard one. Maybe the amaretto sour. It may be one of the better things I’ve come up with.
That actually might be it. But that’s because I am 100 percent an eggnog fan—all types of eggnog. I think that you have to be to come up with something that good. You have to love it. Like the next great whatever—whoever reinvents the chicken fried steak or whatever, is gonna be somebody that really loves chicken fried steak, and not just some chef who’s like, “Eh, here you go.”
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.