Benny Blanco Says These Are The Best Foods Selena Gomez Cooks For Him - Exclusive Interview

Many chefs have been called rock stars of the culinary scene, from Anthony Bourdain to Keith Floyd, and Benny Blanco seems next in line for the distinction. Furthermore, the self-taught cook and foodie funnyman just might be the most musical of the bunch. Though Blanco isn't one to brag, chances are you're familiar with his extensive catalog. The Grammy Award-winning producer is behind countless chart-topping singles of the last two decades. After working on Ke$ha's "TiK ToK" in 2009, Blanco went on to create smash hits with artists like Rihanna, Katy Perry, and Ed Sheeran. His knack for churning out hits in the studio is undeniable, but this talented Virginia native is also renowned for his work in another area: The kitchen.

Following his success on YouTube food shows like "Eat Out America," the hitmaker's taking things a step further with the launch of his first-ever cookbook, "Open Wide: A Cookbook for Friends." Co-written by "Salad Freak" author Jess Damuck, the book is due for release on April 30, 2024. Whether you thrive on compliments from dinner party guests or simply crave the perfect late-night munchies, its recipes were created with you in mind. Dishes like SZA's favorite banana pudding and Matty Matheson's steakhouse-style burgers are just a few highlights. In an exclusive interview with Mashed, Blanco gave us an intimate look at the making of "Open Wide." It may be hot off the presses, but it won't be long before "Open Wide" becomes a sauce-stained classic on the shelf.

Cooking is a lot like music for Blanco

Your first cookbook, "Open Wide," is coming out soon. Can you tell us a little about the creative process behind it?

Yeah. Look, cooking's tough, okay. It can seem overwhelming. You don't know where to start. A lot of people started cooking in COVID, some people didn't. And for me it's just like, 'How can I streamline this, make it something that you can just do?' You can plug and play. You're there. It's happening. You got it. And for me, throwing dinner parties is such a big thing. I don't want to go out to the club and like, "untz, untz, untz." I want to have a party at my house and drink tons of wine and have to unbutton my pants because I ate too much. And this is the perfect guide to that.

You mentioned that you started cooking with a George Foreman Grill at age 13. What were some of those early recipes like?

Oh God. Well, I don't know if you smoke weed or anything, but when you're 13 and you're stoned out of your mind, the recipes that happen are ... well, they're not very memorable. Actually, they are memorable. When you're a 13-year-old stoner in Virginia, you're immediately bored and crazy, okay. That's number one. Number two, the level of cheese being melted is so exponential, and we thought we were cool. There were pink peppercorns in someone's thing, so we put those in. Sometimes we put a little rice wine vinegar in a sandwich — and sometimes, it was truly disgusting — but you are stepping out of the box and it was so fun.

It was that first time in my life where I realized — I would make this big panini and cut it up into a million pieces on a cutting board — and I just remember handing someone out their first bite and just waiting to see if they're going to be like, "Mm. Oh, ah." And when it happened, it immediately gave me this feeling where I was like, "Wow, I want to replicate that." And it's like music. It's like the second I finish a song, I'm not just sitting in my room alone. I immediately call every single person I know to try to play it for them over the phone to see if they like it. Food just brings people together. And I saw that and I had that feeling and I was like, "Whoa, this is another way I can bring a bunch of people together and have some fun." And my love just budded from there.

How to make perfect chicken cutlets -- with a little pizzazz

There are over 100 recipes in "Open Wide," and you've said that the honey chicken cutlets are one of your favorites. How do you make the perfect chicken cutlet?

Oh my God. Okay. The perfect chicken cutlet, first of all, maybe not the most popular opinion — but I'm not using breadcrumbs. No one's using those. And if I am, it's just a touch. We're using panko, okay. First of all, we're using panko. Everybody knows that. Don't be stupid. And then immediately on my chicken cutlet, I like to throw a little pizzazz on it. We're not just taking the cutlet out and putting salt on it, we're taking it out. We might chop up some hot peppers and put it on top. We might throw a little bit of honey, crush some fresh cracked pepper, not out of the pepper mill, but you're crushing it with your hand so it feels a little more...

Yeah, your mortar and pestle trick with the pepper.

Yeah, with your mortar and pestle. Exactly. And then you're sprinkling some cheese on it, a little parm. You're dusting it with some olive oil, a little salt, put a little honey on it, and then you have the perfect bite and then you kiss your fingers and say, "Chef's kiss," and then everybody adores you.

Blanco on his best (and worst) dinner parties ever

You've been hosting dinner parties for years. Could you tell us about the best one you've ever held?

Oh my God, the best one? Every one. They're like my children. I can't pick a best. Every single one.

How about a memorable one instead?

Many years ago, I had one. I was having a party in Los Angeles, and somehow when I walked out, really late at night, the people in that band, The Lumineers, were just naked in my pool and nobody invited them. And I love them, but somehow they were just naked in my pool. And I don't know, I'm still piecing it together. Sometimes I think back about it. It was literally ten plus years ago, and I just remember that. And I don't know, it always sticks a thing with me because of all people ... The Lumineers.

That's pretty incredible. And now I'm scared to ask, what was the worst?

Probably the first one I threw. Okay, I'm at my house and I'm like, "Oh my God, we're going to kill this dinner party." It's my first one. I'm nervous, don't know. I cooked this beautiful chicken. It's beautiful. It's golden brown. It looks delicious. Everyone's excited. We're sitting down, we go to cut it open and it's just raw inside. And I'm like, still to this day, I don't even understand how it's possible.

I have no idea how...but the chicken was perfectly golden outside and completely raw inside. Literally like I just took it out of the freezer. And immediately, we took the chicken and — well, first we bought pizza, we ordered pizza and everyone ate pizza and we laughed about it. Then, we took the chicken and we threw it out of the window. [laughs]

Yeah, I think everybody who's tried to make marry-me-chicken for the first time has inadvertently food-poisoned someone.

It was great.

His favorite raw foods tend to fire up fans

You've judged plenty of snacks on social media, but what is one weird food combination you like that fans might judge you for?

Oh my God. Well, I always get judged for really loving uni, like sea urchin. The people don't love love sea urchin and the people don't love caviar. I get very much judged when I put a little piece of cav, a little bead of caviar in my mouth and some like uni. It definitely splits the world. Honestly, [people are] more leaning towards not liking it, which is crazy. Do you eat uni?

Yeah, I love uni.

Do you like caviar?

Yes, absolutely.

Exactly. You're speaking my language.

I like anything that pops, like boba.

Oh my god, boba makes me go insane. If I have it, I just can't stop. It's one of my favorite things in the world. I feel like boba still even doesn't get the shine that it deserves.

Yeah, I agree. But I know you're on a tight schedule here, and we have a few more questions –

What, you don't want this be a boba interview?

Blanco's recipes for success in the recording studio

We can circle back to boba, too. But we're curious to know: When you're working in the studio all day, what's your go-to takeout order?

I'm usually cooking for everyone. That's my move. My go-to move is I'm taking orders. I'm moving, I got my pen and paper out. I feel like it's always better [to eat homemade food] when you're in the studio. It just feels a like you care a little bit. You know what I'm saying?

Yeah. Well, we just had a SodaStream in ours.

You had a SodaStream?

We did. So, can you share any funny food-related stories from your recording sessions? Maybe some snacks that you ate while making certain albums?

Oh my God, yeah. Every single thing. Look, I was in the studio one time and I was up against the finish line, trying to finish something for Lil Dicky. And I remember he wouldn't come to the studio unless there was a chicken enchilada waiting for him. I had to make him chicken enchiladas for him to lure him into the studio to finish. That happens a lot. SZA, I lure her in the studio with lasagna and banana pudding. I have my ways.

You have a little phone book of all the different things that people like to eat when they're in the studio with you?

Yeah, I love to. I just do that with people. If you were to come over to my house and you were like, "Oh my God," we sat down and you were talking about chicken parm, the next time you came, I'd be like, "Oh my God, I got the ingredients for chicken parm. Let's make a little chicken parm."

Benny says Selena Gomez has the perfect palate

Your fans on TikTok have been asking you and your partner, Selena Gomez, for a cooking show. In the meantime, what are some tips that you've picked up from one another when you're cooking at home?

I will tell you, she is so prepared. Whenever we will have dinners and we will cook for each other's families and stuff, she is like, hours before, preparing everything. She's got all her mise in a row, she's chopped everything perfectly. She's a bit of a perfectionist in the kitchen and she's so good at cooking. She just has the perfect palate.

And she knows the things I love to eat and she'll make the yummiest little things for me, and we just cook. I don't know, we both love food so much and we both love cooking and just entertaining. She's so good at putting a dinner party together and thinking about where everyone's going to sit and music and getting the right drinks the right way. And I don't know, she's the best at it.

That's awesome.

And so I definitely pick up little things from her. The way she puts together a dinner party is very special and makes it seem effortless.

What's something that she makes for you all the time; one of your favorite dishes of hers?

I know this is going to sound really crazy. She's from Texas. I was actually born in Texas, but I'm from Virginia and she's from Texas. She makes this, well, I don't even know — it's like a sweet corn casserole that really gets me going. It's so good. It's like a corn pudding, but it has a little bit more density to it. I don't know where you're from, so it may not be on your menu a lot, but it's a very Southern dish. It's really yummy.

Are there any little secrets to the recipe that you could share?

I'm never there when she makes it. I'm trying to get the recipe myself. She holds it pretty tight.

Alright, so it's under lock and key. Are there dishes that you guys completely disagree on? Things you can't stand about each other's palates?

She does not love caviar or weird uni and stuff like that and I love it. I love it. I eat it right in front of her. For me, I love anything raw. Nothing even needs to be cooked for me. If somebody just gave me a raw bar for the rest of my life, I'd be so happy.

Have you seen the guy that's doing the raw chicken experiment? He's eating raw chicken every day.

Oh my God. That guy's insane. Is he dead yet?

No, he just did the Nutella the other day, finally.

He's been going for like six months.

Yeah, he's a little superstar.

The jack of all trades grows veggies in spades

Spring is finally here. What are your gardening plans this year?

I am a big gardener. We have a charity where we actually provide for all the inner city, basically food deserts all over Los Angeles. And I give away most of my garden and then I keep some for my family and friends. We're doing like 70 pounds a week. It's pretty crazy.

Wow. What is that charity that you're working with?

It's with Billie Eilish's mom. Her name's Maggie and she has a charity called Support and Feed.

That's really cool. What are some of the things that you guys grow?

We grow everything. Right now, I'm really enjoying the snap peas, the chard, the kale. We grow some of my favorite herbs like shiso. We have huge sprouting broccoli, sprouting cauliflower. It's more, it's mostly wintery stuff now. All that, and then we just put up a greenhouse so we're going to start being able to grow tomatoes in the winter and stuff. It's amazing.

"Open Wide" by Benny Blanco is available for pre-order through bookstores everywhere ahead of its release date on April 30, 2024. To learn more about Blanco's culinary exploits, follow his Instagram for updates and events.

This interview has been edited for clarity.