Josh Scherer Talks Mythical Kitchen And How To Make The Best Copycat Recipes - Exclusive Interview

Josh Scherer knows deliciously unique food when he tastes it. Scherer's culinary insight has helped attract millions of viewers to his show "Mythical Kitchen," where he shows fans how to make unusual creations like French onion ramen and pulled pork stuffed Twinkies. Scherer has also written a successful cookbook, "The Culinary Bro-Down," where he features recipes that are the perfect meals for late nights, like flavorful mac 'n' cheese nachos. However, having a career in food television wasn't always a path the chef thought he would take.

Growing up in California, Scherer attended UCLA as an athlete, where he competed in shot put and as a hammer thrower. After college, he began writing for publications like Los Angeles Magazine, before working behind-the-scenes with comedic duo Rhett and Link. While helping out on their show, Scherer was able to hone his skills and got his big break. In an exclusive interview with Mashed, Scherer shared all about the inspiration behind "Mythical Kitchen," which state he thinks has the best Mexican food, how to recreate your favorite fast food meals, and which recipes have gone terribly wrong on the series.

Josh Scherer on growing up in California

Did growing up in California impact the kind of food you create today?

Growing up in California definitely influenced the types of food that I ate. It's why I have such an affinity for Mexican food. I mean, primarily Mexican-American food because obviously, California used to be a part of Mexico. I'm also hugely into the idea of hyper regionalization in food. I love the fact that you go to San Diego and the burritos are different than the burritos in LA, and they're different than the burritos in San Francisco. And so, that definitely influenced the way that I ate.

And then also, I lived in an area called little Saigon. My step-mom is Vietnamese and a great thing about California is that you get so many awesome immigrant communities where you can travel through food anywhere in the world just within the state lines of LA I'm super stoked that I grew up eating fantastic Korean food, Vietnamese food, Mexican food, Japanese food, and I was exposed to all these different food cultures. So, it's definitely influenced the way that I cook and the way that I eat.

Josh Scherer on which state has the best burrito

Do you think Southern California has the best Mexican food?

I'm obviously biased, but I think the Mexican food and Southern California is the best in the U.S. primarily because of our diversity of Mexican food. I used to be a journalist. I wrote for Los Angeles Magazine and there was a writer named Bill Esparza, who wrote for us at the time and I would go hang out with him and eat. And he is, I mean, literally like a taco encyclopedia and at least according to him, Los Angeles has a more diverse Mexican food scene, meaning more states and regions in Mexico represented in LA than any other city in the world including Mexico City because we get so many immigrants from different parts of Mexico in Los Angeles. So for me, just the regional diversity, like my favorite restaurant, it's called Coni'Seafood. It's in Inglewood. It's a family that's been fishing for the same type of fish off the coast of the city of Nayarit Sinaloa in Mexico. And there's just generational knowledge on how to catch this fish and cook it. And they have the best ceviche I've ever had in my life. 

So I love that, but that said, I mean, I've had fantastic burritos in Denver, Colorado, and things that you could never get in California, ditto with like Chile, Colorado in New Mexico. And so, there's like a lot of fantastic Mexican food in Texas.

What would you say makes the perfect burrito?

The perfect burrito in my opinion, obviously it starts with the tortilla. The best I've ever had is from Burritos La Palma, which is the single greatest bite of food I've ever had in my life. It's in El Monte in Los Angeles, but the tortilla has to be perfectly sort of pliable but tender at the same time and also have just enough of this kind of glutinous chew to it. And it also has to be thin enough to be translucent to where you wrap it around the ingredients and you can actually physically see the bits of steak or beans or whatever's inside it. It's like the way that when you get a fast food bag, you want to be able to see the grease spot so you can almost peel through it.

What do you think are the best ingredients?

One of my favorites are San Diego style carne asada burritos that are just guacamole, pico, cheese, and grilled steak. And the best part about it is you unwrap it from the paper it's wrapped in and you can see the tinge of green through this like thin, lard-filled tortilla and it's beautiful. But then past the tortilla, you got to get down into the burrito architecture. So it's like the ratios have to be right. It also has to be wrapped and folded and then wrapped in paper to steam together. And so, you got to have like, let's call it like a 40-20-20-10 split of like meat, starch, condiment, [and] other salsa. I made up the numbers in my head. I don't know if you could tell, but I strongly believe in that.

How being an athlete at UCLA impacted Josh Scherer

Did being an athlete at UCLA influence the way you ate or your relationship to food?

Being a competitive athlete definitely influenced the way that both I ate and I cooked. So I was a shot put, discus, and hammer thrower in college. And if you know anything about the shot put, the discus, and the hammer throw, we call ourselves the beefy boys because you're taking a 16-pound hunk of metal and seeing how far you can throw it, you got to be pretty big and strong to accomplish that. And so, I was like a 270-pound dump truck of a human being coming out of high school. And so, I would literally, just to keep the mass and strength on, I would take like a Chipotle burrito and I would eat that inside the weight room in between bench press sets.

One of the reasons I cooked for myself so much, was because I physically had to eat twice the amount that a normal human would. And so, when you're cooking double the amount of meals for yourself, you really get double the amount of practice. So in college, I would cook for my other beefy boy teammates and we would make 15-pound pork roasts on the grill. And then everyone takes home four pounds of pork to eat for protein throughout the week. And that's also how it kind of developed my taste for these big bombastic, very calorie-dense foods. And they are still the foods that I love today, even though I try and balance it a little bit because I'm not throwing heavy rocks anymore.

What made Josh Scherer switch career paths

Is that what got you into cooking or was there something else that inspired you?

Actually, I got into cooking a little bit before that. I grew up in a single parent household. It was just me, my dad and my brother for most of my life. None of us really knew how to cook, but we all loved good food. We just couldn't physically figure out how to put the right things together to make it happen in our own kitchen. We didn't have a lot of money, so we couldn't go out to eat very often, but I actually started watching Food Network with my brother and he and I got really inspired by Rachael Ray, Bobby Flay, Tyler Florence, Giada, the big names from back in the early 2000s.

So, I started watching Food Network and my dad saw me watching it. He was like, "Hey, if you ever want to try these out, I'll buy the ingredients and you just cook them." And so, ever since I was like 11 to 12 years old, I was making nightly dinners for my family, which was really cool and a lot of them were trash. I mean, I remember trying to make Giada De Laurentiis' gnocchi with gorgonzola cream sauce. I have such a strong flavor memory of what this tastes like and it was awful. It was just like the chewiest, most dense little flower nuggets with just this green acrid sauce in it. But gladly, I got a little bit better over time, but [I'm] very grateful to have that sort of practice for a long time.

What made you ultimately want to switch from being an athlete and writer to having a cooking show?

It was really a spontaneous transition, I never necessarily wanted to be on camera. I mean, I'm now very glad that I am and I enjoy it so much, but I always thought of myself as a writer, like this is my vocation, this is what I'm very good at. This is maybe what I was put on the Earth to do, I guess, but I was writing for a magazine .... It was a really awesome experience to especially have that from like a young age. I was like 23 when I started working there and then that's also when I got my cookbook deal for The Culinary Bro-Down Cookbook based off of the blog I had in college. But to one, make ends meet because writing doesn't pay a ton for my experience at least. And then two, just to get as much experience out there as possible, I was freelancing and I was writing another weekly column for Maxim Magazine at the time and I just frankly burnt myself out. I mean, I ran myself into the absolute ground. I had like a nervous breakdown in a Starbucks finishing my book manuscripts like I might've started crying over an Americano.

Freelancing to me was absolutely brutal. I could not hack it at all, but luckily, I sent a copy of my cookbook to Mythical and they thumbed through it and they were like, "his brand seems directly in line with ours" and they brought me on. I originally started producing for them just doing behind-the-scenes camera work, but occasionally, they would bring me in front of the camera and the fans seemed to like me. And then, they just decided like, "Hey, what the heck?" And [were] like, get in front of the camera, see what happens.

Josh Scherer discusses his cookbook The Culinary Bro-Down and his ultimate hangover cure

Speaking of your cookbook, what would you say is your favorite meal to make for your friends?

Oh, man. Favorite meal to make for my friends at three in the morning, undoubtedly nachos. We would always have a giant bag of Mission tortilla chips from Costco sitting in the cupboard and then we would all come back from practice or parties and I would run to the fridge and I would start hacking up anything that I had. I mean, if you have like any sort of leftover meat and a jar of salsa and some cheese, you can figure out how to make a hell of a nacho platter. Like one particular instance, I had a giant pork roast that was leftover and I made these like barbecue pulled pork nachos with a sort of dressed jalapeño salad on top. And I remember we just huddled around this in my living room, still in the cast iron pan that I broiled it in, and just ate it all with our hands and it was glorious.

You also talk about a hangover cure in your cookbooks. I'm curious to know what is the hangover cure that you've found?

It's so funny because I actually interviewed a scientist about hangovers and their science almost doesn't even know what causes a hangover. Everyone thinks it's dehydration that's why these IV trucks exist. It's simply not true. That has nothing to do with photosensitivity and all this. So the point is anything that works for you is a hangover cure. I have found the thing that works for me and this has changed a little bit since college, but I wake up and immediately caffeinate. You need to just get your wits about you.

So I wake up and it's either black coffee, or if I'm feeling real bad like a diet energy drink, like you get a bang in your system. It's almost just like taking just a shot of pure adrenaline to the chest. And then you need some sort of greasy food, something just big. It's almost like having quality of life care where you just need something delicious to sort of get you back to life. So something like a pastrami cheeseburger...

And then my big thing that I love doing, is after you're caffeinated, you're fed, you're happy, you're relaxed ​​— you shut all of the blinds in your house and then you turn on the most emotionally cathartic movie you can find. And then you try and get a cry in. For me, the scene that always gets me is "The Pursuit of Happiness" with Will Smith. It might be lame. There's a scene, I don't want to give it away, but it involves a train station and you will cry if you watch the scene. That's what I believe. And so, that to me is the perfect hangover cure. Then you kind of open the blinds and you were like baptized from the beautiful Will Smith performance.

Josh Scherer shares his approach to creating food on Mythical Kitchen

What ultimately made you to transition to "Mythical Kitchen" and what is your favorite episode you've done so far?

The thing that inspired "Mythical Kitchen" is "Good Mythical Morning," which is Mythical Entertainment's flagship show. We have just finished up 2,000 episodes and that was a show that I was producing on for maybe two years before "Mythical Kitchen" started. We did so many cool things with food, but we never showed the behind-the-scenes process of it. I would cook a really cool food and then we would present it on camera to the host Rhett and Link and they would taste test it and dissect it and all that, but we kind of just realized that we were missing out on a lot of really cool moments. Like how we made freezing cold Cheetos from scratch, which is maybe my favorite episode.

We took the idea of Flamin' Hot Cheetos that are obviously bright red and spicy. And we made freezing cold Cheetos from scratch, which had a like menthol effect. So they're these bright blue Cheetos that when you eat are actually like minty, but they deliver on the Cheeto crunch. To me, that's the epitome of what "Mythical Kitchen" does. You take one idea that exists and you sort of flip it 180 on its head, but then use an actual knowledge of food science and cookery to bring it to life.

How do you get your ingredients so close when you do copycat recipes?

I've always had an interest in the scientific aspect of food because I grew up eating so much processed food and I'm sort of fascinated by separating fact from fiction. Like people think that there is plastic in American cheese, but you can easily just go to the ingredients label of American cheese to see what the actual ingredients are. And then you find out the fascinating process that it's basically just melting cheddar into other forms of dairy and then cutting that into a loaf. And so, honestly, if you just read the ingredients label of a lot of foods and you know how to sort of decode it, you can figure out a lot of what's in it. Same with Flamin' Hot Cheetos, all the ingredients are there and listed by weight. You just have to know which natural flavors and stuff to use.

What would you say is the most difficult recipe to create?

We do a series called "Food Fears" where the idea is taking a food that someone might typically be afraid of, whether it's bull testicles or beef bile. Then we try to turn that into something not only delicious, but that somebody might recognize and be able to sort of flip their expectations on. We did one episode on bull testicles, where I vowed that I would figure out how to make bull testicle bacon and also bull testicle chorizo.

And that was just a multi-day, maybe multi-week process to figure it out. You would be surprised as to the amount of liquid that weeps from a bull testicle when you try and salt, curate, and smoke it. But it's my favorite challenge that we do because it's just such a huge flip from what the original ingredient is. And you have to put so much technique and so much creativity into it, but it's also what makes it the most rewarding and it tasted pretty good.

The best and worst meal Josh Scherer has created on the show

What would you say is some of the best food you've ever made on the show?

Probably the best tasting food comes from a series called "Fancy Fast Food" where the idea is we're taking something like a Big Mac, Baconator, or a Crunchwrap Supreme, and we're using the most premium ingredients we can possibly get and also trying to use a lot of creativity to sort of transform those ingredients. So, for the Baconator, we took A5 wagyu rib cap and ground that into a burger, and then we infused bacon with Islay Scotch and truffles and then we made our own bacon out of duck breast. But I think the best thing that we've done is the fancy Burger King Croissan'wich.

What would you say is the worst meal you've created?

That one's pretty easy. That's going to be the beef bile cheesecake. That was part of the "Will It" series ... we had to see if you could successfully turn beef bile into a cheesecake. It turns out, boy, you sure can't but it's actually cool because a lot of people don't know about beef bile as an ingredient. It's typically used in a Filipino soup called papaitan and the bile is used as a bittering agent to balance out the funkiness of offal or pig innards. But instead, we reduced the bile down to essentially a concentrate to where it was about 10 times the strength of normal beef bile. Then we whipped that into cream cheese and sugar and all the rest of the ingredients. I also made a salted bile caramel drizzle just because I thought it was hilarious. To this day, that is the worst thing I've ever tasted.

What did it taste like?

It was so bitter that your body almost wanted to reject it because bitterness like evolutionarily is your body telling you "this is poison, don't do it." And so, you took a bite and your body almost sent you into shock like you felt your hair tingle and your body was like "abort mission, get that out of here." It was so fun though. I really like just cooking things for the joke of it. I always tell my coworkers, we're not a restaurant. We're not trying to feed people. Our job is to make content using food as kind of the prop like the food can be the punchline. And I think that's what we're best at doing. I like making things as a joke and then a lot of times, we end up with something really cool and delicious.

Josh Scherer on which fast food is his favorite and what item he'll never eat again

What would you say is your favorite fast food place?

Favorite fast food place is Taco Bell hands down. I've been obsessed with them since I was a kid. I used to take my little $3 a week allowance and I would spend that at Taco Bell every single week on my way home. And I love their branding, how much they've innovated in this space. They're almost turning into like a lifestyle brand in and of themselves and I have nothing but respect and also their beef I think is just really well-seasoned. It's like a Tex-Mex bolognese. I think Taco Bell just hits all the marks for me.

Which would you say is your favorite fast food item on any menu?

I mean, the Crunchwrap Supreme to me changed the game all around. People thought you made all the shapes you could with the tortilla and then Taco Bell said, "Nope, you forgot about the hexagon." So I love that. But other than that, I mean the Double-Double from In-N-Out, being a Southern California guy, I mean, I have so much love for it. I would go there after basketball games in high school and I have so many fun nostalgic memories for it and it tastes the same every single time you get it, which is a beautiful thing.

What's a discontinued fast food item you wish would make a comeback?

The Santa Fe Gordita. It's an obscure one. It was one of the gorditas that originally came out when Taco Bell launched it I think in the late '90s, early 2000s when I was like 9 or 10, but it had black beans and corn in it. And I remember tasting it and being like, this is authentic Mexican food because I saw a full spec of black bean in it, but that one to me is really underrated. One that I don't want to come back is Taco Bell's Grilled Stuft Caesar Salad Burrito. Turns out you should not grill a salad inside of a burrito. It does not make a pleasant eating experience.

That was actually going to be my next question. What's a fast food item you will never eat again, would you say it's that one?

I think it's probably that one. ... My least favorite fast food item, which is weird because I think McDonald's has the best fast food breakfast overall and the sausage McMuffin with egg to me is one of my favorite things. Love their hash browns, love their hotcakes. I cannot stand the McGriddles.

A lot of people love, love, love them, but I think there's something about syrup with cheese and eggs that I can't stand. And so, it's like a little mini pancakified bun that has these like syrup crystals dotted inside, but of course, it's artificial maple syrup so you like unwrap this eggy cheesy mixture, and then you smell fake maple extract, and then you just bite. There's something that is so deeply unpleasant about it for me that I never want to eat the McGriddles again.

Josh Scherer explains why Guy Fieri is his favorite chef

Last question, who would be your dream celebrity chef to collaborate with on the show or to cook for?

Guy Fieri hands down. I have so much love for Guy Fieri. I think what he did with "Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives" really changed the food landscape for the better. And he is just a nice guy. He has been crapped on by so many people in the media in the past from New York Times to restaurant critics. I mean, even Anthony Bourdain talks so much smack on the guy, but he's just so nice. He uplifts the people around him. He shines a spotlight on local businesses and I feel like he really appreciates the type of food that I appreciate. So Guy Fieri is my number one forever and always.

Be sure to catch Josh Scherer cooking up wild food experiments on new episodes of "Mythical Kitchen" and pick up his book "The Culinary Bro-Down."