The musician and future “Sweeney Todd” star likes to keep things simple in the kitchen
In addition to being an actor and Grammy winner who’s sold more than 25 million records, musician Josh Groban is also a bit of a wine nerd. Over the past several years, Groban has traveled across the globe — both literally and figuratively — in pursuit of learning all about wine and how it’s produced. And when the COVID-19 pandemic hit and everyone was at home, he also spent a ton of time learning how to cook food to pair with his favorite bottles.
Now, Groban is working in partnership with California winery Josh Cellars to celebrate “Joshgiving,” a seasonally appropriate initiative that encourages all Joshes — and the rest of us — to engage in acts of gratitude ahead of Thanksgiving. The winery and Groban also donated $100,000 to arts nonprofit Sing for Hope. “Everybody’s felt a little bit isolated and less connected over the last couple of years, and through food and wine and art, we all feel very privileged to have a platform to reconnect people after a time of real darkness,” Groban says. “So when I got the call to be a part of this first-ever Joshgiving, I was so excited and thrilled.”
In the midst of Joshgiving, Eater sat down with Groban to talk about learning to cook, what he’d cook for a special-occasion dinner, and whether or not he’s considered which wine he’d pair with a pie made out of human meat as he prepares for his upcoming role in the Broadway revival of iconic musical Sweeney Todd.
Eater: I hear that you’re a good cook. What are some of your favorite things to cook at home?
Josh Groban: During the pandemic, there was a lot of time for me to learn some new skills, and I started to realize that working my way around ingredients and the nature of cooking was very similar to the creative nature of making music. I learned how to broil, which was huge for me, and I can make pretty much any kind of egg dish you could imagine. I also learned how to make pasta from scratch, which is something I really love to do now.
During that process of learning your way around the kitchen, what were some of your most memorable experiences?
The amazing thing for me was taking ingredients that were really kind of intimidating, like a vegetable I hadn’t ever heard of. I thought that you have to do all these things in order for it to seem edible, but it’s amazing what a little heat and oil and garlic can do. It was great to watch these raw ingredients transform into super-delicious edible creations. I wanted to support local farms that were struggling during that time, and I’d go and pick up these surprise boxes of produce and work my way from there. I’d go online and find recipes for whatever ingredients that I wouldn’t have normally bought on my own, and that gave me some extra skills. I also did a lot of those MasterClasses online, with Thomas Keller and Gordon Ramsay and Alice Waters, to learn basic knife skills and things like that.
So you basically just spent the pandemic giving yourself a whole bunch of Chopped challenges?
I definitely gave myself a series of Chopped challenges, but I made it easy on myself. I couldn’t be eliminated from my own home, but that doesn’t mean that I didn’t make some dishes that would definitely have gotten me eliminated. I’m just glad nobody had to see those.
As your partnership with Josh Cellars indicates, you’re also a wine fan. How do you find the right bottle to go with whatever you’re making for dinner?
One of my favorite things about wine is the pairings, it’s something that really is a passion. Wine can match so nicely with food, with an environment, a style of dish that you’re trying out. And the only way you can learn how that works is just through tasting and trying. You can read about it, you can work with great sommeliers and cooks, but you’ve really got to taste it. There are so many great wines out there, and you can mix and match those to see what works for you as opposed to just sticking with the things that the experts say you should have. Sometimes I like to mix it up and have a big white wine with a steak, and sometimes that’s really good. Maybe it’s blasphemous to say that.
Scenario time: If you were making dinner for or eating with someone whose wine preferences are the polar opposite to yours, what do you do? How do you meet in the middle?
I’ve never actually been in a situation where somebody has a wine that I just really don’t want to drink. I can’t drink a lot of Champagne for instance — I’m a lightweight with Champagne — so I’ll just kind of sip it to be polite. I’ve never really had a Sideways moment, though, where I’ve said I’m not drinking a certain kind of wine. One of the great things about wine is how social it is, and how you can discover new things because somebody’s opened a bottle that you might not have expected. So now I give every wine a chance.
For someone that’s new to drinking wine, what do you think is the best way to learn? Is it just drinking a lot of wine?
Other than doing your research online and opening bottles and tasting wine, I like to talk to people who know a lot about wine and make it for a living as often as possible. I like to get to know people, like [Josh Cellars winemaker] Joseph Carr. It gives me a chance to learn about the process in a deeper way than just popping open a bottle at dinner. I also really like to travel to wine country. I’ve been lucky to go to a lot of places where wine is made, like California and France and Italy. I want to know what the winemaker was thinking when they decided to use this varietal or that varietal, or this barrel versus another.
It seems like you’ve grown into a real wine nerd.
I’ll take that as a compliment, but there’s just so much more to drink. Wine can be an expensive hobby, and there’s a bit of a bro culture to it that has started to develop, and I’m just not into that. I’m fascinated by wine, but I’m not snobby about it. I really am interested in all aspects of wine, but you can get a really delicious bottle of wine for under $50, sometimes under 20 bucks. And you can also get a $300 bottle of wine from somewhere with a prestigious name and it’s just fine. Sometimes hype can outdo the actual quality, and there’s a lot of similarities with that in the music world. In music, just as in food and wine, it’s fun to find the stuff that you like and figure out your tastes.
Time for another scenario: If you were cooking dinner for a special occasion, like hosting a dinner party or an at-home date night, what would you cook?
Well, I’ve got to keep it simple because every time I go super-complicated, I get a little too stressed out with all the multitasking. If I have more than two burners going, it’s going to turn from a romantic night to just a bunch of opening windows to keep the fire alarm off. I’d probably make something simple, like fish — maybe salmon and some fresh vegetables? With a nice grain on the side, or maybe a pasta like orzo. And I’d open a bottle of the Josh Cellars cabernet and have a nice, big glass.
Okay, weird question: You’re currently preparing for a starring role in the upcoming Broadway revival of the musical Sweeney Todd—
Are you going to ask what wine I would pair with a human meat pie? I guess I’d probably switch to the merlot.
I was just going to ask if you had been working on your own, non-human-meat meat pie recipe.
I’ll leave that in Mrs. Lovett’s capable hands. I simply provide the ingredients in my role as Sweeney. But I’ve never actually made a meat pie. My girlfriend is British, and she introduced me to the cottage pie the other day, and I thought it was very yummy. I expect that I’m going to learn about shaving, and a lot about barber skills. And through my extraordinary costar Annaleigh Ashford, I’m going to learn a lot about baking.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.