“I meet a lot of actors,” Jesse Tyler Ferguson says as he slices into a jalapeño. He’s in the kitchen of his home in the hills of Los Feliz, getting ready to welcome party guests who are set to arrive any minute. As he cooks, the Modern Family star discusses his admiration for—some might call it obsession with—the culinary world: “There’s just something about chefs.”
Ferguson and his husband, Justin Mikita, host a Christmas Eve potluck that’s become an annual tradition for their closest friends, many of whom hail from either the entertainment industry or the restaurant world. As guests start trickling in, you can tell who’s in the showbiz camp or the food-biz camp by their footwear: Actress Cat Deeley glides in on impossibly high heels; chef Kris Morningstar of Terrine in Los Angeles is in Converse; apron queen Ellen Bennett sports fashionable but sensible black patent leather oxfords.
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Bennett, whose larger-than-life personality could have landed her on stage or screen if she hadn’t found wild success with her chef-wear company Hedley & Bennett, announces her entrance by tap-dancing across the back patio, carrying a covered dish. “Oh my god, I love her,” Mikita gushes.
As the outdoor table fills with food and Champagne starts to flow, guests ooh and ahh and share the stories behind their special holiday dishes. Bennett has brought a beautiful savory galette topped with ricotta, radicchio and endive. Ferguson’s Modern Family costar Eric Stonestreet’s contribution is his Aunt Elsie’s decidedly non-gourmet Texas potatoes with cornflake topping—a.k.a. pure comfort food. Natasha Phan, the behind-the-scenes impresario for chef Roy Choi’s growing Kogi restaurant empire, sets down her colorful “Christmas salad” with arugula, fennel, pomegranate seeds and crispy wontons. “It’s inspired by the Luau Salad at The Cheesecake Factory,” she admits with a laugh. “But it’s nice to have something light on the table at a holiday meal.”
Ferguson and Mikita’s Christmas Eve potluck began four years ago as a way to turn a potentially stressful meet-the-parents evening into a food-and-friend-buoyed celebration. “Jesse’s family lives in Albuquerque and came out here to meet mine,” Mikita says. “We invited a few pals to...help,” he says. Everyone had such fun and started asking if they could plan on a redux as the holidays approached the next year.
Over time, the couple’s crew has become more and more food-centric. “The door for a lot of my good fortune is the wonderful thing that is Modern Family,” Ferguson explains. “There are chefs who are fans of the show, and when they reach out through social media, I say, ‘Oh my gosh, I love your restaurant!’ ”
In fact, many chefs were in the house when Ferguson won raves on Broadway for his recent portrayal of dozens of restaurant characters in the one-man show Fully Committed. “Mario Batali, Curtis Stone, Bobby Flay all came to see it,” he says, smiling. “It was amazing.”
Ferguson first became interested in food when he moved from New York to Los Angeles in 2008 and finally had room to cook. When he and Mikita bought their place in L.A., he upped his culinary game even more: The Spanish-style ranch had once been owned by a chef, and the kitchen is huge, airy and beautiful. Color-coordinated cookbooks line one wall, with a whole section dedicated to Food & Wine’s annual tomes. “I’m a longtime subscriber and fan,” he says.
Ferguson describes himself as an aspiring chef, and to prove it he’s started a food blog with a friend, the chef Julie Tanous. The blog, Julie & Jesse’s Recipes, features dishes the duo dubs “paleo light”: protein-and-vegetable-centric creations they prep, test, shoot and post every week. “It’s how we’re trying to eat right now,” Ferguson says. “Of course, there are cheat days.”
For the potluck today he’s made green chile– chicken enchiladas, a nod to his home state of New Mexico. For dessert, everyone gathers around the Christmas tree in the library to devour Tanous’s coconut layer cake. Comedian Patrick Kielty is talking wine with restaurateur Stephane Bombet (who brought shrimp à l’Américaine). A few folks comment on the fiery intensity of Ferguson’s enchiladas.
Giddy on pink Champagne and cake, the group spontaneously bursts into a spirited rendition of “Silent Night.” Aside from the shoes—and the more confident singing voices of the actors—you’d never know who made their name on the screen or who at the stove. In Hollywood these days, the star power belongs to both.
Besha Rodell is the restaurant critic for LA Weekly.