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The one food Jake Gyllenhaal thinks everyone should know how to make

"That might be the hardest question anyone's ever asked me," the actor said while speaking to TODAY about cooking, which he said his world is "centered around."
Gyllenhaal credits his parents with his approach to caring for his body.Loic Venance / AFP via Getty Images

Jake Gyllenhaal is willing to transform for an acting role, even if it means upending his diet. The actor lost 30 pounds for the movie "Nightcrawler," and gained 28 pounds of muscle for the "Southpaw," eating six to seven meals a day to do so.

And for a recent advertisement for JUST Egg, a plant-based egg product, Gyllenhaal ate vegan omelets —a whole lot of them.

"I don't know how many pans of eggs I made, but I actually ate every one of them," Gyllenhaal, who is an investor in JUST Egg, told TODAY.

The ad pokes fun at the lengths celebrities like Gyllenhaal will go to stay in "superstar shape." Comedian J.B. Smoove narrates Gyllenhaal's efforts, including trying out something called "galactic robo knight training." Serena Williams was in another version of the ad.

Gyllenhaal says the ad, while clearly satirical, isn't too far off from the actual prep work that goes into roles. "I am interested in making things interesting when you're trying to train and work out for a particular project," Gyllenhaal said. "I'd give 'galactic robo knight training' a try, if it existed."

Although eating healthy is a means to an end for Gyllenhaal, it's also a source of joy, and always has been.

Looking back on his childhood, Gyllenhaal said he wasn't the kind of kid who sneered at Brussels sprouts and broccoli — he was the kind who took second helpings. "I actually enjoyed vegetables and grew up learning about them and being really curious about them," Gyllenhaal said.

Gyllenhaal credits his parents with his approach to caring for his body. "I was taught that eating as close as you can to where you live if you can, it's best for you," he said, reminiscing about regular trips they took to the nearby farmers market in California.

Now, he said, he's at the age where he can concede his parents were right about a lot of things — "especially plant-based diets."

"My father was already healthy going up and trying different things. he was the first person to introduce me to soy milk. He cooked things with tofu. When you have models like that, it influences you," he said. "I think that's been passed onto me."

Today, Gyllenhaal said he eats mostly, but not exclusively, plant-based foods. The movement toward a plant-based diet was gradual, stemming from a combination of watching documentaries and simply tracking how he felt based on what he ate.

"There wasn't one specific thing," he said. “I find I when I’m eating right, and particularly when I eat more plant-based, I always have more energy,” he said.

Meals — and the lead-up to them — remain what his world is "centered around," the actor said. "Cooking is what I enjoy most in terms of preparation, and also spending time with people I love," Gyllenhaal said.

Below, we spoke to the actor a bit more about his eating habits — including his favorite indulgences.

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

How do you fit cooking into your routine?

I don't always have the time. I sometimes end up ordering and going out.

But making time is important. Cooking, for me, is an important part of my day. Even if it's just for five minutes, scrambling some eggs or making a piece of toast. Sometimes, I like to daydream about recipes I dream of making and plan them in my mind.

Cooking is where my family all came together, and still comes together. It's where great stories are told, and where we get to learn about what's going on and what happened during the day. I don't always have time, but I love cooking for people — so I find the time.

What's the first food you ever learned to make?

When I was very young, for Thanksgiving, I was always assigned bread. My mom always made this potato dough bread. She also made banana bread, which is a family staple and my favorite.

So, our secret banana bread recipe was the first thing I ever learned to make. There is one one ingredient that my mom would not be happy if I shared because it's actually good for you, but I can't tell the secret.

I will tell you another special ingredient in banana bread: Bananas. There are definitely bananas in it.

What's your go-to food if you want to impress someone?

I believe there's complexity in simplicity — so probably pasta Pomodoro. It's comforting, but to make it well is hard. When you're using only a few ingredients, it actually becomes more difficult.

I have a dear friend who happens to have a restaurant in London, and (I use) her recipe. Another somewhat secret recipe — but it's pretty simple. Basically it's garlic, basil, olive oil, and really, really good tomatoes. Bring out pasta Pomodoro, and everyone’s pretty happy.

What's your favorite indulgence?

There's so many. But if I had to go, vanilla cake with vanilla icing.

What's your definition of comfort food?

I made fresh sourdough pizza from my starter that I started a few years ago during the pandemic and it's still around. We try to copy Wolfgang Puck and do sourdough pizza with cream cheese and Russ and Daughters' Nova (salmon) on top of it.

What's one thing that everyone should know how to make?

That's a hard question. That might be the hardest question anyone's ever asked me. At least a salad. Or toast some bread. If you can't toast some bread, I don't know what to say.