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'Love Hard' star Jimmy O. Yang on his passion for cooking: It's 'like doing stand-up'

The comedian is a big fan of the "eyeballing method" of cooking: "My parents don’t write anything down, so neither do I."
Jimmy O. Yang loves cooking "good, delicious, comforting street stuff" — nothing fancy.
Jimmy O. Yang loves cooking "good, delicious, comforting street stuff" — nothing fancy.Jimmy O. Yang via Instagram

Already an accomplished stand-up comedian, actor and writer, Jimmy O. Yang has a new title to add to his long list of achievements: romantic leading man in a Christmas flick. The success of "Love Hard" — which made it to the No. 1 spot on Netflix — is definitely something he'll be celebrating this season.

But Yang won’t be celebrating at home in Los Angeles this year. Instead, he told me, he's heading to Thailand for the holidays.

So, perhaps no chestnuts roasting on an open fire, but one of the things he’s looking most forward to is finally trying Thai food straight from the source. He is a big fan of watching Bangkok-based food personality, Mark Wiens, and even made pad kra pao (Thai basil chicken) for this past Thanksgiving at home. He’s curious how the food will taste in his travels as opposed to the restaurants he frequents at home. “It’ll just help me know what good food is supposed to taste like, and how it is different," he said.

It’s no mystery that Yang loves food. He has been frequently featured to discuss food on camera and in podcasts throughout the past few years, even writing about it for Bon Appetit. And throughout the pandemic, Yang has been showing off his culinary talents in his YouTube series "Jimmy’s Kitchen."

His videos show how excited and brave he is when it comes to cooking. He approaches every step eagerly, from chopping Thai chiles with his bare hands to taking the occasional hot oil splatter in stride. As he's progressed as a cook, he'll often improvise with whatever ingredients he has at home or in his garden. Whether he uses tequila in place of white wine for shrimp scampi, or tosses red cabbage into a creamy mushroom fettuccine, all his dishes have looked undisputedly delicious.

"I mean, I was home with nothing to do, and eating was something I was going to have to do anyway once everything shut down," he said. "I began cooking chicken enchiladas because I couldn’t get them from the restaurant I usually order from, and I thought there was no way I could do it. But then I did, and realized how easy it was! The videos were just a pet project that now became a great way for me and others to hang out at my house, and it’s so much fun. It helps me to stay creative, and keeps the juices flowing."

Cooking is a lot like doing stand-up.

Jimmy O. Yang

When asked if he considers himself a good cook, he replied, "I wouldn’t say 'good' because good is relative. Being good is not as important as me actually liking to cook, and I’m always looking to see how I can be better at it. Cooking is a lot like doing stand-up. If it tastes bad, just come back tomorrow night and do it all over again!"

Yang has also learned a few things about himself as a cook as he continues on his culinary journey. He’s a fan of the "eyeballing method" of cooking and not writing out his recipes: "My parents don’t write anything down, so neither do I."

He's also not interested in making desserts: "There’s too many measurements involved." (Understandable.)

He emphasizes that, even when he's busy with work, he actually enjoys cooking. “I was only really able to make dumplings while I was in Vancouver, filming 'Love Hard,' just because of the working hours. But, I think generally a lot of people who don’t like to cook are people who just get really stressed out about it. I actually like it a lot."

Though frequently told by friends and fans that he should start a podcast, he much prefers to do these cooking videos instead. It offers up another way to connect with his fans, and he especially enjoys how many of them offer their own cooking tips in the comments section, like adding sugar to his fish sauce or the difference between holy basil and Thai basil.

Cooking has also given him the opportunity to connect with friends as well. For his most recent holiday cooking episode, he cooked alongside his "Love Hard" co-star and friend, Harry Shum Jr. They had fun brainstorming what they could cook together and decided to make sudado de pollo (Colombian chicken stew) and tostones, as it is one of Shum’s favorite dishes.

In 2019, Yang formed a production company and "creator driven incubator," Crab Club, Inc., with Jessica Gao and Ken Cheng, named after a recurring dinner party between friends that would take place during the height of Dungeness crab season. The parties eventually evolved into an "exclusive salon for Asian American and BIPOC creatives" as well as a "hub for original, cross-genre, and multi-platform projects focused on culturally relevant and authentically diverse stories."

As he continues to expand his culinary knowledge, he has his sights set on specific dishes he'd like to conquer.

"Definitely hope to make Shanghainese dumplings, or some more South American dishes with Harry (Shum Jr.) since he grew up in Costa Rica. I’d really like to learn how to make my dad’s red pork, if my parents would tell me their recipes!" We shared a laugh because we agreed that when our parents actually approve of our cooking, "That’s when we know it’s good!"

"Late at night when I’m supposed be watching quality Emmy-award-winning television programs, I watch this YouTube series, "Japanese Noodles Udon Soba Osaka Nara," he added. "It’s great because there’s like, no dialogue, and it’s just someone going into a chef’s kitchen in Japan and watching them prepare food. The other night, I was just watching him make curry udon. It was like, the best kind of ASMR to fall asleep to.”

So, what should we expect to come out of Yang's kitchen in the future? Nothing fancy.

"Hopefully just seeking more good, delicious, comforting street stuff," he said. "Probably none of that gastronomy stuff. I don’t got time for that."