Comedian Caleb Hearon is probably my favorite person on Twitter. His front-facing videos are hilarious and relatable, but there’s something special about the uncanny way he portrays social discomfort without being unkind. Having recently moved from Chicago to Los Angeles (in the middle of a pandemic), Caleb is getting used to a lot of change, but he was able to hop on the phone to discuss chicken wings, his secret chili ingredient, and the worst meal he’s ever had.
How did you eat when you were traveling across the country in the middle of a pandemic?
Badly. The best meal we had was when we went from Colorado to Utah in one day. We had a nice Airbnb, so we looked up a bunch of places before we got there. Then as soon as we got to this town in Utah, we went to a steakhouse and got steak and pasta and took it back to our Airbnb and ate on the deck. That was really nice.
The scary thing was in Utah—at least the part that we were in—the place was packed. The patio was full, the dining room was full, really no one was wearing masks. Everyone was going about business like normal. And my mom was like “Do you want to eat here?” and I was like “God, no.” And she was like “Great, me neither.” I was so glad we were on the same page. No way, dude.
Have you been cooking at home more, or have you been ordering in more?
Cooking more, but that wasn’t a high bar to meet. Before COVID, I was doing multiple shows a week, sometimes more than one a night. On the way out the door in the morning, I might grab a granola bar and then go to my day job. Sometimes I would take groceries to work and make stuff there, but a lot of times I would eat out because it was a social thing. I would eat out at night because I had shows and I didn’t have time to go home. But I was definitely cooking more during the beginning of quarantine, and then towards the time when I started started packing up I was ordering out from all of my favorite spots in Chicago that I was going to miss. But it’s changed a lot, because I’m not staying out until 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning doing shows, and I’m getting up at, for me, a decent time and getting a decent breakfast. I’ll just really take my time. One thing I’ve been doing a lot—Are you Costco person? Are you a Costco fan?
I love Costco.
I love it. They have those packages of three different types of salmon. They’ll have a row of dill, a row that are cracked pepper, and a row that’s just plain salmon, and it’s all sliced up. I love to get that and a really hearty wholegrain bread with seeds—the kind that’s really chunky. Toast the bread, put a little layer of cream cheese on each slice, put down some different flavors of the salmon, and then do capers, and eat that as a breakfast toast. Have some iced coffee. I always have iced coffee in the fridge. There’s a Silk almond creamer that is vanilla-flavored that is so good; I love to make a little iced coffee situation with that.
I usually will go pretty late in the day without having lunch because I’m having a big breakfast. Around two or three o’clock I’ll be like “Oh shit, I should eat something.” So I’ll have a salad or ramen. I’ll take a bag of ramen and put curry powder and soy sauce and some sriracha in it and really make it good. I love a peanut sauce. I’ll put it on any kind of any kind of Asian noodle. Or if I order Thai noodles of any kind—like phat kee mao or something—I always get a side of peanut sauce too. Especially if I’m trying a new place. I’m like “If the noodle isn’t very good, at least I have a peanut sauce to make it better.”
One thing that has changed a lot is my roommate that I moved out to L.A. with is a vegetarian. So I have been eating a lot more vegetable-forward meals. At Costco I’ll get veggie pot stickers instead of meat ones, but I did go back and get the meat ones eventually because I was like “Damn. I miss those.” Or she’ll make a veggie stir fry and I’ll have that for dinner because it’s what she made.
It’s kind of a cop out for me to be like “Oh, I was too busy to eat healthy before.” You can make time, but I’m less stressed because I don’t have to run around everywhere and I’m like “Oh, I would like to have a nice meal.” And it’s just kind of normal, right? It’s a thing that I might have enjoyed in normal before-life. I think a reason that I find myself eating healthier during this is I don’t feel like I’ve had a second in the last several months where I haven’t been thinking about health. Some part of me is like “If you get COVID and you’ve been eating vegetables, it will be better.” And it’s not realistic! It’s not valid! But I’m like “If you’re eating vegetables you won’t get it.”
In a couple of your videos there’s a focus on awkward restaurant interactions. My favorite is the one where you’re taking someone to a restaurant that they didn’t really want to go to. Are you that person?
That video was actually inspired by—she will be so mad at me for this—one of my best friends in the world, Katie. A bunch of our friends went to St. Louis because two of our friends from college were getting married. We stayed with Katie because her family lives in St. Louis. There couldn’t have been more build up! She was like “I’m going to take you guys to the most amazing, authentic, untouchable, undeniable Mexican restaurant you’ve ever been to in your life. It’s a staple in my family. We do not see each other without going. The people who work there may as well be family…” We were like “Alright girl, we we will go.” No one even suggested the idea of doing something else because she would die if we didn’t go.
We go to—and I want to be fair—I think it’s the ugliest restaurant I’ve ever seen in my life. We go to this restaurant and it’s so ugly and I was like “You know what? Really good places be that way sometimes. It’s probably ugly on the outside, but a real find!” We go in. No one seats us. No one greets us. We finally take our own table in the back. It’s dingy, there are flickering lights. They bring the water. Each one has one melted ice cube. The whole experience from top to bottom is terrible. Two of our friends are vegetarians and they get vegetarian tacos. The vegetarian tacos they bring out are two hard shell tacos with a cooked vegetable mix that was clearly from a frozen bag. And it wasn’t all the way cooked—just cauliflower in a hard taco shell. I’ve never had a worse meal in my life. We could not stop laughing. Our friend Katie—of course, we’re dragging her the entire meal—the whole time she’s just on the defense. She’s like “It’s really odd! They might be new ownership!” And we’ve never let it go. That poor girl. It’s probably one of those things where her family always loved it, and they know exactly what to get. We probably also did happen to come on an off day, you know what I mean?
The other video I love is the one where you’re on a date having fun with the server. Do you have fun with the server?
I do have fun with the server. I did go on a date with a guy who—he didn’t turn out to be charming like the story goes—but I just knew instantly. We had this super fun, cute server. She was like my mom’s age and she clearly had been working there forever. She was so on top of it; she knew the menu like the back of her hand. We were joking around and like having a good time. I love when someone’s having a good time at work, even though you totally don’t have to because those jobs suck a lot of the time. I’m having a blast with her and this guy I’m on a date with—it’s our first date—is just like “Yeah. Diet Coke. Thanks.” And then she leaves and he doesn’t say anything but he’s kind of rolling his eyes, like it was a task to have an interaction with this fun server.
And I was like “Oh, this will never work.” It’s so boring. Maybe this is just me being a hypersensitive liberal, but it feels classist for you to be like “Ugh, now I have to engage with the help.” Did it really burden you to smile at a waiter? What is wrong with you?
Are you enjoying the food scene in L.A.?
Well, not really yet. We we ordered from a Thai restaurant that was pretty good when we first got here. It was in Burbank. It was one of the only places that was open after curfew, which I think is illegal, but they were doing what they were doing. All I know about Burbank is the planes fly on the fucking streets out there and no one is talking about it. But let’s see. I found a cheap chicken wing place in my neighborhood that is really not quality, but it is doing what I need it to do right now.
When I was in L.A. in January for shows I was like “I want to take the rental car one day. I want no work, no meetings, no anything. I want to just take the rental car and drive up the coast.” We drove up the Pacific Coast Highway and stopped at little places, and looked at the water and got out and walked around, and went up into the mountains, and were mostly listening to music. And then we just happened upon this little restaurant right by the coast called Neptune’s Net. It was all outdoors—everyone was sitting at picnic tables and there were a bunch of bikers there. I don’t know if it’s a regular biker spot, but there happened to be a ton of them. There was a surfing spot right across the highway so a bunch of people were throwing their surfboards down and coming over. I was like “This is the cutest thing that’s ever happened to me.” I feel like I had crab cakes. I had great seafood of some kind. That was the last L.A. food experience I had, which was before I even moved here.
Speaking of seafood, I noticed in your Twitter profile pic, it seems you’re holding a bag of shrimp?
Yeah! That’s at Asian Cajun in Chicago. It’s my favorite boil place. They do seafood boil, so that was probably what I normally ate, which was the everything sauce—which is all of their flavors—and shrimp and sausage and corn.
There’s a seafood boil place in Chicago that a lot of people like called Low Country, and it’s perfectly fine, but it’s always so busy. It’s a very particular type of clientele, it’s expensive. And then there’s the one that I’m at in my profile picture—Asian Cajun—that’s a little bit further away, but in the same-ish neighborhood, cheaper, family owned, way cooler, a much more diverse clientele, way quirkier space. I love finding the place that’s my place. It’s so much fun to live in a place long enough to be like “If you want this thing, I’ll tell you where we should go and where we shouldn’t go.”
I’ve been thinking about what that’s going to look like post-COVID. A lot of people are going to lose their special spots. Not to completely bring down the tone of this conversation.
No! It’s completely valid. My mom and my stepdad were really worried about the one restaurant in the town that they live near. It’s a little corner restaurant where everyone goes to eat, and they know the owner, and everyone hangs out there. That restaurant may as well be a community center. It’s really not just about food. It’s where everyone goes when they get off work. It’s where people go when there’s a wedding or a funeral, like anything. Luckily, I think they’re okay and they’re reopened now and they’re doing better. But people are going to be missing those spots. It sucks.
Do you have any strong opinions about a particular food?
I am very particular about chicken wings. I hate a jumbo chicken wing. People are like “The bigger, the better!” When they’re so big, it’s a bad ratio, because the sauce is only on the outside. It starts to mess with the ratio and now you’re just eating chicken. I love a smaller chicken wing and a lot of people complain because they’re like “Oh, too small.” Well, get more. You can get more of them if you need to.
Have you tried cooking chicken wings in quarantine?
I have perfected, over the years, a recipe that I really like for chicken wings and a process that I really like. But I haven’t really done it during quarantine. There’s no particular reason, I guess, other than I’ve just been kind of scared of meat because I’ve heard some stuff about meat packing plants during COVID. Not that I don’t trust folks to be careful, but in the back of my mind I’m like, “Well, maybe I just don’t risk it.”
But when I’m making wings I do a brown sugar and honey buffalo sauce. Anytime I’m making a sauce that’s not Buffalo, I do the same thing. I do a honey-soy-sriracha sauce when I make shrimp or salmon. I love to mix honey and a hot sauce to do a little situation. If it’s not honey, it’s molasses. It just gives it a kick, and a thickness, and if you cook it long enough it gets really sticky and kind of starts to caramelize.
I’m very particular about ranch dressing. I make my own. My mom worked at a bar when I was growing up, putting herself through college. She worked at the one bar in our hometown that had these great chicken wings. She started making the ranch. It’s not special. It’s not super unique. I’m not like a chef. It’s the Hidden Valley Ranch packet, but instead of making it the way they make it—16 ounces of sour cream and the packet—I do the 16 ounces of sour cream, the packet, a little bit of salt, a pinch of garlic powder and then add like 3/4 cup of mayonnaise, which makes it thicker and better. If I want something from a restaurant that I’m going to want ranch with, I make sure that I have the stuff to make my own. So much ranch is so runny and bad, and it drives me insane! I hate it! I think this is a very Midwestern thing, at least that’s what people have told me—but I love it with pizza. Ranch and pizza is so good.
I love it too, and it horrifies people from areas with pizza identities. There’s something to be said for freeing yourself from pizza rules and letting yourself enjoy new flavor combinations.
Right. Being from the Midwest—and maybe this isn’t entirely about being from the Midwest, surely some of this is just growing up poor—but my favorite dishes growing up were like tater tot casserole, which is ground beef, tater tots, and cream of mushroom; and Beanie Weenies, which is pork and beans, cut up hot dogs, and brown sugar. Truly atrocious food.
Did you ever have the cocktail sausages with the grape jelly and Heinz sauce?
Yes. You have to. And—this is a big cooking secret—when I make chili, I always put grape jelly in it. You have to, have to, have to put grape jelly in your chili. I love to make any chili recipe using the Heinz chili sauce, and subbing turkey for beef, and adding a cup and a half or two cups of grape jelly. It is so good.
Have you ever heard of a pear salad? It’s like half of a canned pear with a dollop of mayonnaise, and a sprinkling of shredded cheddar cheese on top.
Oh, my word.
I thought the mayonnaise was cottage cheese, and I love mayonnaise but unexpected mayonnaise is not my favorite.
That’s like if you go through a drive through somewhere and you’re like “I always get Dr. Pepper from here,” but for some reason you said the wrong thing or they gave you the wrong thing, you take a big drink thinking you’re getting Dr. Pepper and then it’s unsweet tea and your body just freaks out. Your body is like “What’s happening? I’m being poisoned.” And no, you’re not. Your brain just thought you were getting something else. It’s visceral. It will just ruin me for like five minutes. I’m like I have no idea what’s going on.