South Philly’s Josh Schonewolf turned his quest for cooking skills into a blog and web-series titled “Josh Can’t Cook,” which in its relatively short existence has already been a top contender for “Best Local Blogger” in the PHL17 “What’s Hot In Philly” awards. Recently Josh sat down with PGC’s Alejandro Morales over appetizers in the Gayborhood to dish the good, the bad, and the Brussels sprouts.
Alejandro Morales: How long has Josh Can’t Cook been going?
Josh Schonewolf: Over a year.
AM: How did it start?
JS: It started in a swimming pool when my friend said to me, “It would be hilarious if you had your own cooking show.” I had this light-bulb moment, and I thought, yes, that would be really funny because I’m the worst cook that I know.
AM: And he knew that.
JS: He knew that.
JS: From when I brought baked ziti to a dinner party and it looked like someone died in a bowl. I told the people there that I had reinvented lasagna. I would always hide behind the jokes, because my cooking has just been this collection of embarrassments. And the thing is that I really tried.
AM: Why did you try so hard, do you think?
JS: Because I can’t do it. You know how some people are terrible with driving directions? I’m terrible with kitchen directions. I feel like there are these alarm clocks going off every ten seconds and I get overwhelmed. Over the course of blogging, I’ve been getting more readers, and they send me advice, and I follow it, and I get better. So it’s like, through writing the blog, I’m learning a lot that I never thought I would know.
AM: So after your friend suggested you start a cooking blog, how long did it take to get rolling?
JS: I started filming a week later. My friend is a videographer and editor, so he started filming me and it went from there. All of a sudden I had a website — not all of a sudden, I mean, I wrote it. And it got attention. So I was like, I guess I should write more.
AM: How far into it before it got to a point where you found it resonating with people?
JS: About two months. That’s when people started writing emails, and people would stop me in public and ask, “Are you Josh Can’t Cook? I made your croissant French toast.” A couple nights ago I was at Woody’s, and this guy was like, “I made one of your salads for a first date. I didn’t know what to make so I went to your website, and it came out great.” I guess the blog got around by word of mouth, because little by little, I was getting invited to things I wouldn’t get invited to otherwise. The funniest thing is that some people think I actually can cook and this is some mystery that I’m creating, but it’s not. It’s really not. People who know me know that I can’t cook.
AM: What are some memorable blunders you’ve had in the kitchen?
JS: Recently I made an omelet, and I thought, I really like cinnamon, so I poured like half a bottle of it into the eggs, and the omelet turned to sand. It was burnt and ruined! Oh, and there was something worse — I made this pizza with this whole bag of Gorgonzola cheese. Apparently there’s such a thing as too much Gorgonzola cheese. I made the pizza with that, and pears, and all this other shit I found on a menu somewhere, and it did not turn out right. My friend’s house smelled for like a month. It was the worst smell ever.
AM: What about some successes?
JS: I have this Brussels Sprouts recipe that I like. It’s Brussels sprouts, a little bit of olive oil, a little bit of truffle salt, some pepper, and you just throw it in a wok for eight minutes and it’s awesome.
AM: Have you ever tried to impress a guy with cooking?
JS: I’m good with breakfast.
AM: What’s your magical breakfast secret?
JS: Garnish. You can make some bullshit pancake thing, and if you add a sprig of rosemary, they’ll think you’re a good cook. Put any garnish on something basic, and people will be like, wow. It’s the same thing with garlic. If you walk into a kitchen and smell garlic cooking, doesn’t even matter what’s in the pot.
AM: Who are your culinary heroes?
JS: The Food Network people, like Giada. Anybody that really dumbs it down… Paula Deen. I hate Rachel Ray. She’s like the last chick at the bar. I just don’t like that kind of personality. But I do like learning from women. So yeah. Giada.
AM: What about baking?
JS: Baking is so much harder than cooking. My sisters are good at that, and they’ve tried to take me under their wings, but it doesn’t work. Like… How do I explain this without sounding like an idiot? I thought powdered sugar was flour. You fill in the rest. That was the most disgusting whatever-I-was-making ever. I just remember it being disgusting. So I can’t bake either.
AM: How are things progressing with Josh Can’t Cook now?
JS: Now, it seems that people are interested in meeting with me, talking about projects, having me audition for things. I never thought that kind of stuff was on the table for me before, but now I love the idea of having a cooking show. I just feel like being the eternal student on camera would really engage the viewer and benefit them. If you are as bad as they are, they’re going to relate to you and you’re all going to learn together.
AM: What if you got really good at cooking?
JS: “Josh Can Cook, Sort of.” I think a good cook is the one who has cooked for a long time, so even if I had to change the name, that wouldn’t happen for a few years. You can’t just learn how to cook in a day.
AM: Any dream dishes?
JS: I would love to cook a whole barbecue. Like barbecue-mania. People that are barbecuing always look so confident.
AM: Do people ever try to cook for you, or show you how to cook?
JS: Yes. It’s funny, everybody has a recipe, like something their mom shows them. That’s what’s so fun about cooking, all the stories, what people like, what they think is delicious. I just find that so interesting. People really love food and they love talking about it, and that’s what it all comes down to. That’s why I’m doing this.