Dan Levy Reveals Why He Made a Cooking Show When He Doesn't Know How To Cook

The Schitt's Creek alum is hosting 'The Big Brunch' on HBO Max.

Schitt’s Creek star Dan Levy, 39, hosts The Big Brunch (Nov. 10 on HBO Max), an eight-episode cooking-competition reality series in which talented chefs vie for a $300,000 cash prize by serving up their best brunch recipes. Levy also judges, alongside with restaurateurs Sohla El-Waylly and Will Guidara.

What sparked the idea for The Big Brunch

A love of my friends who work in the culinary arts, many of whom were affected by the pandemic [and] restaurants shutting down. I love their desire to provide for people in the most human way, which is to feed us.

How did you cast the cooks? 

To qualify, these people had to be doing something extraordinary within their communities. Oftentimes, chefs are doing more than working in a kitchen; they’re mentoring people, and we get to explore that. We’ve found 10 people who are doing amazing things and telling incredible stories through their food.

Can you cook? 

No, no, no, no, no! Nobody wants me cooking for them. I am the ultimate dinner party guest—I’m incredibly grateful, I will eat pretty much anything—but no, I cannot cook. I don’t have the instinct. I can make pancakes, and those sometimes come from a box.

What are you most proud of with Schitt’s Creek? 

When you set out to make a show, you try to have a good time and you try to tell stories with as much clarity, focus, intention and integrity as you possibly can. Did I have any idea that kids would be coming up to me on the street saying, “I came out to my parents using dialogue from your show”? The answer’s no. Has it made the experience that much more meaningful for me? Absolutely.

In your Tostitos commercials, you introduce the idea that you suffer from FOMO [fear of missing out]. 

I think we all suffer from a little bit of FOMO. But when you’re not the popular kid in high school, you miss out on a lot of things. Granted, a lot of what you’ve missed out on is not worth worrying about. I always like to be where the action is. Fortunately, I’ve grown into a person who likes to create the action for myself. That’s helped to solve that problem for me.

What is your idea of the perfect brunch menu? 

Options! What I loved about doing the show was that I got to eat such a wide cross-section of foods, oftentimes all at once. There were definitely selfish motivations behind putting the show together. You do have to train yourself to eat with a lot of restraint, knowing how much food you have to consume within a day, and you need to leave space in your stomach to be genuinely open to everybody’s meal and not completely exhausted by the time the last person shows up.

There was one episode where you packed some of the food to go home. 

There was so much food that I packed to go. I would have friends over at the end of the night, I would share the food with them. It was an amazing thing.

So if you don’t cook, how much did you depend on your co-judges Sohla and Will to guide you when you were making your final decisions?

Oh, gosh, I think that’s what was so great about the judging panel was that we had this cross-section of myself, an enthusiast; Sohla, who is incredibly educated on food, how it should be prepared and the technical elements of it; and then Will, who’s speaking from a business and a hospitality standpoint. You have perspectives in all areas, and it was those conversations that really were eye-opening to me.

My job was to really listen to Will and to Sohla. Yes, I had my own opinions, and if something really stood out to me, I would stand firm on my convictions. But it was really listening to them. When it came to who stayed and who had to go home, that conversation was really interesting. Sohla had certain technical reasons and Will had certain people that he thought should stay or go home for hospitality-based reasons, and I loved them all, so it was a tougher call for me.

I fought for them because I was seeing them behind the scenes, and I had a more intimate look into who they were as people. I was also able to bring into the conversation a little bit of know-how that I was able to accrue over the course of their cooks because I was in the kitchen quite often. I was able to color between the lines. If there was someone that had a particularly bad cook, I might fight for them because I knew what happened or why it happened. It’s just something I don’t think we necessarily see a lot in the judging panels of shows like this, that kind of transparency, and the awareness of the drama that happens on the show.

Do you watch other competition shows? What are some of your favorites? 

I have only watched The Great British Baking Show and a little bit of Top Chef, I think. But I was also a host of The Great Canadian Baking Show for the first two years up in Canada, which happened very much by mistake. It was a wonderful surprise, but it was something I wasn’t expecting. What I was able to bring to Big Brunch was everything I had learned behind the scenes of what made a great series. To me, Baking Show is the ideal cooking competition, because it’s positive and celebratory.

There’s also more science involved in baking than in cooking. You need to be more precise in baking. 

Oh, yeah, but in the end, I’m less interested in people in competition with each other and more interested in people in competition with their ovens, or people in competition with their nerves. That, to me, is the great competition. I think something that we tried to adopt on this, too, was the idea that our chefs have got to love each other and support each other. I think the level of support that you see over the course of the season is really heartwarming.

Even up until the end, the final episode where you have chefs helping each other when they’re in a bind, when the stakes are at their highest, it’s quite remarkable. For me, coming out of the pandemic and feeling very strange about the world, shooting this show really restored my faith in the goodness of people.

What was it like on the Schitt’s Creek set? 

We as a cast and a crew became so close. It was such a loving environment, so collaborative. We didn’t want it to end, it just had to. The story sort of decided to end itself. I never wanted to overstay our welcome. When I got the hint that things were wrapping themselves up, you have to make that call. As friends and as co-workers, we could have done it forever.

What about a reunion show at some point? 

I would love nothing more, but I’m so proud of where we ended things with that show that the idea has to be really, really good. It has to be deserving of everyone’s time and energy to come back and do it again. So my hope is that at some point that idea comes to me, but I don’t know, we’ll see.

Do you and your dad, comedic actor Eugene Levy, want to work together again? 

I would love to work with my dad again. I would love to work with my sister [Sarah Levy, who played cafe owner Twyla Sands] again. I would love to work with Annie [Murphy] again. We’re all still friends. Funnily enough, Annie is in town, and we just saw each other last weekend and it was just the greatest reunion. These people are family.

You’re in the U.K. now filming the fourth season of Sex Education. What can you share about your role as Thomas Molloy? 

I don’t think I can share very much, to be perfectly honest. Especially being somebody who ran a television show, I wouldn’t want to upset anyone on that team. I will say that I worked with Emma Mackey and we had the greatest couple of days. Working on that show was everything I hoped it would be. It’s an amazing thing to get to walk into a world that you have come to know and love by way of your television screen and somehow be immersed in it. It was just a dream. I was thrilled. I hope I can do it proud and that’s my biggest fear at this point.

Is there something left that you want to do in life? Something in your personal life or maybe something career wise, something you yet want to achieve? 

I don’t know. I’m a naturally anxious person, so I tend to go one step at a time, otherwise I’ll just get overwhelmed. But, sure, there’s a bunch of things. I think making The Big Brunch was something that I never thought I would ever do, and it turned out to be one of the more meaningful professional experiences of my career so far. My hope is that whatever I continue to make, I have as much fun, and I care about it as much as I do Brunch and I did Schitt’s Creek. You’ve got to have a good time, otherwise why are we doing it?