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I'm a guy who likes to cook, eat, and drink, but not necessarily in that order. This blog is nothing fancy; just my random thoughts about anything that can be baked, roasted, or fried. Enjoy!

Saturday, April 11, 2015

It's All In the Wrist

Not another day goes by that one doesn’t read or hear about the importance of provenance when it comes to food: Is it organic? Is it sustainable? Is it locally sourced? But what you don’t hear about too much is technique—also known as the actual mechanics of cooking. But during a recent trip to France, I discovered that technique is alive and well when my son Forrest and I took a pastry class at Le Cordon Bleu, the 150-year-old French cooking school in Paris. (The same one that helped launch Julia Child’s career in 1949.)

©2015 Chris Terrell
Our Mise en Place
At precisely 12:30PM, Forrest and I, along with 12 other students, were escorted into the kitchen and took our places around a long work table with Chef Olivier Boudot at the head. I wasn’t sure what to expect, as I’ve never attended a cooking class. I figured it would be more of a demonstration for tourists, and not very sophisticated. Boy, was I wrong! This turned out to be a very intense, hands-on class. At one point, it felt like I was on Top Chef because Chef Boudot was maniacal about staying on schedule. 

©2015 Chris Terrell
Chef Boudot
A few words about Chef Boudot.  If you were going to make a movie with a scene in a French restaurant kitchen, and you needed a French pastry chef,  the actor you would get from central casting would look like Chef Boudot. Chef Boudot was big and imposing, made more so by his toque. He was serious and intense, but had a good, dry sense of humor, punctuated by that infamous Gallic shrug.    

At each of our stations, we were given an apron and towel (both of which we were allowed to keep), a rolling pin, butter, yeast, and a dough scraper. Through a translator, Chef gave us the day’s scheduled, precisely laid out in 20-30 minute increments.

Our goal that day was to make croissants, pain au chocolat, and brioche.

©2015 Chris Terrell
Forrest Gets Started
We learned to roll the dough in a precise manner and at a precise thickness, and to fold the dough in  a certain way, as well as the proper time and temperature for proofing the dough. (At least when it comes to cooking, the French are very, very precise.) At one point, Chef Boudot even used a ruler to measure out the pieces of dough for the croissants! The last thing we learned that day was to make our own dough, which we took home with us.

©2015 Chris Terrell
The class lasted almost six hours, with a brief 20-25 min coffee break around 3:00PM. So needless to say, Forrest and I were exhausted by the time we left, but we had six boxes of fresh pastries that we proudly shared with the family. As we walked out with our day’s work, we passed a class of advance students waiting outside the kitchen. They seemed pretty proud too, though I detected a slight trace of dread on their young faces. Perhaps, Chef Boudot was more gentle with us tourists than with his students.

©2015 Chris Terrell
A few days later, in our little gite in Normandy, I realized that I had forgotten to pick up a baguette for dinner—obviously not something any respectable Frenchman would have done. We also had finished all those pastries we had made back in Paris. Thankfully I had the dough from the Codon Bleu class! 

It was 7:30pm and obviously I had no time to proof the dough for two hours, thinking that this proofing thing was overrated, right? I rolled the dough out, shaped the croissants and threw them in the oven.  (I did manage to get an egg wash on them.) What came out of the oven bore no resemblance to those delicate, flakey croissants we had made at Le Cordon Bleu. Rather, what came out of the oven were these smallish, somewhat dense rolls, like Pillsbury crescent rolls. I guess all that precision about timing and temperature for proofing made all the difference in the world.
©2015 Chris Terrell
The Finished Product (At Le Cordon Bleu)

But as we sat there with our bowls of potato, leek, and mushroom soup that I had made from scratch, listening to the Norman wind rattle the windows, I realized that learning to cook and do it right is hard and takes effort. In other words, there’s a reason that people go to schools like Le Cordon Bleu and then open great restaurants. However, I also learned that there is a certain margin of error that allows us amateurs to make pretty good bread. After all a homemade crescent roll is still better than loaf of Wonder Bread, and even Wonder Bread is better than no bread at all!

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Long and Low

We all get stuck in a rut from time to time. I know I do. After all, I try to write a new post about every seven to ten days and frequently I have a hard time coming up with something new to write about. Cooking is that way too. Life gets in the way. Between work, the daily schlep to school, homework, soccer practice, and everything else in between, it becomes harder and harder to avoid the temptation to pick up the phone and order a pizza. And when one does summon up the energy to cook dinner, it is very easy to throw a piece of chicken on the grill or open a box of Kraft mac-n-cheese—not that there’s anything wrong with Kraft mac-n-cheese!

But there’s a way of cooking that has been around a long time that results in a good meal and allows for a bit of relaxing. I’m talking about braising. Braising is a cooking method that uses a little liquid and barely simmers at a low temp on the top of the stove or in the oven. In other words, long and low. The great thing about braising is that it gives you time to help the kids with homework, grab a cocktail, or if you are sans kids, play a quick game of Assassins Creed.

Braising is a very old method of cooking that has changed over time. Originally, braising was carried out directly on the hearth, cooking food slowly in hot embers. Fortunately for your local fire department, braising no longer requires an open hearth. While braising was typically used for tough pieces of beef, it also works well with tender chicken or fish, especially turbot or halibut. Braising can occur on the stovetop or in the oven. I prefer the stovetop, but either way you should use a good heavy bottom pot. A Dutch oven (Staub or Le Crueset) is a must.

Going back to life getting in the way of a good meal…

I keep a Costco-sized bag of frozen chicken breasts in the freezer for quick night dinners. Now, I know that nothing is more banal in our modern, homogenized world than skinless, chicken breasts. But they are convenient. And here’s where the braising comes in handy. With this technique, you can transform that boring chicken breast into a pretty decent meal. Of course, skin-on chicken thighs or chicken legs are the bomb when it comes to braising! But in a pinch, at 7:00PM on a Monday night with fractions and spelling practice closing in, the chicken breast will have to do.

After I’ve thawed the chicken breasts in a bath of hot water for about 15 minutes, I pat them dry and season them with salt and pepper and lightly coat them with flour. Then it’s time for a good sear in the Dutch oven using about two tablespoons of olive oil. (Maybe if no one is watching, I will use a bit of butter! Like Julia Child, I love butter!) After browning the chicken breasts on both sides, I remove them from the Dutch oven and set them aside. I then add some onion, garlic and mushrooms, and sauté until browned. I’ll then de-glaze the  Dutch oven with some white wine, vermouth, or white port. (If you’ve never cooked with vermouth, you’re missing out!) At this point, I add chicken stock, fresh thyme, parsley, and maybe a bit more white wine or vermouth. The amount of liquid should cover half or 3/4th of the chicken. I braise on the stove top at very low heat for about an hour to an hour and a half. 

When finished, I remove the chicken and add some flour to thicken the sauce. Another approach is to strain the liquid and remove the excess fat and reduce if necessary. Beurre manié (roux) can also be added, but this seems to defeat the whole purpose. 

What do I call this concoction? French chicken, of course!  But you could just as easily think of it as your easy working day meal, simpler to prepare than you think and more rewarding than another pizza delivery.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Happy Birthday!

© 2015 Chris Terrell
Yeah, that's a big flask!
Today is my 45th birthday. And like last year, I was fortunate to celebrate my birthday over an entire weekend, highlighted by a wonderful dinner at The Inn at Little Washington
But mine was not the only birthday worthy of celebrating this past weekend. On Saturday, March 7, this blog survived its second year of operation. (Let's hope the terrible twos apply only to children!) 
And like last year, I wanted to list my ten favorite blog posts, with a brief intro about the post and my favorite passage from it. But unlike last year, these are not ranked. Rather, I listed them simply in chronological order. That way, you can put them in what ever order you wish. (Click on the title for a link to the full text of the post.)

This post addressed how food in America has changed since the 1970s, including my relationship with food since my childhood in the 1970s.  

I still remember my first “fancy” meal. My family had recently moved to the outskirts of Washington, DC, from a small town in southeast Virginia. This was my first foray into the big city. (Before that I had confused Richmond, Virginia, with New York!) We went to lunch at a now-defunct chain called The American Cafe. In keeping with its name, this restaurant sought, with typical American exuberance, to reproduce Parisian brassiere food for the masses. Being a 12-year member of the American masses, I thought this place was the bomb! I ordered the crepe suzette and discovered that there was more to food than bologna sandwiches and cheese doodles.

Meatloaf: Score! (March 5, 2014)

If my blog posts this past year have a common thread, it is probably nostalgia. There seems to have been a lot of writing about comfort food. Well, this one is about the ultimate comfort food: meatloaf! 

I must admit—I love meatloaf. No, not the early 80s arena rocker, but the other meatloaf. Yes, that much maligned all-American dish. How many times did we hear the refrain in all those family sitcoms from the 60s-80s in which one or more children is heard moaning: “Oh no! Not meatloaf…again!” But I think the hatred for meatloaf is urban legend; a falsehood; a conspiracy by the Broccoli Growers Association. Kids really like meatloaf. Why? Because it tastes damn good and it has ketchup in it; that’s why!

Cooking In French (April 6, 2014)

The next best thing to eating in Paris is strolling through her markets for your next meal.

It was a mild evening, so we kept the windows open. Candles, flowers, jazz on the stereo, and the rhythmic sound of the Parisian police car completed the scene. At one point, I thought: “How Parisian!”  But it wasn’t really Parisian, any more than it was Italian, Spanish, American, or even Russian. We were doing what everyone likes to do: have a nice meal with loved ones and talk about the day. This time, the day just happened to have been in Paris.

History Is Not Even Past In a City Like Paris

In 2014, I was fortunate enough to make another trip to the City of Lights. This is one place I'll never get tired of writing about, especially the cafes.

What makes a Parisian cafe such an institution, however, is its pace. While the waiters hustle about, the guests sit and eat and drink and talk deliberately. Time seems to stand still.  And of course, a demitasse of espresso is a down-payment for a long-term lease to sit on the sidewalk and people watch throughout the afternoon.

Medium Rare (May 5, 2014)

More nostalgia...more comfort food...

When I hear the word "steak," I recall memories of Saturday nights in the summer when my dad would fire up the charcoal grill, and my mom would make a wedge salad with her homemade dressing of mayonnaise and ketchup. I don’t remember the rest of it because I never got the recipe before it was lost. 

Play Ball! (May 15,201

OK, there's nothing gourmet about ballpark food, but the lowly deserves its share of the limelight from time to time, especially when it relates to America's pastime! 

The list goes on and on. These days, major league ballparks seem to be in some kind of gastronomic arms race—each trying to out do the other in the variety and “gourmet-ness” of the dishes offered. But for me, nothing beats a simple hot dog on a warm spring night, peanut shells piling up at your feet, and the crack of a baseball bat. 
Ground zero of the Republic my friend.

I did a lot traveling in 2014, and I discovered there's a strong connection between travel, food, eating, and memory.

On the flight back to Birmingham later that day, I got to thinking about the connections between travel and food and memory. Without traveling too far by modern standards, I had had lunch at a deli that served pimento cheese, reminiscent of home; an Indian restaurant thousands of miles from India that reminded me of a long-ago trip to London; and brunch at a French restaurant that brought back memories of leisurely strolls in the 5th Arrondissement. This notion of travel and memory was captured recently in a great travel article in The New York Times by Liesl Schillinger (Read article). In it, she returns to a small village in central France where she had stayed one summer as a young girl. She states that “[i]n the mind, geography converges; beloved landscapes, villages, cities, countries, all become one, in the borderless scrapbook of memory.”  

Her sentiments are equally true when it comes to food. And just like my memories of my travels will be no less idealized than Schillinger’s, I will also one day do the same about the meals I had one weekend in Washington, DC, in the late spring of 2014. As Anthony Bourdain once said: “Context and memory play powerful roles in all the truly great meals in one’s life.”

I’m already journey proud for the next course!

Eggs Were Definitely First! (July 31, 2014)

I picked this post because it's about one of my favorite foods; its zen-like perfection; and its Miagi-esque complexity. 

At one point in his book Medium Raw, Anthony Bourdain lists several things that everyone should know how to cook. One of these is the omelet. I couldn’t agree more, but I would add one more item: scrambled eggs. Scrambled eggs are deceptively complex. Because of their simple preparation, there is little room for the aspiring chef to hide mistakes. And what is the most frequent mistake made by a home cook? Overcooking. Most folks scramble eggs until they are devoid of any last ounce of moisture or silkiness, leaving dried tasteless clumps better served to the condemned. Simply put, scrambled eggs require a lot more attention than most would think. As M.F.K. Fisher noted: “This concoction is obviously a placid one, never to be attempted by a nervous, harried woman, one anxious to slap something on the table and get it over with.”

This was one of my more self-deprecating entries—needling the foodies of the world (including me). 

The increased culinary emphasis of authenticity is a blessing and a curse—the product of the increasingly diverse nature of culinary options in America today. Thirty years ago, we couldn’t have talked about an “authentic” Indian or Vietnamese restaurant because we were lucky to have a third-rate Chinese restaurant serving lo mien. Now, we have cafes offering banh mi sandwiches with southern style barbecue sauce. But does that make that banh mi any less authentic than one served from a truck in Hanoi? 

And no blog about food would be complete without a post about the uniquely American insanity that is Thanksgiving!

Our journey had begun propitiously enough in Birmingham when we sailed through a hassle-free, friendly TSA screening, with an on-time departure. After a smooth flight with prompt drink service, we landed early in Charlotte! As we walked off the plane into Concourse E, with its all-too-expected smell of fried jalapeño poppers from Chili’s Too, we were hit with the cold reality of modern air travel, posted in white Helvetica type: FLIGHT DELAYED! 

Our flight was at least an hour late, though it turned out to be more like an hour and a half. But the real kicker was that there was only one bar in Terminal E, obviously added as an afterthought. It had about as much square footage as an Airstream camper and a line of about 25 people waiting for over-priced, precisely-measured, cheap well drinks. After waiting without success for about 10-15 minutes for the privilege of commandeering a mere 18 square inches at the bar, I gave up.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Hero Worship

It’s not every day that you get to meet one of your heroes. 
My day arrived on the evening of Thursday, February 19, 2015, when I met Eric Ripert, the chef and co-owner of Le Bernardin in New York City. I had dined at Le Bernardin once before, several years back, and it was the most sublime meal I’ve ever had. I’ve been trying to get back there ever since. 
I have several credit cards with airlines and hotels so I can earn frequent flyer points. Like all credit cards, they are always sending you myriad emails touting the latest and greatest promotions. I usually hit “delete” immediately, but the one that arrived on January 21, 2015, caught my eye. I opened it, and here’s what it said:
Spend an evening experiencing the cuisine of internationally celebrated restaurateur, author, and television personality, Chef Eric Ripert. This culinary event hosted by Chef Ripert will take place in New York City at Le Bernardin's new private space.
CALL TO RESERVE: 1-888-xxx-xxxx
I called immediately and, for once, I didn’t mind being placed on hold. When the lovely lady from Visa answered the phone, I realized that I had left my work iPhone back at the office so I had no idea if I could do this thing on a random Thursday night in February. Rolling the dice, I bought two tickets for the event. Risky move, I know, but it all worked out in the end. Now, I just had to get to New York in the dead of winter!
If you live on the East Coast, you know that this has been a particularly harsh winter. Maybe I’ve been a good boy lately. Maybe, just maybe, I’ve racked up some extra Karma points because my plane from Birmingham to Washington left on time. (The plan was to fly to Reagan-National and meet Laura and then take the shuttle to Laguardia.) Unfortunately because of high winds at Laguardia, our flight was delayed. We were given the choice of getting off the plane and booking another flight or staying put and waiting until we could leave. We decided to stay and were rewarded when our flight left earlier than expected!
After an uneventful cab ride from Laguardia to the St. Regis, we chilled out before heading out to La Bernardin. 
The evening started with cocktails and canapés. It was a diverse crowd. Some were New Yorkers who were clearly regulars of Le Bernardin. Others were out-of-towners. I think one couple had traveled all the way from the West Coast.
After about 20 minutes, Ripert walked out from the kitchen and began to mingle with the crowd. I tried to “act like I had been there before” when I reached out and shook Ripert’s hand, but I’m sure the glazed foodie-groupie expression on my face gave it away. 
Before dinner, Ripert gave a brief cooking demonstration, showing how he made his famous tuna carpaccio. And while I consider my knife skills pretty decent, this guy never even looked down as he cut chives into perfectly symmetrical pieces!
Ripert is honest and unassuming when he talks about food. In fact, he’s almost shy. For him, cooking is a real creative endeavor. And unlike a lot of his contemporaries, Ripert has resisted the urge to open up restaurants in Vegas; Branson, Missouri; or Concourse D in Atlanta’s Hartsfield International Airport. 
Toward the end of the meal, Ripert made himself available for a Q&A session. I grabbed the mic for the first question. Here’s my question as best that I can remember: “Considering all that France has offered America and the world in terms of cuisine and culinary technique, what could the increasing number of American chefs in Paris offer France?” This was a loaded question of course, which my fellow diners responded to with nervous laughter. Ripert, however, answered it with grace. 
He said that the issue is no longer about one country versus another. Rather, it is about the whole world because chefs (including Ripert) learn from other cultures. For example, Ripert mentioned how he wants to incorporate Korean temple food into his menu after a recent trip to Korea. 
When Ripert did talk about the difference between American chefs and French chefs, the point of departure he chose to discuss was interesting. He said that working under a French chef can be brutal, if not abusive. He recalled many literal kicks in the derrière and demeaning language. If I recall correctly, Ripert said that his nickname was the French phrase for “bruised shoulder” because of the number of times he had been punched by the chef. In contrast, he said Americans were more constructive in their criticism and more collaborative in their approach. 

Ripert is a successful, classically trained French chef, with all the tradition and conservatism that that implies. Yet, he continues to create recipes that are both traditional and new—no easy feat. At the end of the night, we were all given a swag bag which, among other things, contained a signed copy of Ripert’s cookbook Avec Eric (With Eric). The recipes are built around themes, such as “Big Flavor,” “Artisanal,” “Craftsmanship,” and “Tradition.” In the introduction to the chapter titled “Tradition,” Ripert says “Traditional recipes are important maps to follow in order to create something new.” For anyone who has ever cooked anything—either their mom’s less-than-perfect chocolate cake recipe or the latest “it recipe” from The Food Network—this is good advice indeed. 

Monday, February 23, 2015

Learning French

Next month I head back to France. As usual, before that trip, I will brush up on my French, such as it is. (Which doesn’t get me too far because, despite the stereotype, everyone is eager to speak English.) I have French language CDs that I listen to during my morning commute, which garners strange looks from other commuters who no doubt are wondering why that guy in the car next to them at the traffic light is talking to himself. I also listen to French Canadian radio, but usually only catch about one word out of ten. The most entertaining method to practice one’s French is to watch French movies, especially comedies. The plots are obviously not terribly complicated, so you can figure out a lot about what is going on without understanding every spoken word. 

And so recently I came across a light-hearted French comedy staring Jean Reno and Michaël Youn titled Le Chef (Trailer). The plot resembles another movie by the same, albeit English, title: Chef, staring Jon Favreau. ( Meals on Wheels)

In Le Chef, Reno plays Alexandre Legarde, a cantankerous and ambitious veteran chef who is on the verge of losing everything because the restaurant owner’s greedy son is in charge, and he wants to force Legarde aside and replace him with a younger chef who specializes in molecular gastronomy. In order to get Legarde fired, the owner’s son plans to have the restaurant lose one star after Legarde (the stereotypical French traditionalist) fails to impress the critics with a molecular gastronomic masterpiece. Of course, Lagarde has no idea how to create such a dish. (The scene where Reno tries to recreate a deconstructed duck is one of the movie’s best.) But along comes Jacky Bonnot, played by Youn, an up-and-coming young chef who worships Legarde and knows more about Legarde than even Legarde knows about himself. 

Of course, the movie follows the predictable comedy plot and vaguely resembles Ratatouille. I was also surprised how—dare I say this?—how American this movie seemed. First, there was the ambitious chef who ignores his offspring, in this case his daughter who is working on her PhD. And then the up-and-coming iconoclast who wants to shake up the staid French culinary world. And finally, the last minute deux ex machina that saves the day. All that being said, however, the movie is fun to watch, and it does take on issues of excessive commercialism in haute cuisine, eating locally, and trendy food vs. culinary tradition.

When I travel to France next month, I can’t say that I will seek out the culinary trend of month or the ne plus ultra of French haute cuisine. But I will be looking for good food, served by iconoclastic and, yes, even insouciant chefs who enjoy cooking not just to obtain stars or critical praise, but for the joy of cooking itself.  Stay tuned for tales of my upcoming dining adventures.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

At Your Service

© 2015 Chris Terrell
The other night while having dinner at a nice restaurant here in Birmingham, I stated, with some certitude, that I would rather dine in a restaurant with below-average food, but above-average service. One of my dinner companions disagreed, insisting that the quality of the food was most important. I was still thinking about this conversation, and the quip that started it, a few days later. Then I realized that I had been a bit too glib,  too clever-by-half. Perhaps I should have said that I would rather have a below-average meal with above-average company than the other way around. (Of course, I don't intend to imply that the company that night was in any way below average!)

And while the food served in a restaurant is important, let us not forget that the word “restaurant” derives from the French word for “restore.” Like eating with family or with friends, dining out is a commensal act that should restore us from a hard day at the office, at school, in the field, or on the factory floor.  The communal and restorative act of eating in a restaurant remains so, even when dining alone. 
I travel a lot for business, and unless I’m dog tired, I will go out to eat, even if in the hotel restaurant or bar. After all, you can always chit-chat with the server and, better yet, the bartender. I’m a big fan of eating at the bar. You don’t have to wait, and bartenders by nature and their profession are ready conversationalists. Strangers also are more friendly at the bar—the bottle instills an easy, natural Hemingway camaraderie.
Going back to the conversation that started all this: have we gone too much to the “food-is-more-important” side of the restaurant equation? As Adam Gopnik points out in his book, The Table Comes First, “Having made food a more fashionable object, we have ended by making eating a smaller subject.” I agree. Eating should be a bigger subject, not only when we talk about restaurants, but when we engage in the larger conversation about food. 
I’m struck by that moment when Julia Child had her first meal on French soil: sole meunière. It sounds fancy to our Anglo-Saxon ears, but this simplest of French preparations is nothing more than fish, butter, a bit of flour, lemon, and parsley. Julia Child never forgot that meal. 
So restaurants really are more than the service-vs.-food dichotomy that got me started a few paragraphs back. They are where we have our first peek as children into that mysterious world of adults; where we have our first dates; where we propose marriage; celebrate births; and console the loss of those no longer with us. Restaurants good and bad will change with the times, but I can’t imagine a world without them. 

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Cocktails in the Cinema

©2015 Chris Terrell
When writer’s block set in a few days ago—which happens more often than I would like to admit—I thought about how I could incorporate my love of movies into this blog. And as I reached for a sip of my freshly made martini, it hit me! Booze! The only thing better than cinema is cocktails and cinema. So, here it is. My top-ten list of the best cocktail-themed movies (and one TV show).

#10 The Big Lebowski (1998); Directors: Joel & Ethan Cohen; Stars: Jeff Bridges, John Goodman, and Julianne Moore.

What it's about according to IMDB: "The Dude" Lebowski, mistaken for a millionaire Lebowski, seeks restitution for his ruined rug and enlists his bowling buddies to help get it.

Best Line: The Dude: [repeated line by The Dude and others] That rug really tied the room together.

A cult classic film that revived an obscure cocktail: the White Russian, though the Dude refers to as the "Caucasian." 

The White Russian was invented when someone added cream to a Black Russian (vodka and coffee liqueur). The drink really has nothing to do with Russia, other than the fact that it contains vodka. There are variations, of course. Two of my favorites are the Anna Kournikova (made with skim milk) and the White Cuban (made with rum instead of vodka).

I actually went through a White Russian phase back in college, though I'm not sure why. This "dude's" fling with the drink ended abruptly when a Kappa Delta asked, "Isn't that a girl's drink?" I've never had one since! 

#9 Lost In Translation (2003); Director: Sofia Coppola; Stars: Bill Murray, Scarlett Johansson, and Giovanni Ribisi. |

What it’s about according to IMDB: “A faded movie star and a neglected young woman form an unlikely bond after crossing paths in Tokyo.”

Best Line: “Let's never come here again because it would never be as much fun.”

This may come as a surprise to a lot of folks, but the Japanese love scotch. What is more surprising is that they make really good scotch. (Yeah, I know it’s not really “scotch” because it’s not from Scotland, but don’t quibble.) More surprising is that Japan has an excellent home-grown scotch industry, with Suntory being at the top. So, I strongly encourage you try some if you can find it. I had to go to Atlanta to get a bottle of Yamasaki, but it was so worth it!

#8 Some Like it Hot (1959); Director: Billy Wilder; Stars: Marilyn Monroe, Jack Lemmon, and Tony Curtis

What it’s about according to IMDB: When two musicians witness a mob hit, they flee the state in an all female band disguised as women, but further complications set in.

Best Line: “Sugar: [on marrying well] I don't care how rich he is, as long as he has a yacht, his own private railroad car, and his own toothpaste."

                   —Sugar [Played by Marilyn Monroe]

“Further complications set in…?” That’s an understatement! This is one of the funniest movies ever! Besides, guys dressed in drag is always, always funny! This movie also shows that Monroe was more that some bleached-blond bimbo. She really did have talent. 

Why is this movie on my list? Because the Manhattan is the drink of choice for both the “men” and the women in the movie. The Manhattan is one of my favorite cocktails and, if done right, is appealing to both men and women. It is slightly sweet but not overwhelmingly so, which appeals to the ladies; it is made from whiskey, which appeals to the guys; and it has a cool name, which should appeal to everyone. 

#7: Absolutely Fabulous (a/k/a “AbFab”) 

What it’s about according to IMDB: Edina Monsoon and her best friend Patsy drive Eddie's sensible daughter, Saffron, up the wall with their constant drug abuse and outrageous selfishness.

Best Line(s): 

Eddie: All right, time for another little drinkie before we go?

Saffie: Where are you going?

Eddie: New York.

Saffie: I didn't think they let people with convictions in.

Eddie: Darling, its not a conviction.

Patsy: Just a firm belief.

Eddie: Yes.

If you have heard of, or used, the phrase “guilty pleasure” then you may have watched at least one episode of Absolutely Fabulous, known affectionately by its fans as AbFab. This BBC comedy ran, on and off, from 1992 to 2012 and starred Jennifer Saunders and Joanna Lumley as two boozy, drug-addled, fashioned-obsessed single women living in London. 

Eddie and Patsy always seem to have a bottle of Champagne in their hands and it always seems to be Veuve Cliquet, which would seem so appropriate.

Here are some clips from some of the show’s more memorable lines: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GOGeTQvVtA8

#6 Casino Royale (2006); Director: Martin Campbell; Stars: Daniel Craig, Judi Dench, and Eve Green

What it’s about according to IMDB: Armed with a license to kill, Secret Agent James Bond sets out on his first mission as 007 and must defeat a weapons dealer in a high stakes game of poker at Casino Royale, but things are not what they seem.

Best Line(s): 

Vesper Lynd: [introducing herself to Bond] I'm the money. 

James Bond: Every penny of it.

This is the kick-ass reboot of the Bond franchise. The debate still rages on, but Daniel Craig may…just may…surpass Sean Connery as the baddest Bond ever. Because of arcane copyright issues, Ian Fleming’s Bond novel was never made into a serious movie until Craig’s version. And only someone like Bond could create a new cocktail whilst trying to stay alive, win at cards, and get the girl! That takes talent! 

Here’s the recipe from the novel Casino Royale by Ian Fleming:

"A dry martini," [Bond] said. "One. In a deep champagne goblet."

"Oui, monsieur."

"Just a moment. Three measures of Gordon's, one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet. Shake it very well until it's ice-cold, then add a large thin slice of lemon peel. Got it?"
"Certainly, monsieur." The barman seemed pleased with the idea.

"Gosh, that's certainly a drink," said Leiter.

Bond laughed. "When I'm...er...concentrating," he explained, "I never have more than one drink before dinner. But I do like that one to be large and very strong and very cold and very well-made. I hate small portions of anything, particularly when they taste bad. This drink's my own invention. I'm going to patent it when I can think of a good name."

—Ian Fleming, Casino Royale, Chapter 7, Rouge et Noir

#5 Silence of the Lambs (1991); Director: Jonathan Demme; Stars: Sir Anthony Hopkins and Jodie Foster

What It’s About According to IMDB: A young F.B.I. cadet must confide in an incarcerated and manipulative killer to receive his help on catching another serial killer who skins his victims.

Best Line: A census taker once tried to test me. I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti.

— Hannibal Lechter

This movie scared the crap out of me when it first came out. Anthony Hopkins was perfect in this role. And of course, it was many years before I could even think about having a glass of Chianti at my local Italian restaurant, much less fava beans. And thankfully, I’ve never been much of a fan of liver, except for foie gras. At least, Hannibal didn’t ruin that for me!

#4 Casablanca (1942); Director: Michael Curtiz; Stars: Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman

What it’s about according to IMDB: Set in unoccupied Africa during the early days of World War II: An American expatriate meets a former lover, with unforeseen complications.

Best Line(s): 

Major Strasser: What is your nationality?

Rick: I’m a drunkard.

Renault: And that makes Rick a citizen of the world.

Unlike the other films in this list (with the possible exception of Sideways), this movie does more than simply feature a cocktail. Instead, roughly 80% of the movie takes place in a bar! And one of those drinks consumed in that bar, Rick’s Café Américain, is the French 75, one of my perennial favorites. This is a great cocktail—named after a 75-mm French artillery piece used in World War I—and designed to hit you like a shell from that gun. The original recipe called for cognac, but the English, who abhor all things French, introduced gin into the mix. This drink has made something of a comeback in recent years, as I see it more and more frequently on restaurant menus. 

#3 Groundhog Day (1993); Director: Harold Ramis; Stars: Bill Murray, Andie McDowell, and Chris Elliott

What It’s About According to IMDB: A weatherman finds himself living the same day over and over again.

Best Line(s):

Phil: I was in the Virgin Islands once. I met a girl. We ate lobster, drank piña coladas. At sunset, we made love like sea otters.

Phil: That was a pretty good day. Why couldn't I get that day over, and over, and over...

Bill Murray earned his “stripes” because he made this list twice with two different movies. 

This movie really presents every guy’s dream: fixing  that disastrous first date by replaying it over and over until you get it right. In this case, Bill Murray’s obnoxious protagonist discovers that Andie McDowell’s character’s favorite cocktail is sweet vermouth on the rocks and a twist. During the first time they meet at the bar, Murray orders a manly drink—Bourbon on the rocks—McDowell, a sweet vermouth on the rocks with a twist (yuck!). She waxes rhapsodically about how the drink reminds her of Rome.  And guess what Murray orders the next time, and guess what he talks about? Smart use of that power bro! 

#2 Sideways (2004); Director: Alexander Payne; Stars: Paul Giamatti, Thomas Haden Church, and Virginia Madsen

What It’s About According to IMDB: Two men reaching middle age with not much to show but disappointment, embark on a week long road trip through California's wine country, just as one is about to take a trip down the aisle.

Best Line(s): 

Jack: If they want to drink Merlot, we're drinking Merlot.

Miles Raymond: No, if anyone orders Merlot, I'm leaving. I am NOT drinking any f**king Merlot!

This is the only movie on the list where a particular drink (wine) and drinking that dirnk are at the heart of the movie. If there was an academy award for “Best Actor in the Role of a Self-Loathing, Yet Lovable, Jerk,” then Paul Giamatti would have won it hands down. The best scene in the movie is not the one we’ve all come to know (and which pretty much killed sales of Merlot), but the one near the end in which Miles is alone in a rundown burger joint sneaking sips of a bottle of 1961 Cheval Blanc hidden in a bum’s brown bag. The ultimate irony? Cheval Blanc is made from the two grapes Miles flames in the movie: merlot and cabernet franc.

Of course the real star of the movie is pinot noir, which is the vehicle by which we get to understand Miles and Maya:


Uh, I don't know, I don't know. Um, it's a hard grape to grow, as you know. Right? It's uh, it's thin-skinned, temperamental, ripens early. It's, you know, it's not a survivor like Cabernet, which can just grow anywhere and uh, thrive even when it's neglected. No, Pinot needs constant care and attention. You know? And in fact it can only grow in these really specific, little, tucked away corners of the world. And, and only the most patient and nurturing of growers can do it, really. Only somebody who really takes the time to understand Pinot's potential can then coax it into its fullest expression. Then, I mean, oh its flavors, they're just the most haunting and brilliant and thrilling and subtle and... ancient on the planet.


How it's a living thing. I like to think about what was going on the year the grapes were growing; how the sun was shining; if it rained. I like to think about all the people who tended and picked the grapes. And if it's an old wine, how many of them must be dead by now. I like how wine continues to evolve, like if I opened a bottle of wine today it would taste different than if I'd opened it on any other day, because a bottle of wine is actually alive. And it's constantly evolving and gaining complexity. That is, until it peaks, like your '61. And then it begins its steady, inevitable decline.

* * * 
And it tastes so f**king good.

#1 Goldfinger (1964); Director: Guy Hamilton: Stars: Sean Connery, Gert Fröbe, and Honor Blackman

What it's about according to IMDB: Investigating a gold magnate's smuggling, James Bond uncovers a plot to contaminate the Fort Knox gold reserve.

Best Line(s): 

James Bond: Do you expect me to talk?

Auric Goldfinger: No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die!

“Shaken, not stirred.” No other phrase is more associated with a movie character or series of movies than this one. Believe it or not, the phrase wasn’t used until the third Bond film, Goldfinger. (While Dr. No uses this phrase when he offers the drink to Bond in Dr. No, Bond himself doesn’t use the phrase until Goldfinger in 1964.) And of course, it became the most well known trademark of the Bond character in subsequent films, with a few notable variations on a theme.  

In You Only Live Twice, the cocktail is offered stirred, not shaken, but Bond graciously accepts it nonetheless. (Smart man! No one never turns down a free drink!) In Casino Royale, after losing millions of dollars in a game of poker, Bond retreats to the bar to lick his wound, and when asked if he wants his martini shaken or stirred, he snarls: "Do I look like I give a damn?” And interestingly, Roger Moore’s Bond never ordered a martini, although he received one in The Spy Who Loved Me, Moonraker, and Octopussy.