When I returned to the CIA in the fall of 1999, two years after the publication of Making of a Chef wherein I described the humiliating service experience on my first day at St. Andrew’s restaurant, and Chef Czack lofted an overly generous tip onto my table with a look of withering disdain for my shoddy performance, he himself hosted me at the Danny Kaye Theater for an interview. I had been provided a pink beverage, strangely, as one almost always is given water. Chef Czack held out his hand to the drink. “Can you tell us what this is?” he asked me. I looked blankly at it, took a sip, looked out at the audience as a deer into headlights. I had not been expecting a sucker punch and confessed ignorance. “A Sea Breeze,” said Chef Czack, Read On »

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The first table I ever waited on would comprise two serious chefs, Richard Czack and CIA prez Ferdinand Metz, and the parents of a seminal American chef. It was in the St. Andrew’s restaurant at the Culinary Institute of America and it is forever linked in my mind with two similar drinks, the Sea Breeze and the Madras. The following is from the book that forever altered my course: Chef Czack did not look like a chef—balding, glasses, slight of frame; I didn’t know his age but he seemed elderly. His voice was nasal, fussy. He looked and sounded more like an accountant’s clerk. But Chef Czack was in fact a certified master chef and I was excited to be serving him and his guests, Mr. and Mrs. Forgione, parents of celebrity chef Larry, and Read On »

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What else with the fried chicken for a graduation lunch? Any special beverages for graduation? “Kathy likes Cosmos,” our soon-to-graduate daughter offered. We considered. But this was lunch, so we decided to keep it to wine and beer, and a champagne toast for the three graduates we were to celebrate (gosh, they are so much more responsible than I was, praise the Lord). But that Cosmo idea. It stuck. Because Kathy Mustee, wife and mom of four including newly graduated twins, is a pleasure to be with, smart, and, significantly, she is not to be trifled with. Even my daughter fears the Wrath of Kathy, the only person I know her openly to fear (I’d have paid Kathy for lessons had I known). And she likes Cosmos. Clearly, the Cosmopolitan, a pink vodka-based drink needed Read On »

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A couple weeks ago, inspired by my BFF Blake Bailey’s latest bio, Farther and Wilder (boffo WSJ review here), I offered a Tom Collins, gin-lemon-soda. But on retrospect it was only OK—it would be the perfect libation on a hot summer evening, but it was March. Also, I could hardly taste the gin, and what’s the point of that unless you’re drinking the cheap shit? Just to check, I ordered one last weekend at a restaurant and it was so bad I didn’t even finish it (which is not like me, that’s how bad it was—how do you screw up something as simple as that?). But I loved the idea of the heavy lemon. I loved the idea of, every now and then, not being aware of the alcohol in my drink. What does this lead to? Read On »

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Having recently delighted in Skyfall with son James, and with a fresh bottle of Lillet on hand, and having never tried this preposterous sounding cocktail with the beguiling name, well, I had to give the Vesper a go. Checking my resources I noticed that one, the very elegant and excellent ratio-oriented book, See Mix Drink, includes a twist of orange rather than the customary lemon twist. I contacted the author, Brian D. Murphy, who explained his rationale via email: “Alessandro, the bartender at the Dukes Hotel in London (where the cocktail originated), replaces the lemon with an orange peel. When I visited there and asked why, he said it pairs much better with the hint of orange in the Lillet Blanc—so well, in fact, that he believes the lemon peel in the original was a mistake. After tasting Read On »

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