Monday, February 16, 2009

Cinematic Cocktails

I have “Top Chef” fever. My excitement is definitely mounting as the finale of season 5 approaches next week, but I won’t give anything away for fear of spoiling anything for any of you who might not be up to date with the current season. I’ve enjoyed watching this particular season, but I have to say that none of the episodes grabbed in quite the same way as last season’s Film Food challenge, whereby the contestants were required to create a dish as inspired by their favorite movie. As their challenge was announced and the chefs began to brainstorm and plan their dishes, my mind began racing wildly, careening full-speed down my long list of favorite movies. Had I been a contestant on the show, I would have had difficulty narrowing it down, being the movie buff that I am. I would have wanted to make at least a seven-course meal with dishes all inspired by different favorite films, and I actually came up with 30 favorites right off the top of my head. I thought this was such a fun challenge, I created my own personal list of cinematically inspired dishes.

My lifelong love for movies has been fostered by my dad, a man whose film collection is extensive and whose thorough enjoyment of those movies is immensely contagious. My favorite game to play while riding with him in the car was always “Name the movie quote”, and we have had endless hours of discussion and pleasure fueled by our mutual love for films. Since Dad has been getting in touch with his inner chef over these past few years, much to my mom’s and my great delight, our more recent conversations also run along the lines of “What are you cooking this week?” in addition to “What have you seen lately?”

In honor of Dad, whose birthday is today, I’m celebrating our mutual enthusiasm for both movies and meals, and I am going to share my three Top Ten Lists of film-inspired food over three separate blog posts. Since it is often quite lovely to have an aperitif to whet one’s appetite before getting to the real meat of the issue, I hereby present you with the first of my Top Tens: a cocktail list. CHEERS!

10. Classic Dry Gin Martini : “Bullets Over Broadway”. Dianne Wiest plays an aging diva past her prime who takes playwright John Cusack to a little speakeasy after their first day of rehearsals at the Belasco Theater. He is totally enamored of her and is stunned when she orders “two martinis, very dry” without even consulting him. “How do you know what I drink?” he stammers. She looks at him coolly and replies, “Oh you want one too? Make it three.”

9. Negroni : “Roman Holiday”. Had I been a princess escaping my royal duties to have a day of sight-seeing in Rome, I would have planned a very similar day to what Audrey Hepburn experienced. How could you go wrong with espresso, gelato, the Trevi Fountain, a ride on a Vespa and a dance on a boat, all done in the company of a very dashing Gregory Peck?! When they go to the waterfront café in the evening, a Negroni seems like the perfect thing to drink. The Campari in this classic Italian cocktail is bracing yet inviting, and it would be a good pick-me-up after a long day of sight-seeing.

8. Manhattan (with brandied cherries) : “The Last Seduction”. Linda Fiorentino plays a femme fatale who steals a fortune from her husband and is on the lam within the first ten minutes of the movie. She gets stuck in a cow-town out in western New York, cutting a striking stiletto-heeled figure when she wanders into the local dive bar. The locals don’t know what to make of this woman in the swinging trench coat with a no-bullshit attitude, especially when she commands the bartender to “give me a Manhattan,” her voice sheathed in black leather. She spends the rest of the movie trying to get back to Manhattan, no matter what she has to do and who she has to use to get there.

7. Spiked Eggnog -- “L.A.Confidential”. This favorite movie of mine opens with a Christmas party at the downtown L.A.P.D. station , where the cops are celebrating Christmas Eve while being quite liberal with the hooch. Unfortunately, the alcohol gets the better of them and all hell breaks loose, triggering a chain of events which sets the movie in motion. But as long as no violence enters our picture, I would propose a very boozy Christmassy punch whose components represents two of the main cops in this fantastic film: an eggnog made with real eggs and heavy cream, as silky smooth as Kevin Spacey’s suave Sergeant Jack Vincennes, and spiked liberally with bourbon and rum, packing a punch as powerful as Russell Crowe’s muscleman cop, Officer Bud White.

6. Absolut Kurrant Vodka and Lingonberry Juice, a.k.a. The Wolfpaw : “The Empire Strikes Back”. The Wolfpaw was a lip-smacking libation that I experienced at the Ice Bar in Stockholm. One is given a heavy fur-lined cloak to don before entering the temperature-controlled room where the benches and the bar itself are all made of ice, and even the drinks are served in hollowed-out blocks of ice. This combination of icy vodka with tart lingonberry juice is a nod to two locations that bookend “Empire”, the opening on the Hoth ice planet and towards the end in the rosy-skied Cloud City. If someone served me this particularly magical cocktail and said to me, “I love you,” I would probably be tempted to respond as Han Solo did to Leia: “I know.”

5. Caipirinha : “Some Like It Hot”. Musicians Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon are on the run from a bunch of gangsters, disguising themselves as women and joining a traveling all-girls band. They meet the lead singer and ukulele-player, a breathless Marilyn Monroe who gives a little bit of biography as she introduces herself. “My name is Sugar Kane. It used to be Sugar Kowalczyk but I changed it to Sugar Kane.” How could I not have a drink made with Cachaca, the Brazilian sugar cane liquor that blends magically with sugar and limes? This is the kind of drink to have when you’re lounging by the beach, whether or not you’re being courted by a millionaire, and it is a fabulous combination of sassy and sweet, just like Marilyn herself.

4. Espresso Shakerato : “The Talented Mr. Ripley”. This movie definitely turns dark midway through, but in the beginning the sun is shining on Matt Damon’s Tom Ripley when he enters the orbit of the Jude Law’s handsome mercurial millionaire playboy and his devoted girlfriend played by Gwyneth Paltrow. There are beautifully poured cups of espresso in the morning and fabulous martinis every afternoon during these early halcyon days together in a little town on the Amalfi Coast. I have combined the two ideas in the form of the Shakerato: espresso blended vigorously in a cocktail shaker with a teaspoon of sugar and ice, strained into a chilled martini glass, and garnished with a twist of lemon.

3. The Gibson : “Quiz Show". Set in the 1950s when America was captivated by the quiz shows on television, the TV audiences were especially riveted by Charles Van Doren who displayed feats of dizzying intellect on the quiz show “21”. This handsome bachelor from a great intellectual family was being touted as the crown prince of education, but Van Doren’s unprecedented winning streak was soon discovered to be a fraud when word leaked out that the quiz show had been rigged. I wanted a classic old-school cocktail for this masterful film, and a Gibson is basically a martini garnished with onions instead of olives. I’d like to make this classic gin-based cocktail with onion-stuffed olives, representing the hidden sting that is coming when Ralph Fiennes character gets taken down by his desire for fame and fortune. And my gin of choice is dictated by Ralph Fiennes’ brilliant blue eyes, for what could be more appropriate than Bombay Sapphire?

2. Margarita : “The Shawshank Redemption”. Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman forge a friendship when they are both imprisoned in the Shawshank Prison. Tim Robbins’ character is a man with a plan, and he waxes eloquently about a little beach town in Mexico where he would settle if he were ever to escape. Rita Hayworth plays a role in this film, albeit in pin-up form, and her presence casts a glamorous shadow in this movie. Her presence combined with the characters’ longing for an idyllic beach in Mexico makes me think of a perfectly shaken margarita made with nothing other than good tequila, a splash of orange liqueur, plenty of fresh lime juice and rimmed with salt.

1. Black Velvet : “Dracula” (1979). This is a bit obscure, but Frank Langella became my first movie star crush at age 11 when I saw him in Mel Brooks’ farce “The Twelve Chairs”, of all things. As I have explored his film work and had the great pleasure of experiencing him doing live theater on Broadway over the years, I can say without any hesitation that he definitely belongs near the top of my list of Favorite Voices, for his voice STILL gives me the distinct and thrilling sensation of being thoroughly enveloped in black velvet. He played Dracula both on Broadway and in the 1979 movie version, and his portrayal of the vampire is sexy as hell. I don’t know how else to say it, for his Count Dracula is a devastating combination of savage and classy. In honor of the man with the killer voice and my extremely appreciative reaction to it, I submit the Black Velvet for your consideration: deepest darkest stout laced with a bubbly bit of champagne.

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