800px-Woodford_Reserve_Distillery-27527-4How far can one go with name protection? When I visited the Champagne region of France, it was an extremely touchy subject. Only sparkling wine made within the borders of the province can be called champagne, they argued. Also, it is European Union law. I see the point: The Champagne region has a very specific terroir, allowing for a distinct product that simply cannot be likened to Korbel’s or Cook’s. When someone tells me she hates champagne because it gives her a headache, I tell her she’s probably lumping the $8 bottle of cheap California bubbly with the real deal. I’ve gone through multiple bottles of Bollinger Rosé (with help from a few friends) and I did not have a headache the next morning. That said, the argument that a perfume cannot be called Champagne or a color cannot be called Champagne is a bit much.

So what about Tennesee Whiskey? Brown-Forman, makers of Jack Daniel’s, argues that this label can only be ascribed to whiskey made a very specific way: at least 51 percent corn, new charred oak barrels, filtered via maple charcoal. That, too, is a state law. And not by coincidence it is how Jack Daniel’s itself is distilled. Diageo, which makes George Dickel, argues that the definition needs to be broadened. And craft distillers in Tennessee also chafe at the strict label (making them and the Diageo empire unlikely bedfellows).

“Diageo says the George Dickel brand is in compliance with the new law, and that it has no plans to change the way it is made,” reports Mike Esterl in the Wall Street Journal. “But the liquor giant says last year’s law puts a lid on innovation and that Brown-Forman shouldn’t be allowed to define the only path to high-quality Tennessee Whiskey.”

On the other hand,

Part of what makes bourbon and Tennessee Whiskey unique is the substitution of barley and other grains with corn, typically making them sweeter than other whiskies such as Scotch. Brown-Forman says new barrels are another important difference, delivering unique flavor and turning the spirit orange-brown without caramel coloring. Charcoal filtering produces a smoother sip, it says.

“If you don’t want to use new barrels or charcoal filtering, you can’t call it ‘Tennessee Whiskey.’ You can call it ‘whiskey from Tennessee’ or ‘whiskey made in Tennessee’ or any other combination,” said Phil Lynch, a Brown-Forman spokesman.

Something tells me the craft distillers and Diageo will not be embracing “whiskey made in Tennessee” any time soon.

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Spies Like U.S.

April 16, 2014

Poster - TURN _ Season 1 _ Keyart - Photo Credit: Courtesy of AMCMy wife and I find it hard to get into new series. With children who are getting to bed later and later (or waking up in the middle of the night) and with school first thing in the morning, we just don’t have a lot of time. We loved The Sopranos, The Wire, and currently Veep and Mad Men. Somewhere down the line we’ll start Breaking Bad. But over the weekend we discovered yet another series that, after a mere two episodes, we find ourselves committed to watching, compelled even. It’s called Turn on AMC.

The reason we tuned in isn’t just because of the intriguing storyline, about America’s first spies, taking place in the Revolutionary War in our old stomping grounds, New Jersey, New York, and Connecticut. Rather, it was because the series is based on a book by my friend Alexander Rose entitled Washington’s Spies: The Story of America’s First Spy Ring. It’s quite a remarkable feat to have your book not only optioned but actually made into a television show, let alone one that happens to be captivating, with rich historic details, and superbly cast. (My favorite is the mercenary Robert Rogers of the Queen’s Rangers, played by the hulking Angus MacFadyen—more of a man now, my wife says, than when he played Robert the Bruce in Braveheart.)

In any event, I highly recommend Turn. And congratulations to Alex Rose! (He has yet to make a cameo but I am holding out hope—perhaps as a tavern keeper? I don’t think he’s bulky enough to play a Hessian.)

Poster courtesy of AMC

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Going to California

April 14, 2014

881725c2-22c6-9719-d256-7a86d0d9da6d_Mad Men_Plane_Staircase_Jon_0223_V2Based on the ads, this final season of Mad Men involves a lot of plane travel to the Golden State. I couldn’t help but think of Laverne and Shirley’s disastrous move to L.A. in their eponymous sitcom. I know, the journey is mostly metaphorical. And indeed most of the cast was left in New York City, in dreary January, 1969, just as Richard Nixon was being sworn in.

Freddie Rumson (Joel Murray) is always a pleasure to see and what better way to open the season than with him? The shot of Freddie giving the Accutron pitch reminded me of the long-shot opening of The Godfather. Just one man talking (though in this case the camera pans out). As Willa Paskin over at Slate writes, “Long before the last sequence revealed that Freddie Rumsen is using Don as his ad-savant Cyrano, we (and maybe Peggy) should have known: Freddie has never given a pitch as great as that Accutron one in his whole life.” Don surreptitiously writing the pitch was like the retired Johnny Carson occasionally writing David Letterman’s jokes.

Don is fighting to stay sober, trying to curtail his peccadilloes. Will it last? I doubt it—the drinking made Draper who he was, for better and for worse. In this first episode, he was rather muted. That can’t possibly last.

I do hope we see more of Neve Campbell—I suddenly realize Party of Five was a very long time ago.

And yes, the Megan Draper-Sharon Tate conspiracy proceeds apace. We hear the sounds of coyotes, which is creeping out Don. But as I mentioned to the Mrs., her home reminds me of where the Manson murders occurred, in Bel Air. And as Willa Paskin informs us, “Helter Skelter, the true-crime book about the Manson murders, opens by observing how oddly sound travels in the canyons, just as Megan does. Creepy!”

Photo credit: Frank Ockenfels 3/AMC

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800px-Chopping_BoardFor $140, you, too, can be a Benihana chef. Well, sort of. As the Washington Post‘s Bonnie Benwick discovered when she attended Benihana’s Be the Chef program, some of those slicing and dicing moves are even tougher than they look. Her onion volcano sputtered, the seasoning was occasionally off, and her station could’ve been cleaner—but on the bright side, she didn’t cut her hand while catching a knife in midair and, after several tries, she actually managed to land a shrimp tail atop her toque.

And while those chefs (who don’t make much at all) can race through the courses with utensils twirling, the key is actually not speed, says Benihana’s corporate executive chef Tony Nemoto. “He told me to watch temperatures and to remember to move the food to lower-heat portions of the griddle,” writes Benwick. “The repositioning, albeit with a flourish, suddenly makes sense. The ever-darkening center of the surface runs 450 to 500 degrees. The adjacent perimeter is closer to 325, and the edge closest to guests averages 250 to 275 degrees.”

As for the kitchen, in case you ever wondered,

The cooks and prep assistants who work solely behind swinging doors are responsible for handling takeout orders and, among other things, deveining in the neighborhood of 250 pounds of shrimp per week. One small, sharp knife, operated efficiently, can dispatch 25 to 30 peeled shrimp every 15 seconds or so.

So don’t forget to tip!

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Going Green

April 7, 2014

RuhlmanAs usual, Michael Ruhlman has a thoughtful review of Deborah Madison’s The New Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone in the Wall Street Journal. Ruhlman is a fan and reminds us (as he does in his books) about the importance of technique versus recipe memorization—Madison is similarly inclined toward vegetables, putting much thought into their histories.

“A carrot in her garden had overgrown and gone to flower,” he writes. “She regarded the flower, appreciated its lacy umbrella form, allowed it, she said, to enchant her. Her eyes and mind wandered to similar flowers of food plants on their way to seed: parsley, fennel, cilantro, anise, even the Queen Anne’s Lace along the roadside. When aesthetic enchantment gave way to intellectual study, she discovered that these plants that fascinated her were all part of the same botanical family.”

There was a particular passage that struck me, however:

We have created a complicated food world where even plant foods come at a cost. As Dan Barber, chef and co-owner of Blue Hill, in Manhattan, and Blue Hill at Stone Barns in Pocantico Hills, N.Y., wrote in this newspaper, vegetables are “actually more costly than a cow grazing on grass. Vegetables deplete soil. They’re extractive. If soil has a bank account, vegetables make the largest withdrawals. . . . Butchering and eating animals may not be called kindness, but eating soy burgers that rely on pesticides and fertilizers precipitates destruction too. . . . There is no such thing as guilt-free eating.”

More food for thought.

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