Pairing Cocktails at Boucherie

Every summer around this time I return home from New Orleans recharged.

This year, representing Piedmont Distillers, I was tasked with creating a signature cocktail to pair with the vinegary twang of Carolina barbecue.  I could use any of the Junior Johnson's Midnight Moon infusions (cranberry, strawberry, blueberry, cherry, apple pie) from the case which magically landed on my porch. Thank you Sarah LeRoy!

Because their roots thrive in the acidic soil of eastern North Carolina, I chose blueberry, a "superfood" full of anti-oxidants. For the past few months I had been experimenting with muddling lemon grass in cocktails and the notion of calling one the Blue Grass Moon brought a smile to my face. It called forth visions of banjos and beautiful women dancing around a campfire, all warmed from within by the triple-distilled spirits.

As I puttered around my kitchen, experimenting with proportions and sinking deeper in my cups, I was tempted to grab my wife and run around outside like children howling at the moon.

before the mess in my kitchen

When the day of the event finally arrived, I met Texan Sly Cosmopoulos and Kansas City tender Berto Santoro in the lobby of the Hotel Monteleone for a ride to Boucherie, the restaurant hosting the meal as part of the Spirited Dinner series of Tales of the Cocktail.

Sly and Berto before the show
Chef Nathanial Zimet began Boucherie out of a food truck called The Que Crawl, a.k.a. "a romp through BBQ country." The business became a favorite of many, including artist Rebecca Rebouche, whose eyes lit up when I mentioned it. These days, Boucherie lives in a renovated home on Jeannette Street. With James Denio at the helm crafting delicious cocktails, the space routinely books up weeks in advance. In retrospect, it was the perfect venue for a themed dinner called Barbecue Coast-to-Coast.

8115 Jeannette St, New Orleans

Sly, Berto, and I spent a few hours prepping for the over fifty cocktails we would later make on the fly as Zimet's corresponding course hit the servers' hands. The night sold out, the menu was terrific, and everyone attending enjoyed a night fit for kings and queens of old.

I spent the next few days wandering New Orleans as if in a dream. An old friend, Brad Kunkle, flew down to hang, and as much as I love everything about Tales of the Cocktail, I steered clear of most of the events. I've had media passes on four previous occasions and spent most of my time in seminars and some of the most lavish parties ever imagined. This time around, I wanted to know if my lingering love affair for the city itself had any real substance. Visit back in a few weeks to find out. Until then, next time you're making drinks, how about a pitcher of Blue Grass Moon?

Blue Grass Moon menu card

signed menu from the night

Interview: Celia Rivenbark

originally published November 2011

Syndicated humor columnist and author of five previous books with 

titles like You Can't Drink All Day if You Don't Start in the Morning, Celia Rivenbark's says her secret weapon is having her fourteen-year-old daughter to update her website. 

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Celia and I at The Fortunate Glass

"My daughter will be studying, and I'm like, 'what is wrong with you? Snookie is in trouble!' she jokes, before turning serious. "I'm consumed with pop culture. If my People Magazine is one hour late, I'm hunting down the mailman and it's not pretty." 

Sitting down with Celia makes an hour feel like five minutes. Abandoning my boring questions, I decided to sit back and listen.

"It's so shallow, I know," she said, "But Snookie pulls me in. Studying? I never studied. I had one hundred eighty kids in our graduating class and I was 90th. I did just enough to get by. My daughter, she's the most responsible member of our household. She just signed up for sign language club. I'm like, 'Oh honey that's really admirable.' But I'm thinking, Is cheer-leading out of style completely?"

Maybe there's some other motivation, like a cute boy?

"I asked... Don't think I didn't ask. 'No,' she said, 'Mommy, I think it could be really great because that way if there are deaf kids at high school I could help them talk to the teacher,' and I'm like, "Who are you and where did you come from?"

What are you working on?

"My next book, already under contract, is a funny look at etiquette. I'm thinking of calling it That's Not a Salad Fork, You Stupid &*#$."

Plans for the holidays?

"I pay no attention to Christmas. It's a big pain. No, actually, we always go to my mother-in-law's. Stockings hung by the chimney with care and home-made coconut cake."

Tell me about your big break?

"My first book Bless your Heart, Tramp was published in 2000, and I sold it out of the trunk of my car wherever two or more gathered. Nan Graham and I wrangled a gig on the John Wayne radio show and happened to mention our signing in Charlotte. We were used to five people showing up, but this place was packed. After that everything changed. We both sold a load of books which led to an agent calling to ask if she could represent me. In two weeks, she sold it and had me under contract for another." 
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"I did okay. Not bad for a high school diploma, right?"

Have you found your dream job?

"No, I always wanted to write program synopsis for the TV Guide. I would quit all this in a second if they'd have me. But I'd tell them what I was going to do. I'd write about Dexter. A lovable serial killer, what's not to love? And, Mad Men, of course. And Breaking Bad; the absolute best!" 

Read anything good lately? Books, fan mail?

"There are a few books I can remember weeping because I didn't want them to end. The Stand was one. The Corrections and Prince of Tides were others. I absolutely wept because I thought I was never going to read anything better. But, then I did. Luckily, with my newspaper column, I do get more positive feedback than negative, which is nice, because when you think about it, most people don't say "I'm going to write a letter saying I really enjoyed that. Most people are like, I hate her, I want her to die in her sleep, you know, and then they write the letter."

Want to read what she can't print in her humor column? Check out You Don't Sweat Much, For a Fat Girl, online at .

Cocktails & Conversations with Greg Matheson

Veteran barman Greg Matheson is one of those rare individuals who listens more than he talks. 

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Master of Hospitality
at The City Club at de Rosset
Know any good jokes?

What's the difference between The Rolling Stones & a Scottish Man?
I'm not sure.

The Rolling Stones sang, "Hey you, get off of my cloud" the Scottish Man says, "Hey McCloud, get off of my Ewe"
How long have you been bartending?

Started bartending in 1991 at Gatsby's in Asheville. I was a student and I lived above the bar. It was an exciting time! My first job in Wilmington was, and still is, at City Club. I managed Percy's Jazz Bar for the previous owners from 2002 to 2005. It was the first smoke-free bar in town named for jazz legend Percy Heath, a native Wilmingtonian. During that time I really started taking an interest in the history of mixology.
Has the craft taught you anything?

I adhere to the "Bar Golden Rule" which is to treat your patrons as you wish to be treated. I am also a firm believer in knowing the history of your craft . As in life, how can you know where you're going if you don't know where you've been?
What's the crazy scene you've ever witnessed?
As any good bartender, we never tell! However, I will say that just when you think you've seen it all - you'll find that you stand corrected!
Favorite drinks to make?
The de Rosset Pimm's Cup is my favorite creation. I find adding ginger beer in place of lemon/lime soda is a refreshing twist. I also add the muddled cucumber, lemon and mint as well as Hendricks Gin to make the cocktail my own.
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de Rosset Pimm's Cup
I also enjoy making the Dram Tree Rum Swizzle, in which I make my own falernum by roasting cloves, allspice and nutmeg. Once the oils are rendered, I combine them with lime zest, and julienned ginger in neutral spirits for forty-eight hours. Once strained, I combine the liquid with simple syrup infused with pure almond extract. It's a much lighter and more aromatic version of the rum swizzle.

Favorite cocktail spots? 

 Spice Market in New York City, Husk in Charleston, South Carolina and Commander Palace in New Orleans. 

The deRosset Pimm's Cup1 1/2 oz. of Pimm's No. 1 Liqueur1/2 oz. Hendricks Gin3 oz. Goslings Ginger Beer1 Fresh Mint Leaf1 Cucumber Wedge1 Lemon WedgeMuddle together the cucumber wedge, mint, & lemon wedge. Add the PimmÃÔ & Hendricks in a shaker with ice. Shake well and strain over ice in a tall glass. Top with ginger beer and garnish with a cucumber stick and mint leaf.

Dram Tree Rum Swizzle1 1/2 oz. Bacardi Superior White Rum1/2 oz. Falenum1/2 oz. Roses Lime JuiceCombinethe rum wit the falernum and lime juice in a shaker with ice. Shake well, strain and serve in a rocks glass over one large rock. Garnish with a candied lime twist.

Starchefs Review: Cocktails & Conversations


    Cookbook Review: 

    Cocktails & Conversations 

    by Joel Finsel

    by Deanna Dong
    July 2012

    As 2004 Rising Star Mixologist Joel Finsel muses in the introduction
    to Cocktails & Conversations, the role of bartender extends far 
    beyond a steady grip over the cocktail shaker. As Finsel puts it, he is 
    “friend, therapist, peace-maker, peeping Tom [sic], simultaneously 
    hired ear, and the last life raft one can hope to cling before drifting off 
    into the sea of total inebriation.” And during his years behind the bar at 
    Philadelphia’s Astral Plane, Finsel has performed all these duties dili-
    gently. But now he’s taken on an additional role, that of pseudo bar 
    historian. Readers get a barfly’s point of view as Finsel records the 
    bizarre encounters and ridiculous stories of colorful clientele and 
    kitchen staff in a collection of fictional vignettes inspired by true events. 
    Scattered between these tales are short essays on the basic spirits of 
    the craft (bourbon, cognac, gin, vodka, tequila, rum, scotch, & absinthe) 
    as well as a few classic recipes for each.
    The emphasis of Cocktails & Conversations is definitely more on
    conversation than cocktail. This is not an innovative recipe book (drinks 
    edge on the side of tradition and simplicity), nor will you find an academic
    tract on the delicate balance of sweetness, bitterness, and acidity. But 
    what you will sense is how much the bar is like the theater: conflict, 
    romance, comedy, and tragedy spill from the stools like so many tipped
    over pint glasses. Cast members are all walk-ons and the dialogue is 
    all improvised, although Finsel discloses that it’s a work of fiction based 
    on a real place.
    A preview of the scenes: the Astral Plane publicist’s near run-in with Vivien
    Leigh, the main man meeting tempting female customers, the history of gin 
    presented by precariously sane woman from the street, and the excitement 
    of being chosen by as the 2004 Philadelphia Rising Stars 
    Mixologist (we can confirm the last event is nonfictional). In a rambling, 
    casual style, Finsel meanders from one story to the next, loosely covering 
    his tenure at the restaurant from hiring to his last night. And like a stand-up 
    comedy routine or the latest Will Ferrell movie, this memoir is best enjoyed 
    with a drink in hand.

    Cocktails & ConversationsAuthor:

    Wish Upon a Star:
    Astral Plane Owner Reed Ray
    Apaghian waited six months for
    the stars to align before opening
    the restaurant. He also asked
    Finsel for his astrological sign
    before agreeing to hire him as

    Professional training:
    Finsel provides useful tidbits for
    novices to earn their bartending
    stripes, including eight steps to
    tasting wine and a discussion
    of Cognac vintages.

    Cape Fear Wine & Beer's Megan Loux

    Interviewing other bartenders has been a wonderful way to expand my own knowledge of the craft. This month, Beer Professor Megan Loux makes her debut in glossy print.