Eat & Tell with Chef Annette Tomei
My current favorite quote is one from Virginia Woolf. Basically, it says that there are moments in life that we experience so intensely that they stand alone like a delicate droplet of water. Eventually, and all too quickly, the drop falls and that precious moment becomes a part of the whole, blending with all other moments of life. I think that’s a beautiful sentiment but maybe a little sad, as if it’s saying that no moment is truly, distinctly special – only a part of a homogenous blend of moments. I much prefer to think of life as a perfect cocktail.
Any good mixologist knows that the secret to the complexity, depth, and balance of a good drink lies not only in the main ingredients – the quality of the liquor, the mixers, or even the ice used, but in the seasoning. The difference between a chilled shot of gin and a martini lies in the vermouth – no matter if it appears in the traditional proportion of three to one or if it’s just a brief mist of the glass before pouring in the chilled main course. By definition, a true cocktail is made using bitters – intensely flavored droplets of distilled aromatics that make the difference between an average mixed drink and a real and delicious cocktail. A perfect Manhattan would not be so perfect without the bitters!
As an analogy for life, the word bitters makes this idea seems a bit cliché – but, really, that’s not where I’m going with this… I’m thinking more along the lines of unique and truly intensely flavored (or felt) moments that change the quality of your life, hopefully for the better, the same way the addition of intense and unique flavors change a drink or a dish (also, hopefully for the better).
Moments like love at first sight, first kisses, a silky breeze on a moonlit night, the right song at the right time – all add up to the seasoning of life. Equally, the bitters, the vermouth, the Aperol, the Pernod, or my newest favorite – the fresh calamansi juice in a rum and Coke, can make a simple beverage something truly unique.
My favorite foods have bursts of unexpected spice, acidity, or other distinct but well-integrated flavors as well. I love to incorporate chiles in unexpected ways, like macerated in with strawberries for strawberry shortcake. I cook with an assortment of vinegars, citrus fruits, and other acidic flavor enhancers to make flavors dance in soups, stews and braises; and my cupboards are loaded with condiments from around the world that I love to experiment with for adding depth to simple foods. All of these items, though used sparingly, give the dish substance – character – same way I like to live my life!
Now that spring is officially in full swing and summer is just around the corner, there are many great opportunities to add a little spice to your life, your drink, and your dinner… Remember it’s the little bits of big flavor we season our lives with that make the average extraordinary. Experiment, allow a little surprise into your life… be your own mixologist!
martini photo by Christy Thompson
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