If your idea of a New Orleans cocktail is a Kool-Aid-colored, high-alcohol concoction served in a plastic hand grenade or a fancy hurricane-lamp-like glass, stop thinking like a student of freshman on his first trip to Bourbon Street and take a look at upscale bar owner Neal Bodenheimer’s new book.
“Cure: New Orleans Drinks and How to Mix ‘Em,” by Bodenheimer and food writer Emily Timberlake, is packed with cocktail recipes created at Cure, the craft cocktail bar Bodenheimer founded in 2009. The bar is widely recognized for its modernity. New Orleans’ premier destination bar for craft cocktails. The book contains recipes for Sours, Manhattans, and Bitter Slings interspersed with a little history of New Orleans, its drinking culture, and the Cure men and women who created the drinks.
Bodenheimer, whose family first settled in Louisiana in the 1850s, was a bartender in New York City with plans to open a cocktail bar there. But then Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, and like many New Orleans residents who saw the disaster unfold in their hometown, Bodenheimer felt the immediate urge to return.
“I just decided that I wanted to…go home,” he said in an interview with The Associated Press.
Cure opened its doors in 2009 on Rue Freret, far from the more well-known tourist spots such as the French Quarter or Magazine Street. The bar has become a key anchor as the street has not only recovered from the heavy damage of Katrina, but has also become a thriving culinary artery. In 2018, Cure received the prestigious James Beard Award for Outstanding Barre Program. It is also the first of many bars and restaurants in which Bodenheimer is now involved.
There’s Cane & Table and Peychaud’s in the French Quarter, Vals restaurant on Freret Street, and last year its first venture outside of New Orleans – Dauphine’s restaurant in Washington.
New Orleans’ reputation for drinking and a love of parties is well known. During Prohibition, New Orleans was known as the wettest city in the country. Today, in some New Orleans neighborhoods, people can legally drink a cup of alcohol while walking down the street.
The book includes recipes for many of the classic cocktails associated with New Orleans, including the Ramos Gin Fizz, the Vieux Carré, and the Sazerac (Bodenheimer sadly but firmly refutes the local tradition that the Sazerac was the world’s first cocktail). But the vast majority of drinks are creations of Bodenheimer and Cure staff. With few exceptions, each season Cure introduces a new line of beverages that Bodenheimer attributes to the diverse and creative staff.
“I work with amazing people,” he said. “It’s just amazing how someone brings their own… talent to beverage making. And that talent is unique.
There’s an accuracy about the book and its recipes that may surprise readers who expect a loose, “let the good times roll” approach to New Orleans drinks. The Ramos Gin Fizz is shaken for exactly 2 1/2 minutes. Cure uses unscented hand soap at the bar so it doesn’t interfere with the scent of the expressed citrus. Bitters are added to drinks using a dropper instead of a dasher bottle.
Liz Williams, founder of the Southern Food and Beverage Museum and one of the authors of “Lift Your Spirits: A Celebratory History of Cocktail Culture in New Orleans,” said Bodenheimer and Cure don’t sometimes make the “super complicated crazy drinks.” . seen elsewhere. There is no Bloody Mary with a jungle of fruits and vegetables on top, for example.
“There’s a lot of elegance to the way the drinks are presented,” she said.
The book is interspersed with essays by Bodenheimer’s friends and contemporaries that present various aspects of the city’s drinking culture and reflect the university’s history major’s obsession with history. One section features New Orleans photographer and writer L. Kasimu Harris, who documented the last black-owned neighborhood bars in the gentrifying city in the book “Vanishing Black Bars and Lounges.”
Another section details Bodenheimer’s program and recommendations for Mardi Gras, including a recipe for the eponymous punch. Essentially, the book is, as Bodenheimer describes it, a “love letter to the city from me.”
“It’s really meant to honor … the city and to honor the work of the people who have graced us with their talent behind Cure’s bar,” he said.
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