Chef Daniel Boulud still remembers the unique smokiness when he took his first sip of scotch at age 12. “Not many liquors are as interesting and complex as whisky,” he says, recalling the decadent, charming countess who gave him a taste when he delivered goat cheese from his family’s farm in France.
Last month, he debuted his own single malt, a bespoke collaboration with the Dalmore distillery, at his New York restaurants. This week, “Dalmore Selected by Daniel Boulud” is on the menu, paired with whisky-laced desserts.
Famous chefs are the latest celebrities lending their names to wines, spirits, and beers. They join scores of musicians (B.B. King), actors (George Clooney), race-car drivers (Jarno Trulli), porn stars (Natalie Oliveros, a.k.a. Savanna Samson) who’ve extended their brands to alcohol.
I’ve never had high expectations for celeb bottlings. Many create buzz but are pretty ordinary -- or worse -- in taste quality. My “ugh!” examples: Fergie’s Fergalicious red and Drew Barrymore’s pinot grigio delle Venezie.
From a top chef, whose superior palate is at the core of his or her image, I expect the offered liquid to be as delicious as the cuisine -- and of course, food friendly.
Boulud’s golden-colored whisky doesn’t disappoint. Its heady scent reminds me of caramelized apples, maybe tarte tatin. What strikes me most is its rich, creamy, sensual texture, perfect with dark, slightly bitter chocolate. (Boulud’s private label Cuvee Daniel wines, selected for his restaurants, have been around for a while and are also pretty good.)
Dalmore approached Boulud with the idea of creating a whisky with its master distiller, obviously hoping for marketplace synergy. Boulud’s sommeliers helped score samples after work, from 11 pm to midnight.
“Blending whisky of different ages, from different casks, like moscatel or madeira, has parallels with the seasoning I bring to food,” Boulud says. “It’s playing with flavor, refining complexity.”
I catch up with Ferran Adria at a Sotheby’s reception the night before El Bulli’s remaining wines go on the auction block to raise money for his foundation. In between posing cheerfully with a long line of worshipful attendees, the energetic chef tells me about his beer Inedit ($10 to $15), which comes in a black 750 ml wine bottle and should, he says, be served in a wine glass.
The recipe collaboration between Barcelona brewery Estrella Damm and the El Bulli team -- Adria, manager Juli Soler, and sommeliers David Seijas and Ferran Centelles -- took nearly two years.
“I wanted a simple, easy food beer, a wine alternative,” Adria says, sketching out his views in heavily Spanish-accented French. “We tasted 400 trial versions with food. Inedit goes with vinegar-based sauces, asparagus, artichokes, anything.”
Since its debut several years ago, this sophisticated brew in the style of a Belgian witbier, lightly spiced with licorice, orange peel and coriander, has had a mixed reception. Many beer lovers complain it’s too understated, but I think its delicate fruitiness and subtlety make it one of the best beers I’ve ever tasted with food.
Elsewhere, the chef-beer concept seems to be going strong. In February, Joel Robuchon launched Yebisu, a joint project with Sapporo brewery, in his restaurants in Japan. Designed to go with French cuisine, it’s brewed with malt that comes from Champagne.
Chicago chef Rick Bayless serves Marisol, a crisp Belgian-style wheat beer collaboration with Goose Island brewery, on tap at his Frontera Grill and Topolobampo in Chicago. Spiced with coriander and citrus, it’s more refreshing with his Mexican cuisine than wine. He’s now partnering to produce a Mexican craft beer, due out next year.
The chef-wine connection seems fairly underdeveloped so far, but Michelin-starred chef Charlie Palmer’s bright, tangy, layered Russian River Valley pinot makes me wish for more.
I sipped and spit his 2011 Charlie Clay pinot ($40) at The Bowery Hotel, where Palmer and several others poured wines at a reception for the just-published book, “Celebrity Vineyards” (Welcome Books, $35) by Nick Wise.
Palmer, the only chef in the book, lives in Sonoma, where he owns a small pinot noir vineyard and partners with winemaker and neighbor Clay Mauritson of Mauritson Wines.
“The inspiration for my pinot started on a trip to Burgundy in 2005,” he says. “I want upfront fruit and balance. And good acidity is important in a food wine.”
To him one of the great combinations is pinot and pork; the wine’s ripe, juicy fruit balances the pork’s smokiness and saltiness. His first vintage was 2006. Sixty percent of his 400 cases are sold in his restaurants.
The latest chef-wine venture seems more about endorsement than significant involvement in shaping the wine -- maybe not such a selling point. Remember James Beard’s long list of less than stellar food product endorsements?
Ex-hedge fund manager Arnaud Christiaens is hoping the names of three-star French chefs on the bottles will convince buyers to splash out 200 to 291 pounds each on his new Secrets of the Great Chefs (SGC) line of expensive Bordeaux grands vins.
But at these prices, without famous vineyards, is a vote from the toques enough?
(Elin McCoy writes on wine and spirits for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are her own.)
Muse highlights include Manuela Hoelterhoff on opera and Jorg von Uthman on arts in Paris.