I have never been nominated for an Academy Award. I’m informed by friends in the know that this relates to my not having acted since a production of ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas in fourth grade. I narrated; Brilliantly, I might add. Regardless, I don’t find myself in possession of one of those golden statuettes, affectionately dubbed “Oscar”. Hollywood’s most enduring symbol of achievement was described by screenwriter Francis Marion as “the ideal symbol… an athletic body… with half its head, that part which held his brains, completely sliced off.” At 13-1/2 inches high it would be just perfect as a centerpiece on my dining table.
The true purpose of the Academy Awards, for those of us living in the forgotten fringe of theater stardom, is to see and be seen. It is far more important to be seen IN an Oscar de la Renta than WITH an Oscar de la Statue. The golden boy on your arm should be slightly more pliable than cast metal, and preferably earning his own paycheck.
In this regard, it is truly the Oscar Party that is more important than the awards ceremony. Who’s at the Governor’s Ball? Who’s at Spago? Who’s at Pagani? Who’s with whom? I might note, nobody’s asking, “what did they eat?” Lets face it, more than one salmon canapé and they’ll start popping out of their Cynthia Rowley gowns. Wolfgang Puck may have roasted his chicken breasts with risotto and black truffles, but it didn’t make the front page. As long as there’s champagne and cocktails, everyone’s happy. Not me. Personally, I can’t tell the difference between a Vera Wang and a Vera Charles; But I’ll whip up a Snapper Veracruz or a Pasta PrimaVera faster than you can fasten your seatbelts. There may be no statuette on my sideboard, but I can put a Veal Oscar in front of you that’ll make you forget about Cher’s new dress.
To throw a fab Oscar party begin by inviting those friends you can make catty comments about the movies with, get a big screen TV, and set up the dining table where you can watch the whole thing while you wine and dine. Also, bring out the good crystal, china and silver service – let’s do this right!
THE NOMINEES ARE…
Start the night off by preparing “real” cocktails, not cosmos and apple-tinis and woo-woos. If you must drink those, please do it in secret. Martinis and Manhattans are perfect for this sort of party; simple, elegant drinks. A couple of notes about Martinis: First, they involve two ingredients, either gin and vermouth or vodka and vermouth. Looking at the vermouth bottle does not constitute making it an ingredient – that’s a glass of vodka or gin, up. I know we’ve all been raised to think a dry martini doesn’t contain the stuff – it does – just less of it. The original martini was 1/3 vermouth. A dry one should be about 1/8. Try it, you might find out that a martini is actually capable of having flavor. Also, let’s put one fallacy to rest her and now, gin doesn’t bruise. You can shake or stir to your heart’s content. The only thing that shaking does is dilute the gin (or vodka). The same will happen if you stir too long.
When it comes to preparing cocktails, always use good quality ingredients. My current faves for vodka: Mor, Van Hoo, and Rain. Save the more commercial brands, albeit good, for cocktails where the other ingredients are providing the flavor. For gins: Old Raj, Tanqueray #10, and Junipero. Noilly Prat makes a good, basic dry vermouth, but you might try one of the new, interesting brands like King Eider or Vya.
In my book, Manhattans contain bitters. Just a couple drops, but like the vermouth in a Martini, they add to the complexity. A Manhattan is also classically made with rye whiskey. Bourbon makes a good drink as well, but for a change of pace, why not try the original?
Again, good quality ingredients are key. For rye, Canadian Club Classic (12 year old) makes a great drink. My favorite, Van Winkle Family Reserve (13 year old). For sweet vermouth I prefer Martini & Rossi. Also give a look at Vya, which makes a unique style.
THE ACADEMY AWARD GOES TO…
The classic Veal Oscar is a cutlet of veal topped with white asparagus, crabmeat, and Bearnaise sauce. With a little inspiration from a chef friend, here’s my, slightly different, version. Serves six.
6 thin veal cutlets
1 package of “dashi” flakes (about 5 grams)
3 sheets of “nori”
freshly ground black pepper
3 dozen asparagus spears
1 pound lump crabmeat
½ cup rice flour
1/4 cup cooking oil
juice of two lemons
3 tablespoons stone-ground mustard
2 egg yolks
1 cup olive oil
1 branch of fresh tarragon leaves
Dashi flakes are dried, shaved bonito (a tuna relative) that are used to make broth. Nori sheets are the large green seaweed squares used in making sushi. Both should be available at a good grocery or certainly at any Japanese market.
You will need two small plates and a bowl to prepare. On one plate put the rice flour, on the other, a finely processed (in your food processor) mix of the dashi and nori. In the bowl, lightly beat the two eggs with a couple spoonfuls of water. Season the cutlets with salt and pepper. Coat in the flour, dip in the egg wash, and then coat well with the dashi/nori mix.
Saute in the oil in a large skillet until golden brown on both sides. Place on a warm platter in the oven to hold until ready to serve. Meanwhile, cook your asparagus in just a little water and butter until tender. Season with salt and pepper and reserve on the side.
In your blender, on fairly high speed, whip together the mustard, lemon juice and egg yolks. Gradually add the olive oil – you are basically making a light mayonnaise. At the last moment, drop in the tarragon leaves (not the branch) and process till finely chopped.
In a small pan, warm the crabmeat and when it is hot, stir in enough of the sauce to thoroughly coat the crab. Remove from the heat.
To serve, place a cutlet on each plate, decoratively arrange a half dozen asparagus spears, and top with a good dollop of the crabmeat mixture. Pop a bottle of champagne, or pour another round of cocktails, and seal your bets on Best Picture with a toast.
Q San Francisco magazine premiered in late 1995 as a ultra-slick, ultra-hip gay lifestyle magazine targeted primarily for the San Francisco community. It was launched by my friends Don Tuthill and Robert Adams, respectively the publisher and editor-in-chief, who had owned and run Genre magazine for several years prior. They asked me to come along as the food and wine geek, umm, editor, for this venture as well. In order to devote their time to Passport magazine, their newest venture, they ceased publication of QSF in early 2003.