Sense And Sensuality: Padma Lakshmi’s cuisine inspires Campari cocktails

31 May

As part of the Manhattan Cocktail Classic earlier this month, cookbook author and “Top Chef” star Padma Lakshmi hosted an evening of cocktails and cuisine inspired by recipes from her latest book, “Tangy Tart Hot & Sweet.” Held at The Box burlesque lounge in New York City’s Nolita neighborhood, the fête featured drinks made with the bitter aperitif Campari—the key ingredient in the Negroni cocktail—paired with appetizers taken from Lakshmi’s book. The dark red interior and sultry vintage décor evoked the hue and history of the Italian ruby spirit.

Tony Abou-Ganim, aka The Modern Mixologist, mixed up the classic Negroni, comprising Campari, Plymouth gin, Cinzano Rosso vermouth and an orange slice. The drink’s botanical and citrus aromas highlighted its sweet, smooth palate.

Jim Meehan, a partner at PDT in the East Village, offered the East Indian Negroni, his take on the classic cocktail blending Campari, Banks 5 Island rum, Lustau East India Solera Sherry and an orange twist. Its nutty flavor complemented the “Tart” prosciutto cups, which contained a radish salad with mustard seed caviar.

San Francisco-based mixologist Jacques Bezuidenhout prepared a bowl of Campari Punch, made with Campari, Martini & Rossi Rosato, chamomile tea, blood orange and grapefruit juices, The Bitter Truth Chocolate bitters, and orange and grapefruit oleo saccharum (“sweet oil”). The “Tangy” drink had a hint of bitterness that cut through the creaminess of the crispy chickpea cakes with brown butter raita.

Christy Pope and Chad Solomon of the beverage consulting and catering company Cuffs & Buttons in Brooklyn, New York, put their spin on the Negroni—dubbed “Marco Polo”—by adding an aromatic tincture that blends such spices as pippali pepper, mace, coriander and cardamom. The “Hot” cocktail’s complexity stood up to the spicy merguez sausage with olives and preserved lemon aioli atop toasted bread, as well as the sweet potato pakora with ginger cilantro chutney.

And lastly, Francesco Lafranconi created the Taj Milan cocktail, mixing Campari, Plymouth gin, Strega liqueur and Indian mango curry. The “Sweet” drink was topped with a creamy coconut foam that overpowered the other ingredients and didn’t quite work with the accompanying appetizers—yellowtail ceviche with yuzu and jackfruit on a prawn cracker and a tiger shrimp summer roll with black rice vermicelli and a jicama honey hoisin sauce. The latter was my favorite dish of the night.

Once I’d tried every food and drink pairing, I slipped behind the red velvet stage curtain, along with a handful of other bloggers, reporters and photographers, to speak with the lady of the hour, who emerged looking slightly dazed. Lakshmi smiled gorgeously as the cameras flashed. “I’m drunk,” she laughed apologetically. I asked Lakshmi what she thought was the best way to enjoy Campari. “On the rocks with club soda and some citrus,” she said. “I don’t like sugary drinks. With any good spirit or liqueur, you want to highlight it.”

Afterward, Lakshmi greeted the audience—cocktail in hand—and introduced the evening’s entertainment, courtesy of The Box’s burlesque dancers. She also thanked Campari for its donation to her charity, the Endometriosis Foundation of America.

Featuring scantily clad women and men strutting and gyrating across the stage, the performance was mild compared to the venue’s usual erotically charged fare. “I’ve seen people walk out,” said one attendee of The Box’s more risqué acts.

When the spectacle came to an end, I called it a night. There’s only so much the senses can take in one evening. Talk about sensory overload!

© Amber Drea and New York Drinkie, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of images and text without express and written permission is strictly prohibited. Excerpts may be used, provided that clear credit is given to Amber Drea and New York Drinkie with links directing to the original content.

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