“This is a great year for an Oscar food and drinks party,” says Teyana Darlington, co-author with her brother André of “Movie Night Menus: Dinner and Drink Recipes Inspired by Films We Love.” “Because so many of the films have such a sense of place and time and diversity.”
That’s especially good news for stay-at-home Oscar devotees settling down for an evening of movie stars, couture gowns and acceptance speeches. Long-time Oscar watchers know the Academy Awards ceremony is at least a seven-hour viewing extravaganza. The fashionistas tune in at 5 p.m. in the afternoon to see the red carpet arrivals; the actual telecast starts at 8 p.m. and the presentations can last until after midnight. A bowl of popcorn and a can of soda is not going to provide nearly enough sustenance to keep anyone going until the wee hours and the Best Picture announcement.
For their first book, “The New Cocktail Hour: The Essential Guide to Hand-Crafted Drinks,” the sibling duo remixed more than 500 cocktail classics for contemporary tastes. Teyana says she developed a habit of watching old movies to see what everyone was drinking. For example, in “Casablanca” she noticed the patrons at Sam’s were subversively drinking French 75s, a cocktail served at Harry’s Bar in Paris and named after a French cannon.
Their knack for pairing dinners and drinks brought them to the attention of Turner Classic Movies, who asked them to create a dining guide to classic movies for a new generation of movie buffs. This idea became the new “Movie Night Menus” book.
André did the research and developed the list of films for the book and the pair would scour the movies for cocktails and what foods might make good pairings.
“We were always on the lookout for cocktail themes, but when there weren’t any, we went for terroir — something that evoking place and mood,” he says. For example, to go along with “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” they suggested a frothy champagne cocktail because milk and champagne are frequently featured in the film, paired with French pastries similar to the one Holly Golightly (Audrey Hepburn) nibbles on in the movie’s iconic opening scene.
Using André and Tenaya’s recipes and cocktail suggestions, it’s easy and fun for home chefs and amateur mixologists to create drinks and snacks to pair with this year’s Oscar nominated films. Commercial breaks offer time to change “reels” from one movie theme to the next and the technical awards will probably provide ample time for a proper dinner spread.
André says some films, like “Manchester by the Sea,” are so evocative of New England, it’s easy to think of drinks and dinner match-ups. It’s the perfect time to roll out bowls of clam chowder and fish and chips, perhaps with a local microbrew. Other flicks may require a bit more effort, but it’s definitely worth it to match the drinks and snacks to the nominated films.
“‘Moonlight’ was my favorite film this year, food-wise,” Tenaya says. “It’s easy to miss the three major dinner scenes in the film when Chiron is served a meal — they’re beautifully shot moments, and they really represent his only source of nourishment. In ‘Moonlight,’ food represents such tenderness — really the only tenderness in the film.” For a Moonlight-inspired menu full of Cuban food, Tenaya says, “We’d make a big pot of Arroz con Pollo, a simple chicken and rice dish that’s quick to make for a crowd. It’s in our book paired with a Coconut Milk Punch, a very festive drink that could easily fit into the Miami setting. A bottle of red wine plays a significant role at the end of ‘Moonlight,’ so of course you could serve that, too.”
Andre says a film like “La La Land” can be lots of fun because there are so many options for a themed menu. “People will have different ideas of what LA or Hollywood means to them,” he says. “For some, it might be chopped salad, for others it might mean burgers or maybe champagne.” For an Oscar party, pair decided to go old-school with their “La La Land” dining choices.
“We’d pick a classic cocktail like a Clover Club,” Tenaya says. “It’s a frothy egg white cocktail that might have been served at the jazz bar that appears in the movie. In our book, we pair it with red devil cake with chocolate frosting that would be very festive to serve on Oscar night. You could also go very California and serve an Aware Salad from our book. The salad is adapted from the first vegetarian restaurant on the Sunset Strip. It would pair really well with the French 75. But if you just want to serve a cocktail and apps she suggests following their Sunset Boulevard menu, which includes a Ritz cocktail and caviar toasts.
A film’s atmosphere can inspire a food and drink pairing beyond what is actually on the screen. For a darker film such as Paul Verhoeven’s “Elle,” starring Best Actress nominee Isabelle Huppert, the authors suggest an adventurous cheese board with an American in Paris cocktail, a “tart and woodsy” blend of bourbon, crème de cassis and vermouth that pairs well with a selection of funky French cheeses that can be picked up at any good cheesemonger.
However, sometimes even the most careful and repeated viewings just don’t offer anything at all for the food-minded cinephile. Tenaya says she and André watched “Hidden Figures” very carefully and didn’t notice any food or drink scenes and they drew a blank. “Nothing came immediately to mind.” After some consideration, she says fans wanting to honor this film as they watch the awards show could serve Aviation cocktail. It’s a complex Prohibition era cocktail with gin, crème de violette and maraschino liqueur (not the syrup from a jar of the cherries. Look for the liqueur at your local wine shop) that takes on a celestial blue color when mixed.
André says you can could inject a bit of humor into your viewing party by recreating a scene from “Florence Foster Jenkins” and serve piles of sandwiches and potato salad (with just a few chives) — served up from the bathtub, or perhaps another very large container. “It’s not nominated for Best Picture, but it does star Meryl Streep, who is nominated for Best Actress,” André says. “And Meryl is always worth honoring.”
See all the drink recipes mentioned here.
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