I stopped by the French Culinary Institute last night (it has been sort of renamed the International Culinary Center, but I don't think it’s going to stick, any more than Avenue of the Americas has stuck as a name for Sixth Avenue). A chocolate company was launching a new truffle line. Deciding to go seemed like a no-brainer. I showed up and was handed a chef coat, which I put on and then dipped some plain chocolate truffles in couverture, and then decorated them. It was fun, particularly the dipping, because it requires taking chocolate spheres and throwing them with some force into melted chocolate, so they sink. Then fishing them out with a wire utensil that is circular on the end, allowing you to balance the newly covered truffle on it and tap it on the edge of the chocolate container, so the excess chocolate drips off before you set it down on wax paper for decorating. Fun.
Then I walked the scant mile to the Astor Center, where a rum cocktail competition was going on. Again, a no-brainer.
It turned out to be an extraordinary event, actually, or maybe it seemed extraordinary because I arrived relatively sober midway into a booze party.
Come to think of it, I wasn’t all that sober. I had sampled two chocolate cocktails and had a glass of Champagne at the chocolate event. But compared to most of the people at the Astor Center I was a teatotaller. Something like 24 or 28 cocktails were being served, and everyone seemed to want to try them all. I had a citrusy one called a Joan Collins (good name, right?), and another citrusy one with a sort of menthol bass note (from the yellow Chartreuse perhaps) that I think was called a Gowanus Sunset. I don’t know. My cocktail-drinking colleague Sonya Moore, who also was there, wrote a a much more detailed entry about the event than I have any interest in doing (although she apparently didn’t sample the Gowanus Sunset).
For me the highlight was simply witnessing the ability of beverage professionals to drink as much as they did, to be as gloriously inebriated as they were, and yet to be socially gracious and civilized. Perhaps a bit louder than they would be otherwise, sure. And more gregarious. But apart from just slightly slurred speech, a bit more abrupt changes of conversation topic than they might make otherwise, and bright red faces and noses, they were fine. There was no fighting, no falling down, no crying, certainly no vomiting.
The truly widespread drunkenness that was in evidence was what made the party seem so extraordinary to me.
I chatted with one guy (I don’t remember who — I’d had four or five cocktails and a glass of Champagne, remember, and it was only 8:30) about the widespread drunkenness around us that was so different from such situations out in the real world, among the amateurs, on nights like St. Patrick's Day or New Year's Eve. If I remember correctly, we agreed that people who can’t hold their liquor should know that and not embarrass themselves.
Of course, in New York we have the added benefit of a reliable subway and many taxis, so we can drink without having to drive.