New Orleans is a serious food town, and one of its top chefs is local boy John Besh. Raised in Southern Louisiana, Besh now runs six restaurants in the city, including the acclaimed August, Domenica and Lüke. For his efforts, he won the James Beard Award for the Best Chef of the Southeast in 2006. (He’s also a frequent guest on the Food Network.) But Besh is quick to point out that the Big Easy isn’t just about food. It is, of course, also a great place to drink. “I come from a city where the cocktail never went away,” he says.
While Besh has a fondness for beer—Lüke has its own signature brews—he admits “the older I get the more I prefer a well-made liquor or decent cocktail.” What he drinks usually depends on the weather. In the cooler fall and winter months, he’s sipping Black Maple Hill Rye, Sazerac Rye and Pappy Van Winkle 20-Year-Old Bourbon. In the spring he mixes up Ojen Frappes and other anise-flavored drinks. And he fights the sweltering heat and humidity of New Orleans’ summer by drinking rum, like Mount Gay and tonic with a lime twist. “That’s my year,” he says. “I go from whiskey Johnnie to anise Johnnie to rum Johnnie.”
No matter the season, it’s not unusual to have a drink in New Orleans with your meal—even breakfast. One of his favorite morning pairings is Brandy Milk Punch and grits. “Every one of my restaurants serves Brandy Milk Punch,” Besh says. “You pretty much have to serve it. It’s like having a restaurant in New Orleans that didn’t serve crabmeat.”
Timmy’s Brandy Milk Punch
Contributed by: John Besh
1 cup Brandy
3 cups Milk
3 tablespoons Powdered sugar
1 teaspoon Vanilla extract
Put the brandy, milk, sugar, vanilla and nutmeg into a blender and fill with ice. Blend for 20 seconds. Strain the mixture into glasses filled with fresh crushed ice and serve. This recipe serves four. You may need to add a bit more sugar, so taste a little and sweeten as you go.
Jalapeño Cheese Grits
Contributed by: John Besh
1 cup Stone-ground white corn grits
1 Jalapeño pepper
3 tablespoons Butter
2 tablespoons Mascarpone or cream cheese
.25 cup Edam cheese, grated
Heat four cups of water in a large, heavy-bottomed pot over high heat until it comes to a boil. Slowly pour in the grits while whisking constantly. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and cook, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon, for about 20 minutes. While the grits are cooking, pan-roast the jalapeño pepper in a small skillet over high heat until the skin is brown and blistered. Cut the pepper in half lengthwise and remove the skin and the seeds and discard. Mince the flesh and add it to the pot of grits. Remove the pot from the heat and fold in the butter, mascarpone and Edam cheese. Season the dish with salt. Serves six to eight people.
These recipes are from My New Orleansby John Besh. (Brandy Milk Punch photo by Ditte Isager)