Q & A with Lynne Rossetto Kasper

In the May/June 09 issue, we chat with The Splendid Table’s Lynne Rosetto Kasper about the world of drinks and what she’s imbibing these days. Below are some extra outtakes from our conversation—for the for the rest of the interview (including what she thinks makes the perfect cocktail, and what she’ll be drinking tonight), check out the May/June 09 issue.

Imbibe: Have you ever imbibed something in the name of journalism that you would not have if it weren’t for a story?
Lynne Rossetto Kasper: Yes, we all have! I’m more of a wine drinker, and not long ago there was an experience with a well-intentioned winemaker who enjoyed total ignorance. The wine was stunningly over tannic, so badly made! The other part that was so troubling was that the tasting was done at the brand new winery at a freshly varnished table that we were all standing around. When you tried to get the scent of the wine you got the table! I was with a very small group of wine people, and I had to go off by myself and collapse in hysterics because the pretension of this was so great. All you could do was laugh. It was one of those situations where this person was just going to let the grapes lead. He was not going to consult experts or anything; he was going to allow the grapes to tell him how to make wine. You know, there’s a reason we have several thousand years of human thought to tap into now and then.

Imbibe: What’s the most memorable beverage you’ve ever tasted?
LRK: I think that there is no question: balsamic vinegar. The first time I tasted vinegar from the barrel was with one of the makers from Modena, and it was a revelation. I had it at a time when none of us had even heard of vinegar. None of the vinegars we could generally buy in the supermarket has anything to do with what balsamic vinegar really is, which is much closer to a liqueur. I was tasting vinegar I didn’t fully appreciate at the time, but learned much later that this was one of the great masters, and his family had been making balsamic since the 1400s. I tasted two vinegars that came from two separate rows of barrels, and they were extraordinarily different. They had come from the same harvest and the same grape, but the difference was the actual barrel that they would pass through. This kind of vinegar is never used in a salad or a marinade; it is put over finished dishes—it’s unbelievable over ice cream. It’s amazing stuff that’s made very much the way sherry is made. No two are ever alike. It still is a revelation for me; I was stunned.

Imbibe: When it comes to drinks, do you have any guilty pleasures?
LRK: I don’t have the chance to drink them all that often anymore, but a single-malt scotch, after dinner. It’s probably been 15 years since I focused on them, and back then I remember things like Lagavulin, Laphroaig, Glenlivet, but there are others whose names I had never heard of and have never heard of since. There was a time in the 1980s when we lived in Europe and spent a holiday on the smallest of the inhabited Channel Islands, Sark. The people who had the little inn we stayed at were very serious collectors of single malts, and every night they would pour two or three. We had tasted different ones as we found them, but had never had this kind of chance. That was just wonderful.

Imbibe: If you could have a drink with anyone who would it be and why?
LRK: My answer is very much influenced by what we are going through right now in this country, but also because he’s someone I’ve always wished I could meet. From what I understand he was extraordinarily charming and he loved his cocktails. That would be Franklin Roosevelt. I would love to see how he mixes his drinks and ask him about the art of the cocktail from his point of view, but mostly I would ask him about how he dealt with the New Deal. I’d ask him what he would do if he could go back now and do it again. I understand he could speak on many different subjects and that he was immensely entertaining, so the trick would be to not say very much and just keep finding ways to nudge him out. I think it would be incredible way to spend an evening.