In this episode, we chat with Tenaya Darlington and André Darlington, authors of “Movie Night Menus: Dinner and Drink Recipes Inspired by the Films We Love.” Also, we visit Brooklyn’s Nitehawk Cinema for a dish and cocktail inspired by the hit film, “LA LA Land.”
Read the full transcript of “Oscar-Worthy Entertaining Tips”:
Jameson Fink: This is Jameson Fink … Senior Digital Editor.
André Darlington: Hey Jameson! How are you?
JF: Hi, how are you?
Tenaya Darlington: Hey Jameson, this is Tenaya, are you there?
JF: Hi, I am. How are you?
TD: Oh hey, you are crystal clear. My name is Tenaya Darlington. I am coauthor with my brother of a book called “Movie Night Menus” put out by Turner Classic Movies. It’s dinner and drink recipes inspired by films we love.
JF: It’s great to speak with you, especially I think its appropriate because we’ve just right now heard about some of the Oscar nominated movies for this year. I have a copy of your book I’m holding in my hands right now. What’s really cool, it goes from movies from the 1930s, like The Thin Man, all the way up to the 1980s, including movies like Moonstruck, but we can actually take some time first and talk about some of the Oscar nominated movies and what kind of food and drink pairing ideas you have for them.
AD: I have to say, this has been a great year for Oscar movies and for food. I was a huge fan of La La Land. You could play off a lot of Los Angeles cuisine doing chopped salads, or fun L.A. stuff. There’s some good drinking scenes in there.
TD: I just saw La La Land two nights ago. To me, it was like the ultimate cocktail movie of all of the Oscar contenders I’ve seen, not that I’ve seen all of them, but I’ve tried to watch a good number of them… Because its a film that just embodies classic cocktails, and it riffs on all kinds of classic films. I was about three quarters of the way through the movie and I was like, ‘Oh my gosh! There’s a riff on American in Paris,’ a movie from 1951. It has a drink named after it called an American in Paris. I was like, ‘How fun would it be to serve that drink during this part of of the movie?’
Also there are just so many great club scenes. I’m in love with the interior of the first jazz club that appears where there’s Christmas lights. It’s really dark, and there’s the piano player, and it just feels like you would have people sitting in that cozy atmosphere, drinking an Old Fashioned or even a really beautiful egg cocktail, like a Clover Club, or… I could imagine a drink that my parents used to love, a Brandy Alexander, one of those creamy ice cream drinks. This is a movie where you could really go all out if you wanted to have a classic cocktail night or a classic cocktail club or something. You could really stage something very beautiful. My other thought for this, just something I have to say, there’s a drink called the Brown Derby, I don’t know if you’ve ever had a Brown Derby.
JF: What’s in it?
TD: It’s two ounces of bourbon, fresh grapefruit juice and a little honey syrup. It comes from Los Angeles in a very popular restaurant there called the Vendôme Club where all the Hollywood jet setters would’ve hung out. If you wanted to go all California or vintage California, a Brown Derby would be a perfect cocktail at least to begin the night.
AD: Florence Foster Jenkins, which I finally got around to seeing has this incredible scene where they load up an entire bathtub full of potato salad, not that I recommend that at a party. It was a year of nice diversity as far as food options if you throw an Oscar party this year. I mean everything western as well … And Manchester by the Sea, you could go Boston with that. Sometimes it’s nice to to have little stations. Maybe you want to put wine or our beloved Crémant over on a ice in another area and have cocktails sort of DIY up in another area if you have room for that kind of thing. It sort of separates your crowd out a little bit so everybody’s not … Which is always the inevitable thing, that everybody is always cramming in the kitchen. Bearing the person that’s trying to get all the drinks out.
JF: Any sparkling wine and salty snacks are a match made in heaven. It’s probably my favorite food and wine pairing, just a quick aside there.
AD: Absolutely, and I think as cliché as it is too, this is a movie night, so setting out some salty popcorn, and certainly apropos on this particular occasion.
JF: Actually there’s a cool riff that you have in the book on popcorn with unique flavors. Can you talk about that? Because I think a lot of people will just be like, ‘Oh there’s popcorn.’ I like it plain with just salt, but I like the recipe you have in the book.
AD: Funny enough, this is an idea I got from Kermit Lynch since we’re talking wine. Kermit Lynch has his, I guess Kermit Lynch popcorn that he recommends drinking with Rosé. It’s sort of thyme, and sort of all the Provencal herbal flavors. A number of years ago, I stumbled on some article where Kermit was talking about this. I made the popcorn. I was like “You know, as a major shortcut to actually creating a Provencal meal, this popcorn does provide a great foil for Rosé, such as Vandal or other dry Provencal Rosé. I started sort of going down the road of popcorn, which seems strange and unlikely, but it is kind of fun.
We did it in the book for Stagecoach, I believe, a John Wayne western. It’s really as easy as making your popcorn, grabbing a bag. In this instance it’s chili powder, garlic salt, a little cumin, paprika, and then the real kicker is a little freshly grated lime zest on top of the popcorn, which is something You could use orange or lemon, but there’s something about just a little fresh zest on popcorn that works. Sort of one of those, ‘Who knew?’ It really comes off quite nicely.
JF: I never thought. Now the next time I have some Domaine Tempier I’m going to just have some popcorn. That’s a really inspired popcorn. It’s not just for sparkling wine.
AD: That’s right, that’s right.
JF: If I’m just alone at home, not in a sad way, in a very happy contented way and I want to watch a classic movie, what are some things that if I’m just cooking for myself, but I want to kind of luxuriate in some nice food and drinks, what are some things that you’d recommend that I make that can be pretty easy for me to pull together for myself?
TD: One of the earliest movies in the book is a film called Female. It’s from the 1930s, I think 1932… The first film to feature vodka, at least as far as we can tell. That’s just a really simple bow tie pasta dish with a classic vodka, red pepper and tomato sauce. That would be really easy. Get yourself a bottle of vodka, some delicious olives, make yourself this little thinner that could be really simple.
Otherwise, I also love the movie Grand Hotel. It’s from 1932 with Greta Garbo and Joan Crawford. It’s staged at a Berlin hotel so we did just these German oven pancakes that are really simple. You could just make it for yourself. The drink in the movie is either Champagne, Absinthe which could be fun to just have alone and something called a Louisiana Flip which is kind of an orangy creamsicle like drink. Some grenadine, a little bit of rum an egg, a whole egg believe it or not, just a really luscious and luxurious drink. If I was home alone and I just wanted a little glamor and some comfort food, I would go in one of those directions.
JF: What are your favorite things to make for movie night? Let’s say it’s just like for a couple, for a romantic movie night. What are your favorite dishes and films in the book?
AD: Probably something like out of the movie Adam’s Rib. There was lime daiquirs, cole melon halves, a one pot meal like a lamb stew depending on whether you’re vegetarian or not. We went back and forth in the book. There are quite a few vegetarian… It’s always a task when you have these older movies, they sort of lighten them up a little bit and modernize maybe the food or the food can get a little repetitively heavy.
Something like that, or again, some of the bakeries like Breakfast at Tiffany’s. we do the Soyer au Champagne which is the fruit. It’s this really decadent cocktail with ice cream and Champagne and fruit. I would imagine that on a romantic evening you really can’t go wrong with a cocktail like that.
JF: Are there particular couple movies that you just love the movie of course and just one of your favorite inspired food and drink ideas that you could share?
AD: We had a really good time with Guys and Dolls… I feel like Guys and Dolls is sort of a… It’s Frank Sinatra, Marlon Brando, it’s sort of a guys musical. If a guy is going to like a musical, he’s going to like Guys and Dolls. It does work … A great mix company, even people who don’t like musicals, it’s really fun. The setup for the movie is that Marlon Brando is Sky Masterson and he has a bet with Frank Sinatra’s character that he can’t get a date with one of the leading ladies, and in fact the date in Havana, but lo and behold, through some machinations he ends up landing this date in Havana with this woman whose basically a Salvation Army Sargent, so she’s very square.
He gets her to drink Coconut Milk Punch, and there’s a great scene in the movie where she says, “Uu! This is delicious, what’s in it,” and he’s like, “Oh, I don’t know, milk.” Not telling her that there’s rum and then they have this great fight scene actually. They both just trash this Havana bar. We did a little going back and we found that the dish in the scene probably would have been arroz con pollo, which is sort of a chicken dish that in the 50s would have been kind of a fancy dish at the time. It’s really easy to make. It’s really delicious. There’s a few ingredients, but most of it is just spices. That’s one that really sticks out in my mind.
Another movie that I really love is Chained, which is Clark Gable, it’s Joan Crawford, it’s where their sparkling wit really comes together on the screen. This is another travel movie where they’re on a ship to Argentina. We have this really simple roasted chicken recepie which is just a cider, vinegar, honey and butter essentially. It’s an extraordinarily simple chicken recipe. When you have it, you wonder why you don’t see the recipe more often, because it kind of has everything you want. It’s got the acidity from… As wine folks, we like to balance everything. It’s got the butter and the honey sweetness and the vinegar and you kind of balance this sauce for this chicken. Those two stick out, but there’s a number of recipes across the board from deserts for romantic nights to feeding a crowd.
JF: Speaking of roast chicken and wine, with roast chicken in general are supposed to be one with a. What kind of wines are you drawn to for such a classic dish like that with a little bit of a sweet and sour kind of flavor to it?
AD: You know, I’m really all over the map. I like everything from a Riesling to a Rosé to a Chardonnay if it can handle it. A lot of times a Chardonnay sometimes can’t handle the acidity, but it really depends, but I do have a weakness for Rosé in that instance I guess. I drink Rosé all year round, but if it’s in warmer climate, that’s for sure I’ll have a Rosé.
JF: How do you get inspired? There’s no literal scene of someone having a cocktail or a glass of wine or a specific dish. How do you get creative and inspired in that way for a movie night menu?
AD: I usually go to Place or sometimes I hunt up what characters or actors were really into which is a fun Google. Sometimes you can find a cocktail that … We went through that issue a little bit with Movie Night Menus. Not every movie, although they’re inspiring, there’s not necessarily these things, like Rocky is in our book and he throws a turkey out of the back alley in the movie. You don’t necessarily want to go down that road for your party, so then we went with a Philly cheese steak. It’s a lot about place I think. I do think the movies sort of set you in a place and they set you in an emotional place. You can certainly pull from a scene.
We did Hannah and Her Sisters. They go to Los Angeles and ate at this … Woody Allen eats at this restaurant, I think it was called. We looked up that there was this salad. We knew we wanted to pull. There’s some great kitchen scenes in there, but we knew we wanted to pull this funny moment where Woody Allen is eating basically a salad that feels very modern. It’s sort of this salad that would have taken over. It’s got all these, at the time, funny ingredients to it, and now they’re ingredients that have all mainstreamed. It really is about it think place, and it depends on whether the movie is something like a Moonstruck which has some specific stuff in it, but it’s such a large Italian family on the East Coast so it’s really easy to come up with the scale of the food in that movie.
JF: I know with the book you could have gone on forever. It goes through the 30s to the 80s, but are you already thinking about, “Boy, we should do one that covers more movies that we couldn’t do,” or, “We want it to go from the 80s to the current era,” like will get to see Real Genius in there with a ton of popcorn?
AD: We would love to. There is definitely some movies that are close to our heart. Going out into foreign cinema a little, Babette’s Feast of course or Big Night, which has some unbelievable food scenes in it. There was movies along the way, even in the early eras. We’ve been watching a lot of precode films in the 20s and 30s. It became a certain obsession of mine anyway, this sort of noir movies of that era, and there’s some great food scenes in those that we just missed out on. We weren’t able to fit them in. These were in a way some of the greatest hits, although there’s other great hits out there, but these are sort of the touch stones. We’d love to do a follow up. Movie Nights Menus Two.
TD: Well, thanks so much. It’s been a pleasure.
JF: Thank you for your time …
AD: This was really fun.
JF: I hope you guys are in New York some time. We can hang. We don’t have to watch movies by the way. We can do something else … It is a lousy, rainy day in Brooklyn, but a perfect day to be at the movies. I’m outside the Nitehawk Cinema which is notable for many reasons. One is that it is single-handedly responsible for overturning a prohibition law here in New York City that made serving alcohol in movie theaters illegal. I’m going to get in out of the rain and cold and tuck into a film inspired cocktail and dish. Join me.
Kurt Applegate: I’m the Executive Chef.
JF: Kurt, one of the things that’s cool about being here at the Nitehawk and eating here is not that there’s just great food, but you get inspired by movies to create special dishes. Right now, one of the films playing is La La Land. I’d like you to talk about the dish that was inspired by the movie, how you create it and just your thought process during this specific dish.
KA: Well, for every dish that we come up with for these specific first run movies, one of us being on the management team will watch a movie ahead of time, either go into the city or we’ll get a screener. Then we’ll take notes as to any food or beverage references, be it a direct reference, something that’s eaten on screen, something that’s mentioned, or something that just has to do with the setting of the film. In La La Land, Ryan Gosling wants to open up his own place. He wants to call it Chicken on a Stick because, I believe Charlie Parker’s nick name was Bird because he loved chicken so much.
We decided to come up with this chicken on a stick. It’s a pretty simple dish. It’s just chicken skewers and it’s on top of a pineapple and avocado salsa, so kind of giving a nod to the California aspect of the film.
JF: Very cool. I’d love to see this dish being made, and if I may be so bold, I would love to try it as well.
KA: Yeah, I’ll have it ready for you in a moment if you want to come back there.
JF: Yeah, let’s head to the kitchen.
KA: Right now I’m just getting the oil hot. I’ll just put that over there. I guess I’ll tell you a little bit about the salsa.
JF: Yeah, tell me about the salsa.
KA: It’s just fresh pineapple that’s diced up. Little bit of red onion, some sambal which is a Thai chili paste. There’s a little scallion in there, some fresh lime juice. That’s about it. It’s very simple. Perfect dish for spring or summer, but here we are in the midst of winter, but people love it. I guess one of the things that we find is that a lot of the people that go to see the particular film, they’re all about ordering the special for that film because they want to discover the reference or they see it… A lot of the times the name has to do with something that happens in the film. When they get that eureka moment whenever it finally is said, or they see it on screen, it’s kind of interactive for them.
JF: Yeah, I wonder if when that happens, all of a sudden you’re like, “Well, I just got 10 orders for chicken skewers. It must have just happened in the movie or something.”
KA: We know for a fact that most of the specials that are coming from those particular films are because of people watching La La Land. Sometimes people will see a special, if they’re watching say Manchester by the Sea or Moonlight, and they see a special that really speaks to them, then they’ll go ahead and get it, but I’d say nine times out of 10 a lot of the specials are purchased from people who are watching that specific movie.
JF: I’ll just reiterate. Here at the Nitehawk, You’re sitting in the theater, you can order food throughout the movie. You can order drinks, so it’s a great experience. You’re not just stuck with stale popcorn and smuggling in a flask or something.
KA: Correct. Full service, bar, handcrafted cocktails. We’ve been trying to be a little bit more local-centric bringing in a lot of food from New York State.
JF: ou say this is a dish … It feels really summery, but also the movie is about Los Angeles and it’s miserable and cold and rainy out here. I wanted something with pineapple and on a skewer you know?
KA: Right. As most of you know, LA is notorious for having consistently warm weather. I guess this dish also plays into that. It doesn’t matter if it’s winter over here in New York City, over in La La Land it’s …
JF: It’s always summer.
KA: It’s always summer.
JF: With a salsa like this, it’s not about… You don’t have to have exact proportions or anything? You can just use as much avocado as you want? As much pineapple, sambal depending on how spicy you like it?
KA: Correct. We have a specific recipe for this so we’re consistent, maintain consistency here, but I feel like a lot of people would lean heavier towards the pineapple and avocado and lean less towards say the onion and the sambal. Me personally, I like it spicy, but this is a nice cool refreshing dish. Once I pull the chicken skewers out of the oven, we’re going to top it off wit some homemade barbecue sauce that we make here. It’s pretty simple, just ketchup, a little Dijon, salt, pepper, cayenne, smoke paprika, brown sugar and a little molasses.
JF: Do you show the Oscars here or do you just have movies playing that night?
KA: We do. We’ll show the Oscars. There’s no pre-show for it, they’ll just show the red carpet and then any Oscar nominated film that we’ve had here at Nitehawk, we’ll bring back the special for that.
JF: Oh cool! Very cool.
KA: The three that we have now are the ones that are on there. Manchester by the Sea, Moonlight and La La Land.
JF: It’s got to be a really busy night for you huh?
KA: Yeah. It always sells out. People love it. There’s a step and repeat … There you have it.
JF: Fantastic, now I’m going to sit down and eat if you don’t mind.
KA: I would enjoy that. Let me know what you think.
JF: Okay, thanks for your time here in the kitchen today Kurt.
KA: Thanks for having me.
Matt Walker: My name is Matt Walker, and I’m the Beverage Director at Nitehawk Cinema.
JF: Matt, I just enjoyed a dish inspired by La La Land, chicken on a stick. It was delicious. Now I sure could go for a cocktail inspired by the film. Can you talk about the cocktail that you make inspired by La La Land? How you got the idea for it and how that works in general, that creative process?
MW: Absolutely yeah. I think first I should probably say that I work very closely with my bar manager here at NiteHawk. His name is Nick Dodge and he deserves a lot of the credit for this cocktail. In this case, when we took the notes from the movie, we didn’t have any direct ideas. When there’s nothing obvious, we sort of have some [ether 00:23:39] ideas as far as things we can take inspiration from. Often the first one is geographical.
We immediately started thinking about Southwestern flavors, Southern California flavors. In the case of La La land, we were able to take a visual cue as well. This movie is colored in a way that sort of tries to make it look like technicolor. It’s very vivid and beautiful and there are multiple sunsets that you see in the movie and they’re all gorgeous and they all have different, beautiful vivid colors. We decided to name the cocktail LA Sunset because of that and we used prickly pear puree which is just the most beautiful, vivid, bright oink color if you’ve never seen it before with Mezcal, some fresh lime juice, some St-Germain Elderflower Liqueur, shaking that up and then topping it up with a little bit of ginger beer.
JF: Sounds fantastic. Do you mind making one? I’d love to drink one frankly.
MW: I would love to make one.
JF: Okay, let’s head to the bar.
MW: We’re going to start out with two ounces of this Bonez Mezcal Joven which is a very very nice white Mezcal. Those of you at home probably can’t hear me pouring right now…
JF: He’s totally pouring a nice portion of the Mezcal. I can vouch for that.
MW: This amount of Mezcal I promise you will get the job done. One ounce of fresh lime juice. One ounce of prickly pear puree, also known as tuna fruit.
JF: Really? prickly Pear sounds much more appealing in a cocktail.
MW: Those of you at home, obviously you can’t see the color right now, but it doe look like the inside of a very very cut of tuna sushi.
JF: Oh, I see. It’s very sunsetty next to the lime juice as well.
MW: Now we’re going to pour a quarter ounce of St-Germain Elderflower Liqueur … Just put in some ice in a glass as well as my cocktail, and now we’re going to shake it up … I’m going to strain this over ice into a rocks glass.
JF: It really looks beautiful.
MW: Anything you make with prickly pear puree, the color is just stunning.
JF: Do you add a garnish to it?
MW: There’s no garnish. For this cocktail, we are going to top it up with about an ounce and a half of ginger beer. If you’re making this at home, this it the kind of thing where you don’t have to be exact. We’re using about a 10 ounce rocks glass, or 12 ounce old fashioned glass. Should be just enough room to really just top it. Give it just a brief stir to incorporate the ginger beer, and there you have it. The La Sunset.
JF: Awesome, I’m going to take a quick sip. It’s delicious. I love that smokey Mezcal to.
MW: That’s right, it plays well with the prickly pear puree.
JF: Thank you for being on the show and fixing an incredible cocktail and giving us a window into the process of how great films, Oscar nominated films inspire great food and drink here at the Nitehawk.
MW: Thank you very much Jameson. I really appreciate it.