Eating and drinking are generally a recipe for a good time. But they also present opportunities to learn or to think about things in a larger context. One recent weekend, I got two chances to do just that.
As a long-time fan of BRAVO! Italian Restaurant and Bar's (4500 Interstate 55 N., Suite 244, 601-982-8111, bravobuzz.com) Sunday afternoon wine-tasting events, I'm familiar with enjoying some beverages while learning there. In the past year or so, the restaurant/bar has expanded its beverage-event offerings into spirits as well, with a tequila tasting and a tiki cocktail event, among others. When I received an email about a Home Bar 101 event on a Saturday afternoon with bartender Chris Robertson, I decided to enlist a friend and check it out.
The event invite said seating would be limited, and as it turned out, that decision was on purpose. When we arrived, attendees were seated along the bar, and that was it. Not a crowd at cocktail tables or in the restaurant, just an intimate session with the bartender.
After a welcome cocktail (the Bees' Knees) and nibbling on antipasto plates, we settled in to learn and sample a number of classic cocktails made with ingredients any well-stocked home bar should have. Working our way from a Manhattan and margarita to a Negroni and Vesper, we learned expert suggestions and tips on barware, ice, bitters and spirits. We learned which drinks are better to stir and which to shake (it's science, y'all). We even learned a fancy trick involving a lemon twist and flames.
All in all, my companion and I had a lot of fun, and left with the confidence to mix up some new drinks for ourselves and our guests this fall. And thankfully, Robertson thoughtfully volunteered to email us the drink recipes so we didn't have to furiously take notes during the class.
The next evening brought another food and beverage-related event, though this time for a cause: Dinner 34, a dinner to benefit the Craig Noone "Rock It Out" Memorial Scholarship Fund of the Mississippi Hospitality and Restaurant Association. This year's event coincided with the fourth birthday of Parlor Market restaurant, which was Noone's vision, so for the event, the original Parlor Market kitchen crew reunited, with each of the seven courses created by one member.
Guests went into Arnold's, the event space adjacent to Parlor Market, with a Cathead Vodka cocktail before sitting down to a meal that included some nods to favorite items from the restaurant's original menu: Craig's Oyster Stew, prepared by Jesse Houston; pork belly by Ryan Bell; and a grilled sirloin with Craig's steak glaze by Grant Hutcheson. It also included some inventive new items like a crab duo (Karl Gorline's creation) and honey-cured scallops by Gary Hawkins. Rounding out the meal was an item I remember fondly from the first menu—a delicious strawberry mason-jar cake with cream cheese and pepper icing by Whitney Evans Maxwell.
The wine selections for the evening had a local connection, coming from Krutz Family Cellars, a micro-winery in Sonoma County, Calif., which native Jacksonian Patrick Krutz owns. The magnolia symbol on the bottles is a nod to the family's roots, and the offerings at the table—a chardonnay, zinfandel and cabernet sauvignon—complemented the food well. As we left after dinner, the Parlor Market staff lit and released sky lanterns into the downtown sky. It seemed to be both a celebration of the restaurant's anniversary and a nod to Noone's spirit of optimism.
Dinner 34's ultimate purpose was to raise funds for a scholarship to further a deserving young person's culinary studies. The "Rock It Out" scholarship provides a two-year commitment of $5,000 a year to the recipient, who is evaluated not only on his or her academic strength, but also a commitment to improving his or her community through being a chef. In Jackson, we're lucky to have a number of chefs (and bartenders) who are doing just that.
Encouraging a next generation to do the same will benefit us all, not only as people who eat out, but as a community as a whole. If you know someone who should apply for the scholarship, or if you'd like to contribute to the fund, visit msra.org and click on the "scholarships" link.