Art of Drink’s Darcy O’Neil has seemed to me to be a bit grumpy lately. The best evidence of this is his latest post, Jumping the Shark, in which he drags “Flavor Guru” Alex Ott out behind the Rule 4 woodshed and gives him a good hiding with a switch Alex cut himself. The occasion for this lecture is a profile of Mr. Ott in the pages of the New York Times entitled The Sorcerer of Shaken and Stirred.
I do not understand what is going on with the Gray Lady, but every single article written in its Style section seems to be secretly intended to make out those interviewed as pretentious jackanapes. (Full disclosure: I was interviewed by a New York Times reporter myself a year or so ago about my decision to hoard incandescent light bulbs in response to the fascistic, job-killing, federal ban on same. The deathless wisdom of my words never appeared in the Times, so I am bitter.)
Of course, I see the appeal of a profile in the Times. The paper’s circulation, though dwindling daily, is still mighty. It reaches all the “right” people. And the writing and especially photography is just freaking fabulous if you have something beautiful to photograph. Check out this picture of one of the drinks Ott offers as exemplars of his work, the Little Death:
Alas for Mr. Ott, half of the magnificence of his life’s oeuvre just pisses Darcy off. Well, that and this quote Darcy pulls that apparently also failed to sit well a number of Ott’s and Darcy’s peers and customers:
Bartenders should never be people who come up with cocktails, because they have no education.
I wonder if you can figure out what they found objectionable about that… And the pros can be bent by that all they want, but we amateurs have two words a bit more damning: David Embury.
Darcy has a number of other problems, small and large, with what Ott says and does in the piece. I’ll suggest you go read his post yourself and steal only one more sentence from it as a jumping off point for my own piling on. “There is also a video embedded in the article if you really want to experience the Ott.”
I can’t embed the Times video here, so consider this additional incentive to visit their site and watch it there. By the way, the production values in the video are better than those you find on the average FoodNetwork show. All the better to see Ott make a bit of an ass of himself. Let us fisk this little show, shall we?
Ott introduces himself:
This is MASTER Mixologist, Alex Ott. I’ll be here today….
Did I miss the academic accreditation process somewhere for this title? Or perhaps the formation of a generally accepted professional guild to bestow it? If someone else, anyone else, wants to call you a “Master Mixologist” that’s fine. Great even. A compliment from anyone, and high praise depending on who so calls you. But when you grant yourself a grand, meaningless title the effect is similar to the stockbroker in a pick-up bar telling every lady he meets about how much he loves his new Porsche.
As he starts mixing the drinks, he makes certain claims as to their effect.
…if you want to stay awake, if you want to get hungry, I can make you a cocktail that makes you feel like your mommy just tucks you in and gave you a little tiny gift or a little bon bon.
Frankly, I got the impression that I was watching a weird mirror-universe version of Hogwart’s potions class where a cheery Snape was from Hufflepuff instead of Slytherin.
He has a beautifully laid out mis en place of his ingredients to make each drink, then goes and eyeballs the amount of each ingredient. Nothing is exacting. And he even describes the amounts in the recipes in terms like, “an ounce and a half to two ounces of the gin”. He uses the exact same phrase, “just a squeeze”, for lime juice in his first drink as for lemon juice in his second. But in the first, he squeezes in barely a quarter teaspoon at most, while he drains half a lemon in.
I admit that with some drinks you can go overboard with the exact measuring routine, but when you are going on about your amazing qualifications as a flavor scientist….
This is a great gin called New Amsterdam.
The Liquor Fairy is unhappy with you, Alex. When you pimp a product you work for, complete with loving bottle shot for the camera, you might want to throw in some kind of disclaimer….
It’s an aphrodesiac. And uh, how do I know it’s an aphrodesiac? Well, not only have I tried it out (pause) on everyone I know….
One look at the ill-concealed grin on his face during that momentary pause is enough to make me glad I don’t know Mr. Ott.
Finally, what’s with the NASA lapel pin? Really? We’re supposed to think you are a rocket scientist?
Now, Mr. Ott has apparently gotten quite a bit more blowback on all this than just Darcy’s objections. He put up a bit of a mea culpa on his FaceBook page headed To all my peers. It’s almost worth fisking itself, but I’ll only say it is the classic modern half-apology in which a figure who has been caught saying something revealing about themselves tries to tell the world simultaneously that he didn’t mean what he said, that his friends and employers (hopefully) don’t believe that he did, that he’d never say such a thing intentionally, and it’s all true by the way, and here’s why.
To be fair, my description is slightly more nasty than warranted. His apology seems sincere enough, I just hate it when people follow the lead of our dysfunctional political class and I’m taking it out on Ott.
And to further be fair, I repeat that this was in the New York Times’ Style section. I personally know at least three New Yorkers who aren’t pretentious egomaniacs, and I assume there may be more. But the Times makes everyone they interview seem that way, so I suspect this may be a stylistic thing.
And it probably applies to most major media. When I sucker punched Eben Freeman over his intellectual property thoughts as represented in The Atlantic, and he bravely and graciously responded in the comments of that post, it was a good learning experience. Reporters want big thoughts and grand pronouncements. They will pick up the strongest statements you make and distill them out. And any self-deprecation or alternative musings you may make had better be driven home or they won’t make it into the final cut.