Published on Friday, 14 June 2013 06:30 Max Manasevit – Modern View Point Magazine (no longer in existence.)
The smoke swirls around Danny Boylen, the man is perfectly at ease puffing on a stogie at a local D.C. cigar bar, his chef coat and the aroma of burning tobacco send a clear message; throw out your preconceived notions about men in the kitchen.
Danny isn’t part of some nouveau-bullshit food fad. He has been cooking since he was four, came up through the food industry, and honestly loves the culinary arts. People pay him upwards of a thousand dollars to come into their home and prepare a dinner party. He has even cooked for some celebrities, however, ever the gentleman he politely refused to name drop.
Cooking (and especially the dinner party) has traditionally been considered a female domain. This is clearly gendered nonsense. In the past ten years or so the celebrity male chef has risen to prominence, but far too often these guys act like temper tantrum filled children or overgrown frat boys with bacon obsessions and trite catch phrases. Danny seems to be cut from a different cloth. He cares about helping the “burns toast guy,” loves a well made drink, and cares deeply about the sorry state of game day food. He was nice enough to sit down with MVP and answer our questions.
Max: How did you decide to throw your first dinner party?
Danny: It was my buddy Steve and I, and we did it for the same reason 14-year-old boys do anything, to impress 14-year-old girls. There was a school closing snowstorm that day and I thought “perfect I have enough time to get to the store and prepare everything.” We decided to make chicken teriyaki and the girls kept saying they would be there in 20 minutes. Unbeknownst to us the girl’s father kept saying the he wouldn’t drive in that weather. So I kept trying to keep the chicken stir-fry fresh and moist by adding more sauce, not realizing how much sauce was already in it. By the time the father finally let them go, it [the chicken] was like eating a salt lick. It was just awful, but we had a great time, and I guess the lesson there is good company is going to enjoy a dinner party even if the food isn’t that great.
Max: If they didn’t like it, then screw them.
Danny: Exactly. We had a great time, they had a great time, we got the 14 year old boy objective out of the dinner party, impressed the girls, and maybe even had a little make out session. The food is never going to be as important as the company. The other great takeaway, especially for men is, if a woman isn’t impressed with the graciousness of opening one’s home and willingness to prepare food then that tells you more about her than it does about your food.
Max: A lot of men take pride in not cooking, what would you say to that guy?
Danny: A guy taking a woman to a restaurant is nice, but it only proves you have disposable income. There is something intimate in cooking that women will pick up on.
Max: So what would you say to the guy who would love to throw a dinner party, but burns his toast [A.K.A me]
Danny: The first thing you need to do is pick recipes that are forgiving.
[A clearly quizzical and confused look crosses my face]
For example a medium rare steak is unforgiving, braised short-ribs are forgiving. Getting the temperature right on a steak is something professional chefs get wrong. Short-ribs are cooked low and slow. Anything cooked like this is forgiving. Things you can make ahead of time like pasta sauces are also forgiving. Pasta is actually unforgiving, but the sauce will save your life.
Max: If you could just give me a sample dinner party for the burns toast guy, maybe a standard menu and a vegetarian option… unless of course vegetarianism is anathema to your profession
Danny: Well vegetarianism is not anathema. But first off here’s a tip from one of my chef friends, if a recipe doesn’t involve shallots you’re doing it wrong. Start off with a soup; a spinach and arugula bisque for the vegetarian and for the non-vegetarian soup [pause] actually, stick with the bisque if you’re the burns toast guy. Then, for the vegetarian, pair that with the perfect grilled cheese.
Max: The perfect grilled cheese?
I’ve been working on the ultimate grilled cheese project for about three years now. I have found out that you need to use French bread. Some people say you need to use day old bread, that is absolutely wrong, do not do that.
[A hellfire of vengeance burned in Danny’s eyes when talking about the day old bread, he has some serious beef with the day old bread guy]
Then get some good cheddar, something that has been aged a couple years. Add a little bit of blue cheese. Make sure all of your cheese is cut thick. For every four parts of good cheddar add one part blue cheese. For the non-vegetarian add a little prosciutto cut a tad thicker than you normally see it. People are fascinated with tissue paper thin prosciutto for reasons I don’t understand. Start the sandwich in a skillet on the stovetop and when you flip it put it in the oven until it finishes melting. I add caramelized onions and compound butter to mine, but that’s not necessary for the burns toast guy.
Max: Thank you for keeping it simple, we need you to idiot proof the menu as much as possible.
Danny: I would definitely put a braised short rib on there – as long as you have a good butcher, butchering is terrible these days. If you have a good butcher, get a short rib and ask him to trim off the hard fat, if he doesn’t know what your talking about walk away.
Danny: Don’t worry about dessert. Buy dessert, if you want to lie and say you made it, who cares. The point of a dinner party is to spend time with your guests and as little time in the kitchen as possible. If you can’t hire me, skip this course; focus your time on perfecting the pasta sauce you made ahead of schedule.
Max: You have a background in booze as well, right?
Danny: Yes, I do. I am sommelier and cocktail historian.
Max: A lot of people want to use the dinner party instead of a night out, the advice now is just to go to liquor store and buy the most expensive wine bottle you can buy. What would you say to a more budget conscious guy?
Danny: First, beer is an excellent substitute for wine. Second, the world of beer and wine are similar in the sense that they are both vast. Even experts don’t know it all. The key is to find people you trust. If you asked a lawyer if you should buy a bunch of law books when you want to sue someone or hire an expert, they would always tell you to hire an expert. There are experts in wine, beer, and spirits. Find someone you trust and lean on them. It is impractical to believe you can know everything about libations. When someone suggests you buy something that is less expensive than you had in mind, you can probably trust them. Another good rule is to count how many questions you’re asked at the liquor store. If they ask you one, they are just trying to sell you something. If they ask you two questions, maybe they know what’s good but they are probably just trying to sell you something. If someone asks you three questions before recommending something, that’s a really good start.
Max: So now we know where to get the booze and what to cook where do we start?
Danny: Pace everything. Start with you budget, lets say $100. That’s three courses. First, invite people a week or two in advance. Mail your invites; it’s classy and cheap.
Max: It’s like 39 cents.
Danny: Yup, now start planning. What do I need to purchase in one-pound increments that I only need eight ounces of. Figure out what to do with your leftovers. Look at the recipes and figure out what you can do and what you can’t do, remember low and slow. MAKE A SHOPPING LIST. Otherwise I promise you will forget something crucial. Block off an evening to clean, an evening to plan your menu, an evening to write your shopping list, an evening to buy your ingredients, and an evening to cook what you can in advance. Make soup, it can almost always be done in advance.
Max: Are their places you need to splurge on the budget?
Danny: You need to splurge on produce. Go to farmers markets. They have good produce, but also people who devote their lives to growing vegetables generally know how to cook and prepare them. Ask anyone who works around food a question; if they are worth a damn they are going to want to help you.
Max: Anything to stay away from?
Danny: Fish, it’s the definition of unforgiving.
Max: Transitioning to the game day food. You are famous for your chili. Even the burns toast guy wants to have people over for the game, any advice for him?
Danny: It seems like every guy thinks he can do a few things well. Drive a car, fight, fuck, and grill. Most men are wrong about those things to various degrees.
[Danny then asks if we’ll print that… of course we will, that’s some brutal MVP style honesty right there. We chose to speak to this guy for a reason.] Most guys mistake high heat and lots of flame for grilling technique. Grilling should be about searing and then moving [the meat] to a cooler part of the grill. Most guys are getting the heat wrong. If you want to do the backyard barbeque keep it simple but upgrade it. Skip the hot dogs and do sausages.
Max: What’s the right way to upgrade your sausage game?
Danny: Buy sausage from a butcher you trust. Do not buy commercially created sausage; always go for in house sausage. Skip the package. It should be about $5-7 a pound.
Max: Still talking to the burns toast guy, he has the sausage what does he do now? Is he still going with potato bread rolls?
Danny: Potato bread rolls are great, but mix up the mustard. Don’t just buy the standard yellow mustard. Splurge a little bit. I make my own smoked mustard, but if you want to doctor up a “smoked” mustard, just buy liquid smoke and mix it with some high quality mustard.
Max: Really just liquid smoke and mustard?
Danny: Just liquid smoke and mustard, maybe some salt maybe some pepper. Also side note, every guy needs fresh peppercorns and a pepper mill in his kitchen. The pre-ground stuff is tasteless; it’s just awful. You can get a good peppermill for 20 bucks and once you got that, fresh peppercorns are actually cheaper. Stop buying pre-ground pepper.
[the vengeful hellfire is back in Danny’s eyes, he clearly fucking hates pre-ground pepper)
Max: And then just ketchup and mustard, or what?
Danny: Chop up some pepper and onions in a sauté pan with some butter and olive oil over a medium heat and stir them till they’re soft. The biggest man mistake is using high heat for everything. Lower the temperature for everything. If you have a gas grill never put the flames past medium, burns toast guy doesn’t get high heat.
Max: Anything else? Maybe a side or two or another other meat dishes?
Danny: Stop grilling chicken breasts. They have little fat and dry out quickly. Grill thighs, higher fat content. Do a marinade. The easiest marinade I can give you is 2 parts buttermilk, 1 part dark beer, 1 part soy sauce, DONE, you have a marinade.
Max: Lets talk chips and salsa.
Danny: Burns toast guy? Get Velveeta, melt it, and mix it in with a store bought salsa. Is store bought salsa better than fresh made? Absolutely not. Would I serve Velveeta with salsa? No. But if I’m the burns toast guy I’ve just made a pretty good dish.
Max: Lets talk three dishes for the burns toast guy. Something you make for friends that you can pair with a case of beer, something you would make to impress a girl, and a third thing everyone should just know how to make.
Danny: Friends and a case of beer? I’m going to go with sausage on the grill. For the woman, learn how to make a pasta sauce, really any pasta sauce. I would start with a tomato sauce because it’s easy. Buy good canned tomatoes. San Marzano’s are the best. They are not cheap, but relative to the cost of taking someone out to dinner they’re a good bet. Then get garlic, shallots, red onions, and leeks. Leeks are hard to clean, but there is a Youtube video to teach you everything, so I assume there’s one for that too. If you need to buy pre-minced garlic, I’m not going to hate if you’re the burns toast guy. Then all you need is a skillet and those ingredients. If you want to add some meat, use some sausage.
Max: Lets refine the third thing, what’s something that anyone can make with the ingredients in their place that even the burns toast guy has in his apartment.
[Danny is stumped for the first time]
Well, lets go back to the grilled cheese. The burns toast guy has bread, butter, and cheese. I don’t mean to always be saying the same recipes, but if you’re starting out, why not?
Max: No harm in that
Danny: Your last question reminds me of something. There is a list of things that every man should have in their kitchen… even the burns toast guy. One, a bottle of sparkling wine.
Max: Does Cava work, I know it’s much cheaper?
Danny: Yup, Cava or Prosecco work. Always have one of those in our refrigerator. A woman comes home with you, ask her “would you like a glass of champagne.” How good of a line is that? If I’m going to name check a Cava, I’m going to name check the Dibone Cava. I use it all the time for events, it’s about $12 a bottle or $10 if you buy a case. Another thing to always have is a good mustard. Nothing wrong with Grey Poupon. You also need a blender.
Max: Would a $15 C.V.S. blender work.
Danny: No. Buy a decent blender about $40 bucks. A blender with plastic will warp and break eventually. A $20 blender will break in a year, the $40 blender will last you five. You also need a chef knife and a cutting board. You don’t need to spend a lot of money on the knife. Find one that you like and get it sharpened regularly.
Max: Which one do you use?
Danny: I use a $1500 knife from Bob Kramer, it’s called the Big Dog. The “little dog” though is a $30 Calphalon knife I got on eBay. You can learn to sharpen it yourself, but trust the professionals; they are going to do a better job than you can unless you study it for years.
Max: Can you get plastic cutting boards?
Danny: Yup, and they can even go in the dishwasher. They’re not expensive. Fancy wood cutting boards feel great, but is it remotely required for anyone that’s not a serious cook? Absolutely not.
Max: If you had a billboard that could reach every young professional man in America what would it say?
Danny: Cooking is sexy.
Max: Let’s go back to talking about booze. If people go to a dinner party they expect to get liquored up. For the alcohol equivalent of the burns toast guy what would you say?
Danny: Build your bar slowly. Don’t fall for famous name brands. Labels that spend a metric shit ton on advertising mean you’re paying for that advertisement every time you buy a bottle. If your vodka buys a major magazine spread every month you’re paying for that. The friends who are impressed by labels are… well, they’re the friends who are impressed by labels, but I defy them to taste the difference between a $30 vodka in a vodka cranberry and a $50 vodka made into a vodka cranberry. If they say they can, know they are lying to you.
Max: If someone is reading this article and wants to build a bar right now, what would you tell them?
Danny: Well there are two types of bars. The “I want to make cocktails bar” and the “I need the basics bar.” The “I want the basics bar” needs bourbon.
Max: Do you have a bourbon in mind?
[Danny is hesitant to name check a bourbon but after some gentle goading he relents]
Danny: Bulleit bourbon, if you like rye, Bulleit rye. You need a Scotch. Forget about the blues, reds, and blacks. Find some scotch you have never heard of, a good liquor store will pour you a taste, if you like it buy it. You will need vodka, and you don’t need to spend a lot of money on vodka. Svedka or Smirnoff will work for most applications. You will need a rum, but don’t get a crap rum. Get a rum you would drink by itself on ice. Get a dark rum, if you’re on a budget get Gosling. You also need a gin. You can find some great artisanal gins, my personal favorite is the Bluecoat American; it also doesn’t cost a lot.
Max: When you say it doesn’t coast a lot you mean?
Danny: About $30 bucks a bottle.
Max: Is that about the same price range for everything you’ve mentioned?
Danny: Yeah, plan on spending $30 a bottle. If you need to spend $20, tell the expert, they should be able to help you out. Everything you need you should be able to get for an average bottle price of $30.
Max: For $200 could anyone have a bar?
Danny: Absolutely. If you want a cocktail bar, get some bitters. They make a disproportionate impact on the quality of your drinks. You will need a sweet and dry vermouth. Buy as small a bottle as possible because vermouth is a fortified wine that can spoil. If you have a year old bottle of vermouth on your bar, throw it out. You will need a couple of liqueurs, an orange and grape liqueur.
Max: If someone doesn’t want to start making craft cocktails but needs three staples, what would you recommend?
Danny: You need to know how to make 5 drinks. A Bloody Marry, a Manhattan, a Gimlet [knowing how my grandma used to make a gimlet I interrupt]
Max: Do you endorse the use of Rose’s Lime Juice?
Danny: No. I never use Rose’s Lime Juice. Nor do I endorse Marciano Cherries or Rose’s Cherry Juice.
[I don’t know if Rose ever harmed Danny in his past, but he seems more upset about Rose’s Lime Juice than he did about the pepper or the day old bread. Danny is overall a mild-mannered man, but his eyes burn with culinary hatred at the mere mention of these products]
Max: Then you have to break down the gimlet.
Danny: Gin, or a vodka gimlet, but a traditional gimlet is gin. Then add fresh lime juice and add a sweet element – usually simple syrup. For a quick gimlet add gin, squeeze half a lime, and throw in a packet of NutraSweet or Splenda. Use that instead of sugar because those will mix into something that’s cold. The difference between fresh lime juice and prepackaged lime juice is huge.
Max: You have two more drinks.
Danny: A more interesting mimosa. Women love brunch, please pardon the hetero-normativity of this statement. But if you make brunch at home, besides saving a bunch of money, you will be rewarded. The points you get for inviting her friends over for brunch? Literally unimaginable. So if you show up at her place or she comes over to your place with some inexpensive champagne and some orange juice you get points. Now if you show up with some inexpensive champagne and some mango nectar or grapefruit juice, please get something relatively close to fresh squeezed, then you get even more points. All you did was buy a few extra things and now you have a mimosa bar, and everyone likes that.
Max: Last one?
Danny: Some obscure cocktail that you have perfected. Learn it and perfect it. Whether it’s the Sidecar, the Rickey, or even the Gin Fizz, learn it and master it. The operative point of this is that it is yours. You need to know how to make it but also know the story behind it. General rule of thumb of being the most interesting man in the room, you tell one story and that’s it.
Max: Are you willing to divulge the Danny Boylen most interesting man in the world cocktail?
Danny: I’m going to make the 13th floor. I invented it after a night of doing cocktail classes. I brought all the extra booze to a friends place. At the end of the night, my buddy J.P., who is not quite a brew master but has forgotten more about beer than most people will ever remember, had an idea. He had a thought of putting two things together, then our buddy Justin, a whiskey nerd of the highest order, decided to add something else, which was terrible, so we took that out. We just kept mixing and tinkering until at the end of the night we said, “this is really fucking good, like win competitions good.” I don’t know how we did it in our booze addled state but we did it. We were on the roof of the twelfth floor at the time, and because of the thirteen superstition the drink already had a perfect name. And I’ll tell you how to make it right now.
Take half a lime and quarter it. Put it in the bottom of a shaker. Add a tablespoon of honey and muddle that together. Then add ice. Then add one ounce each of rye whiskey, brandy, and sweet vermouth. A dash of orange bitters, Fee Brother is the best and they are a family owned company, then you shake that till your hands get cold. Strain it into a glass then put on top a ginger beer float. Whether you put it into a rocks glass on ice or into a cocktail glass, take a spoon, invert it and pour the ginger beer slowly over the spoon. What is going to happen is the first sip is going to be effervescent.
[Danny missed my blank facial expression when he used that word, apparently it just means bubbly]
As you sip down the drink though, every sip will be different as you drink up more of the ginger beer. It is a killer drink.
– See more at: http://www.modernviewpoint.com/2013/06/14/interview-with-danny-boylan- part-2/#sthash.YswtlbiR.dpuf
– See more at: http://www.modernviewpoint.com/2013/06/14/an-interview-with-danny- boylen/#sthash.IyVTSqWd.dpuf