Burning history at The Laundry mat...
Strolling down a small walk way covered with ivy and greenery I am sweating and excited. Rounding the corner of an old mostly brick building built over 100 years ago that was once used in to wash laundry by hand. It was hot, nearly 95 degrees with a touch of humidity in the air. Perfect weather for growing lush wine grapes, a bit of a challenge for teaching a class.
There gathered in the lush garden of the venerable French Laundry restaurant was the staff, gathered together to learn more about cigars. For those of you living under a culinary rock, The French Laundry is a three starred Michelin restaurant and is considered the finest restaurant in the US. The owner and Chef, Thomas Keller is considered to be the Godfather that brought fine dining into the United States. To give some more context to how amazing this restaurant is, on the Forbes “Top 10 best restaurants in the World” The French Laundry was the only restaurant in the US to make the list. Lastly, the amount of wildly successful chefs that started their career at TFL reads like the “Who’s Who” of the elite culinary world.
On this day I was honored to be asked to teach a class on pre-embargo cuban cigars along with how to properly serve them, cut, light and pair them. This is a large amount of subject matter to teach actually. How do you teach about cigars without talking about politics and history? How do you talk about cutting and lighting a cigar properly without talking about rolling and cigar construction?
With 25 TFL staff members in attendance with notebooks in hand, I walked them through the proper methods of cutting, toasting and lighting a cigar. Why those things so important for them to understand completely. The class begun under a large tree in the garden patio in front of the kitchen. With a hint of shade I stood and spoke at length about how to present a cigar to a customer. We spoke about how a cigar has a “face”. Proper methods of cutting a cigar and I made them practice straight cutting a cigar. This is a very important skill, less is more in the case of straight cutting a cigar. Lighting a cigar proper is similar to cutting it as its a do or die moment. Meaning if you cut wrong or light wrong it can ruin the entire cigar and you have to start over. Did I mention that I was there to discuss pre-embargo cigars?! Many of these cigars cost hundreds of dollars each, the last thing you want to do is have to throw one away because of basic human error!
The fun part was after lighting, toasting and cutting the cigar... We smoked them! We did a side by side tasting of a 1954 Romeo & Juliet (pre-emabrgo) Cuban cigar. We took our time smelling the cigar, methodically cutting the cap off. I then had the students take a pre-light draw to note the flavors. Careful toasting of the foot of the cigar using long wooden matches and cedar spills. Then we lit the cigar, careful not to burn it. We all sat quietly enjoying one of the finest smoking experiences you can have. Then I passed out $2 dollar cigar made out of broadleaf tobacco, made them purposely do everything WRONG. We cut them wrong, we light them wrong and yes we even smoked them wrong. Some of you may ask how do you smoke a cigar wrong? Well it's easy really, the goal of smoking a cigar is to get the best flavors you can out of it right? That comes from a careful balance and management of the heat. The cherry (the light part of the cigar needs to stay fully lit without getting to hot)
So of course I made the students whom all have refined palettes smoke the cigars hard and fast getting the cherry super heated. That combined with young, harsh tobacco soured some faces in the class VERY quick. Many of the students refused to take another puff! Overall we all had a wonderful time with many of the students coming in on their day off (and unpaid, a credit to their dedication). They all learned a ton about cigars and asked many thoughtful and insightful questions. My favorite part of the day is when Chef Keller came by and asked us what we were up to! Nonchalantly I remarked we were goofing off and enjoying a smoke. He smiled with that classic big grin (Chef is a big cigar guy!)
The French Laundry keeps an amazing cigar menu when you decide to pay them a visit. This is one of the most magical places in the world and is truly a special place. This is a bucket list place and I can check this off my list!