Sure everyone has heard of Penne with Vodka sauce, but how about Vodka Lemon Chicken, or Vodka Tiramisu? We found these recipes and a bunch more in John Rose’s book “The Vodka Cookbook” and in his blog aptly named, well…”Cooking with Vodka“. We recently interviewed John to learn more about his work.
FriendsEAT: Where did you grow up?
John Rose: I’m not sure I have grown up. But I was born in Chelsea, Massachusetts and lived in or near Boston much of my life. For the past 20 years I have primarily lived and worked in Moscow, Russia.
FE: What inspired you to start a food blog and write your book?
JR: Living and working in Moscow, I discovered that vodka plays as important a role in Russia as wine does in France or Italy. It eventually occurred to me that, although vodka is arguably the world’s most popular spirit, I had seldom seen vodka used in cooking. (And here I was in the vodka center of the universe!) This was particularly striking because, in Russia, vodka and food are inseparable. Many Russians dine and entertain almost exclusively at home where the table is always set with zakufski,’ (appetizers), including pelmeni, caviar & blini, black bread and the omnipresent bottle of vodka. Yet actually cooking with vodka is quite uncommon.
Out of curiosity, I began collecting the few decent vodka recipes I could find and went to work creating my own. Along the way, I started infusing vodka with a variety of flavourings and then incorporating them into my dishes. Through trial and error, and more than my share of culinary catastrophes, I learned what I could about the effects of vodka on other ingredients. And, after a few years of cooking nights and weekends, I found I had developed a respectable collection of recipes with one thing in common ” vodka. So I wrote The Vodka Cookbook.
After The Vodka Cookbook was published in 2005, I still had a lot of recipes and ideas that never made it into the book. And I started getting emails from readers with questions. So I started to blog…and later tweet.”
FE: Tell us a bit more about your work?
JR: My blog takes on the same focus as The Vodka Cookbook: foods, desserts, drinks & infusions made using vodka. Like the book, the blog is an eclectic collection of recipes ” influenced by many different cuisines ” from French to Italian, Mexican to Russian. In some recipes the vodka is simply used to perk up a classic dish. But in most cases, the vodka is integral to the result and creates a unique and flavourful meal.
I think there’s something a bit naughty about cooking with vodka. You tell someone there is vodka in their dinner or dessert and their eyes widen; their lips curl into a smile. An ordinary meal becomes an extraordinary event. And that’s before a single forkful.
“Candy is dandy, but liquor is quicker,”wrote American Humourist, Ogden Nash. “Why can’t we have our cake and drink it too?”say I.
JR: My day job is as the head of a marketing group that includes the first independent advertising agency to enter the Soviet Union in 1989. That’s what brought me to Russia and started me on the path to vodka cookery. My time in the kitchen is rather limited these days, unfortunately.
FE: What was your childhood kitchen like?
JR: I grew up in a large extended Italian family where food played a central role in our lives and most of our time was spent in the kitchen…cooking, yelling, eating, yelling, laughing, talking, yelling. I awoke every Sunday morning to the smells of meats braising and tomato sauce bubbling. For family feasts, which were frequent, nearly every flat surface in my grandmother’s house was covered with fresh handmade pasta. By the time I was about 5 years-old I was put on ‘fork duty’…sealing the edges of the ravioli. I still cook those meals today. Now my son is on fork duty.
FE: What is your kitchen like now?
JR: Small but efficient. My apartment is a 15 minutes walk to Red Square. Its big, with very high ceilings and hardwood floors. But the kitchen is smallish. So it’s less conducive to gatherings and more to the business at hand. But it serves its purpose and I have tuned out a lot of good meals. Small kitchens tend to put everything within easy reach…making for more efficient, if less social, cooking. I perfected all the recipes for The Vodka Cookbook in my Moscow kitchen.
FE: What type of people read your blog?
JR: Drunks. I’m kidding. Most of the food recipes in the book and on my blog end up with relatively little alcohol in them after the cooking process. But I do seem to attract people who like to have a good time. The serious cooks always seem surprised at how good the recipes turn out. I think people buy The Vodka Cookbook and read my blog because of the novelty, but then get hooked on recipes once they try them.
FE: What comes to mind when you hear the word bacon?
JR: Kevin? Sir Francis? Actually, I somehow always think of ‘pig candy’. That’s bacon wrapped in sugar. It’s high on my list of delicious foods I should never ever eat.
FE: What is your favorite restaurant and why?
JR: I have lots of favorite restaurants and friends in the restaurant business so I would not feel right singling out any one in particular. But I will. Boisdale of Belgravia near Victoria Station, London. It has fantastic steaks, live jazz, extensive lists of wines and single malts, a cigar terrace and…me…every chance I get.
FE: What is your opinion of the current state of Foodtertainment?
JR: Living in Russia, I don’t get to see much “Foodtertainment.” But sometimes I do play with food…which I find entertaining. Does that count?
FE: Most definitely. What do you think is the future of food blogging in the next 5 years?
JR: As publishers get a better handle on the digital space, build content and engage readers, I think food bloggers will face lots of challenges. Bloggers who specialize in niche areas too small for mainstream media should continue to do well. But generalists will need to stay on their toes and find a strong unique voices if they hope to maintain and build followers.
FE: Would you like to give a shout out to the best joint that no one has heard about?
JR: Shout? I won’t even whisper. I’ve been sworn to secrecy. If I told you, I’d have to cook you.
FE: What do you think is the most important issue facing foodies today?
JR: The perils of frying foods while not wearing pants. I can tell you stories.