I was lucky enough to be invited by Chef Jehangir Mehta, NFCA GREAT Kitchens Ambassador, to a “Nakama Dinner” held at Mehtaphor in New York City. A Nakama Dinner is an intimate gathering of close friends and this was a wonderful opportunity to join about 25 chefs, bar owners, restaurateurs, mixologists and food writers for the introduction of Ao Vodka, distilled from Japanese rice.
The evening featured a seven course pairing of mixed drinks developed by Shingo Gokan and delicious dishes by Chef Mehta, most of which were naturally gluten-free. The evening began with an “Eastern Gibson,” which was a mix of stirred Ao, sake and sliced cucumber, paired with tapioca chili oysters.
This was a light start to an evening that built with every course. The cocktails included all types of fruit and vegetable ingredients, including the flavorful “Beets Mule” made with Campari, beets, ginger and lime, “Sweet Lorraine” in which Gokan combined Ao, tomato water, green tomato confiture and basil. My tasting partner, Firoza Mehta, favored the “Pandan Banana Cup,” which included Pandan and banana-infused Ao, raw coconut water and mint.
Many flavors and spices were also used including ginger, lemongrass, dill, cardamom and thyme. A highlight for me was the “Earl Grey Sour” where I was able to witness Gokan firing up a small plate of cinnamon to smoke the fifth course and the cocktail under one glass hood.
All in all, the meal and the drinks lit up every part of my palate and left me quite sensitized to the brisk New York City evening. I had a fantastic time and especially enjoyed meeting the President of the Culinary Institute of America, Dr. Tim Ryan and his lovely wife Lynne.
If this sounds like a luxurious treat that most people can only dream about, you’re right. Thanks to Chef Mehta and my friends at Ao for sharing the experience with me.
Suntory, the creators of Ao Vodka, shared this drink recipe with me so you can share in the experience:
Eastern Gibson Martini: