food + drink

How Travel Inspires Nandini’s Cocktails

Travel plays a big role in Cindy's cocktail program this summer


Nandini Khaund : AJ Trela

Cindy’s Spirit Guide Nandini Khaund

JUNE 2017 – If you’re anything like us, you’ll agree the best part of traveling — no matter if you go to Paris or Phuket, New York or New Orleans, Cartagena or Charleston — is exploration. When you land in a new city or country, there’s so much about it you don’t know. You get to wander the streets, talk to new people, find local wares and eat and drink your way through this magical new place. That’s exactly what Nandini Khaund, Cindy’s Spirit Guide, experienced earlier this spring when she visited the French Antilles islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe in the south Caribbean to study the terroir-driven spirit of Rhum Agricole, which she told us the French refer to as the Cognac of the Caribbean.

While there, she visited four of the 13 distilleries and farms between the two islands, including Simon, Clément, JM and Damoiseau, where she “experienced the warmest hospitality at the hands of mostly female operators,” she said. Khaund also discussed the history of the Caribbean sugar trade of the 18th and 19th centuries between the French, Spanish and English who colonized the islands and how tragedy struck in Martinique in 1902 when the long-dormant Mt. Pelée volcano erupted, destroying the city of St. Pierre, the Paris of the Caribbean, killing 30,000 people. Now, however, the islands have been rebuilt, culture and art thrive and Khaund took inspiration from her travels to concoct new drinks at Cindy’s. We’ll let her talk about some of that in her own words.

Many of you are familiar with rum, which is fermented from molasses, a byproduct of sugar production. Rhum Agricole (agricultural rum) is different in that it is produced from the fresh juice of sustainably farmed sugar cane that grows only on the islands. The resulting spirit is drier and complex, imbued with grassy and floral aromas and ripened fruit notes. 

Ti Punch | The official drink of Martinique is known as Ti Punch, short for “Petit Punch.” This “small” drink is very simple, composed of grassy rhum agricole, sugar cane syrup, and a touch of lime. 

sugarfoot

The key ingredients of a Foot In Mouth – rhum agricole and house-made sugarfoot syrup.

Foot in Mouth – How Travel inspires a Menu | We had lunch near Mount Pelée at the home of the agricultural director of Rhum JM, Francis. He and his wife/muse, Marie Francoise, were the most soft-spoken and charming hosts. We sat with Marie Francoise on her porch overlooking banana fields and the ocean as she told us tales of the secrets of Martinique. The food in Martinique is heavy in seafood and fresh fruit, but the spice trade and an Indian presence also influenced it, so they utilize a lot of curries in the cuisine. She told us about her favorite restaurant that her friend and chef/husband own and operate, where she makes syrups for the bar with foraged ingredients such as hibiscus. Marie Francoise said the best version is the one with “calf foot syrup, because it makes your mouth feel so good.” Our entire table of Texan restaurateurs and myself perked right on up.

Upon my return, I bombarded our chefs at Cindy’s excitedly asking, “Hey, when’s butcher day?” With the guidance of our sous chef Devon, “Sugarfoot Syrup” was born out of the remnants of carved piggies. Our bar staff crafts a silky, homemade jello with a hint of salinity, like the sea. Try it in “Foot in Mouth*,” our homage to Marie Francoise, Ti Punch and the magic of Martinique.

*not vegetarian/kosher/halal, can be substituted with rosemary-sage syrup

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Catch Nandini at special events this month:

Base Camp at the Field Museum, June 6 – “We’ve created Base Camp: a lounge where adults can drink, interact with scientists, and take a break from exploring the Museum. Hang out under the shade of palm trees or peek inside the tent of a Field Museum scientist in our tropical Base Camp. Field experts on tropical flora, fauna, and anthropology from around the world will be there to answer your questions, chat about their work, and explain The Field’s innovative conservation efforts in South America. Plus, Nandini Khaund will be on hand with specialty cocktails and stories of her own tropical adventures.”

Night Heist at the Art Institute, June 30 – “Experience the extraordinary at an evening inspired by the summer exhibition Gauguin: Artist as Alchemist. Night Heist guests will enjoy exclusive after-hours access to this exhibition which celebrates the expansive career of Gauguin as he created work that defied definition. The evening also includes live music, entertainment, hors d’oeuvres, and a raffle with coveted prizes.  And of course, cocktails based on the different eras of his life made by 6 Chicago bartenders, including Paul McGee and Nandini Khaund.”

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