Bond-ing for Dinner: When the World (and a Meal) Are Not Enough
I’m probably one of the few members of my generation who got to know the world’s most widely known secret agent through literature rather than the movies. I still read Casino Royale every year, so I was thrilled when a decent adaption of the book was finally filmed and released in 2006. It was while watching the news one evening that I heard the anchor talking about the rush to book wedding dates for the “luckiest date of the century”, July 7th, 2007. Seven is lucky number in Chinese culture, and the three sevens in the date were attracting couples the world over to tie the knot the first week of July. It was as the date 07/07/2007 scrolled across the screen that it hit me, with every bit as much force as a lethal toe kit from Rosa Klebb’s KGB issued shoe. Oh seven, oh seven, double oh seven. It was, I thought, the perfect set-up for a dinner party. I knew then that I would be planning a dinner for that date and all of the food would be from or inspired by James Bond. It would be an evening, to put it frankly, of Martini’s, Girls and Guns.
“I take a ridiculous pleasure in what I eat and drink.”
Casino Royale (1953)
But first, I had a little research to do. I decided to start with the literary Bond. I would find out what he ate, what he drank (besides martini’s) and begin to create the menu from there. Anything I couldn’t pull from the books, I would create based on the inspiration I took from the novels. There are several great meal scenes in the first Bond novel, Casino Royale. Much of what we consider the personality of the character is there, present at the creation in Ian Fleming’s words. Like most of my dinner menu plans, I started with the drinks. Much to my surprise and delight as a Kentucky native, I discovered that the literary Bond drank bourbon more than anything else (thanks to The Minister of Martini’s at 007.atomicmartinis.com for having already done all the research). I was happy – I had a legitimate reason for including bourbon on the menu. Champagne was omnipresent in both the novels and films, so I decided on a Rose’ for the cocktail hour and a bottle of Bollinger for after dinner. Of course, there would have to be martini’s. Everyone who has ever watched one of the films can order Bond’s signature drink – vodka martini, shaken not stirred. In reality, the original martini order from Casino Royale is more complex and more interesting (not to mention better tasting):
“A dry martini. One. In a deep champagne goblet. Three measures of Gordan’s, one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet. Shake it very well until it’s ice cold, then add a large thin slice of lemon-peel.”
Casino Royale (1953)
In the months prior to the release of the 2006 movie version the question which appeared all over the Internet was whether the film-makers would use the literary martini in lieu of the stock version fans were accustomed to over the forty plus years of the film franchise’s existence. Not only did they include it, but they preceded it earlier on with a scene showing the film-makers tongue was planted firmly in cheek. After ordering a martini and being asked by the bartender if he wanted it shaken or stirred, Daniel Craig as Bond replied “Do I look like I give a damn?” I cheered when I saw it. Later on when Bond orders a proper martini, the viewer realizes the character is begining to transform into the Bond we already know.
With drinks covered, I moved on to the appetizers. Caviar was, unfortunately, not going to make it onto the menu (try to find good caviar in Kentucky, I dare you – and I didn’t feel like paying for the shipping to bring it in). I settled on smoked salmon roulades, taking a little liberty with the source material. I wanted to make calamari in honor of Octopussy, not the character played by Maud Adams in the movie version but the actual octopus from the novella of the same name. Before the comments start flying, I know that calamari is squid, not octopus. However, everyone has heard of Octopussy, but fewer have actually read Dr. No and are aware that Bond at one point tangles with a giant squid. I figured I was at l least on safely defined literary, if not culinary ground. Anyway, it became a moot point. I became overly infatuated with using a new kitchen toy, a Cuisinart counter-top deep fryer given to me as a gift. I never could get the dish to come out right so I had to scrap it. In it’s place went an original creation inspired by the Bond canon (at least in name) – The Thai Who Loved Me Bamboo Shrimp Skewers. Ok, I know it sounds corny, but then again the whole evening started to sound corny after a while. The shrimp were tasty and certainly evocative of some Asian locales from both the books and films, so I just went with it – corny name and all.
The entree and sides were as easy and obvious as the drinks. Bond ate steak and lobster on several occassions. Surf and turf is was then. I chose a bacon wrapped filet mignon as I would be cooking this portion of dinner on the grill. For the surf I went with lobster tails topped with a curry-mango butter (straight out of a Bobby Flay cookbook). As a side dish I choose asparagus which I topped with a “Crab Key Bearnaise Sauce”, a tip of the hat to Dr. No. Of course there would be red and white wine. Anyone caught drinking red wine with the seafood course would be assumed to be an accomplice of Red Grant and an agent of SPECTRE. It always helps to know who your friends are.
For dessert I went back to Casino Royale which was rapidly become the source for the whole dinner (appropriately as we would be watching the movie on the deck later that evening). In the book, Bond orders half an avocado pear “with a little French dressing”. To me, that sounded disgusting, but I love serving fruit for dessert. After thumbing through a Steve Raichlen grill book, I decided to smoke pears on the grill, stuffed with butter, brown sugar and cinnamon and drizzle them with a red wine reduction. Accompanying the pears would be coffee, bourbon on the rocks and a bottle of Bollinger. The menu, it seemed, was set.
The guys were excited. Their wives, somewhat less so at the prospect of spending the evening in a Bond filled world. A total of a ten people were invited. Appropriately, seven showed up. To make things interesting, I circulated around in the days before the dinner a list of trivia questions pertaining to the movies, the novels and my own well known Bond collection (I have several first editions, along with dozens of books about the books, books about the films, books about Bond as a cultural icon, etc.). As the drinks were poured and dinner was started the guys gathered in the living room to screen the documentary Bond Girls Are Forever – much to the chagrin of their other halves. The shrimp was a huge hit, as was the main course of filet and lobster. The stuffed pears were smoked over applewood as we sat on the deck and watched Casino Royale on a screen set up just for the occasion. The pears have since become a house favorite and have been served many times since.
All in all, the food turned out very good, and even though the menu didn’t end up being one of my favorites, that dinner is still the one everyone talks about. The combination of the food, the entertainment and the conversation made for an unforgettable evening. With the new Bond film, Quantum of Solace, premiering next week I keep getting asked if I’m going to host a “sequel” party. And I might, once the movie comes out on DVD. What better way to spend a Saturday evening than to enjoy a well made martini and a good meal? After all, you never know when that meal might be your last.
For those who are interested, the number one James Bond website in my opinion is CommanderBond.net. Check it along with the site’s regular podcast (available via iTunes).