In good spirits: Cocktails at the Connaught with Stanley Tucci

The actor and gastronome on his enduring love of cocktails, signature tipple and entertaining secrets

Stanley Tucci has six Emmys, two Golden Globes and nominations for an Oscar, BAFTA and Tony to his name. But in recent years, the acclaimed actor has entered a second act, garnering a reputation as a passionate foodie and amateur mixologist. Some may date this ostensible pivot to the early months of lockdown in 2020, when that video of Tucci shaking up a quarantini for his wife broke the internet, but in actual fact Tucci has always been enamoured with the world of food and drink (he co-directed, co-wrote and starred in the ultimate food film Big Night in 1996).

Tucci’s status as a long-standing arbiter of exceptional taste has had – and continues to have – huge influence on the food and drinks industry. Beyond his social media stardom, he’s launched two cookbooks, a food memoir and a critically acclaimed food series. His latest project, in his role as Tanqueray No. TEN ambassador, sees him team up with the Connaught Bar’s Director of Mixology Ago Perrone to create the bespoke ‘TENacious’ cocktail. Available from 3rd to 30th April, the negroni-martini hybrid is an homage to Tucci and Perrone’s shared Italian heritage. It combines Tanqueray No. TEN with sweet and dry vermouth, bitters, chilli and sundried tomato distillate, citrus grove and peach stone shrub and a spritz of green mandarin essential oil (with the option of a top of Champagne) for a positively summery sipping experience.

I caught up with dapper duo Tucci and Perrone at the Connaught Bar in Mayfair’s luxurious Connaught Hotel to taste the TENacious myself and unpack the pair’s mutual passion for the craft of cocktail making and the art of entertaining…

GJ: When did you first discover your love for cocktails?

S: For me, it was growing up with my parents. My dad’s family in particular loved cocktails and food, dressing up and having cocktails and all that sort of stuff. And it wasn’t like there was money, there was no money. It was just, you know, of that time. My dad was born in 1930, so growing up in the 30s, 40s, 50s, people dressed like we’re dressed like now, everyday, all the time. You went to someone’s house for dinner, that’s what you wore.

So my parents were always getting dressed up and cocktails were a big part of the culture. I fell in love with it. I also loved old movies. I loved movies from the 30s, 40s and 50s, I loved all that stuff, like The Thin Man and all that kind of stuff. The style of it, the romance of it, was exciting and interesting and totally different than, you know, my teenage years, which were the 1970s, it was a very different world then. Cocktails fell out of favour. Now, obviously, they’ve come back in and I’m thrilled about it. But the genesis of my love for it was the style of it, the romance of it and I think how it connected to my family.

A: The cocktail is an element that can be very meditative, but even though you are with other people, it has a special feel to it.

S: Yeah, it creates a connection. It’s a punctuation at the end of the day, it creates a connection between people and it’s the entrée into the next phase of the night, which is dinner.

A: An aperitivo moment really has two aspects: the chemical aspect, which is “aperire” in Latin, “to open the stomach”. The spirits in a cocktail stimulate the gastric acid to prepare the stomach. Also, it’s the beginning of a conversation. When you’re talking about life, you know, “Where are we going for a holiday?”,” What are we doing tomorrow?”, “What are we doing tonight?”, it’s the moments where, as Italians especially, it gets everybody together.

S: And you can complain over a cocktail!

What sort of canapés would be best to pair with a gin cocktail?

S: I think anything light. I wouldn’t go heavy. You want to have the delicacy, you don’t want to eat something huge.

A: It adds to the conversation, but also the canapés match in different ways to the different botanicals of the gin. So I think a variety of aperitivo is best, because you engage the senses and when the senses are engaged you feel more open-minded and that’s when the good conversation starts.

S: I mean, think about when you’re in Milan and they have that beautiful – what’s the area called? – you’d know better than I, Ago, along the canals.

A: Navigli!

S: Oh, it’s so amazing. It’s all these incredible cocktail bars along a canal and you say, “I’ll have a blah-blah-blah” and they make you an amazing cocktail and then you sit down and they bring you bruschetta or something and your drink will always come with that. Italians are very good, they drink and they eat.

A: You wouldn’t have a martini or negroni with lasagne. If you have a little cube of lasagne, it makes sense.

S: It’s complementing the drink but it’s also lining your stomach.

'It has to do with your mood, the day you’ve had, the night you’re maybe going to have, the weather, the season. There are certain times you look out the window and go “Oh, I think I’ll have a Scotch.” Or, “I’ll make a Scotch sour”.'

What about when you’re entertaining but you don’t want to make a lot of effort? What’s the go-to cocktail?

S: For me, always a martini. I know people love to come to my house to have them so I will make them in advance. I have to, because otherwise my whole night is gone.

Do you make them in batches or separately?

S: I’ll just make a big thing of gin martini or a big thing of vodka martini and I’ll put it in the freezer.

A: Diluted already.

S: Diluted, yes, and then twist, olive, pour it. I have to, because I don’t have a professional bar.

A: And then you have to cook as well. I think there are some elements that you need to look after to make the perfect cocktail at home, even simple, so pre-batch in a good quantity with the right dilution, have good glassware, good ice, you know, the details are very important. If you open a bottle of vermouth to make your negroni or martini, vermouth is wine-based, you close it and you put it in the fridge, depending on how much you drink, anyway! But there are some basic rules to follow that really change the outcome of pleasing the palate.

S: Vermouth goes off quickly because it doesn’t have a high alcohol content.

What about for a home bar, what are the essentials for an aspiring cocktail connoisseur?

A: Good spirits. You need to have good gin, vodka, tequila, rum, whiskey, vermouth. Certain liqueurs that can allow you to be creative.

S: Yeah, like triple sec, cointreau, stuff like that. Simple syrup, unless you want to make your own.

A: Once you get the knowledge, then you become more confident and you upgrade. Good glassware, make sure that you have an ice machine or you know how to produce ice, which is very simple.

So not just ice from the corner store?

S: No!

A: No, no, no. You can have the best spirits and the best glassware, but you’ll ruin everything.

Stanley, I wonder if your background as an actor has influenced your love of cocktail making. Does your performative side come out when you’re making a cocktail?

S: There’s no question that making cocktails is performative. Look what Ago just did, it’s completely performative. It’s more performative than what I do sometimes. I mean, he’s doing something that’s taking these really elemental things, these everyday things and turning them into something extraordinary. And he’s doing that with grand gestures. Not too much, but just the right amount. And that to me is another aspect of good hospitality.

When I worked in restaurants when I was young, the thing that interested me most in some ways about a restaurant was that it was like the theatre. You have backstage, so behind this wall, what’s happening? We don’t know, and we will never know. What’s happening here is the only thing you need to know and everything here needs to be perfect. Just like when you’re doing a play. What happens backstage? It’s a nightmare. What’s happening onstage? Perfect.

And Ago, when you’re making cocktails for a new crowd, are you performing for them?

A: It is a performance, because you need to know where you stand, and find the right way to connect with the crowd, to engage. So you can talk about everything and about nothing at the same time. Because it’s not only about what is in the drink you’re making, but it’s the gestures, everything.

We’re launching our book soon and it’s all about cocktails and storytelling. The purpose is to be able to enjoy the drink and enjoy the mood or the atmosphere. So Sunday afternoon, you feel nostalgic, you flick through, you can read the stories, look at the photos, get your sleeves up and make a cocktail. Maybe something elaborate or maybe something more simple today. It’s a 360-degree experience.

S: That’s the thing. Some days you go, “Oh it’s a –, I think I’ll have a –” and then some days you go “No, I don’t want that”. It’s weird. It has to do with your mood, with the day you’ve had, with the night you’re maybe going to have, the weather, the season. And there are certain times you look out the window and go “Oh, I think I’ll have a Scotch.” Or, “I’ll make a Scotch sour”.

A: A Scotch martini cocktail is always the right answer. A dash of Scotch in the martini instead of vermouth.

S: I do that!

A: I do that! We share.

S: I told you that!

A: Ah I forgot, I thought the inspiration came to me one night!

S: Supposedly, during the war, because vermouth wasn’t available, because they were at war with Italy and France was inaccessible, they started putting Scotch into the martini. I’ve done it and I love it. It makes it nice and warm.

A: If you use orange zest instead of lemon…

S: Mmm!

Sounds so warm and wintery...

S: Oh it’s gorgeous, just gorgeous.

A: But in [the TENacious] we would like you to feel like you’re in Italy.

S: This one’s like spring.

What was the genesis for the TENacious? How did you come up with it?

S: Honestly, that’s the man [gestures to Peronne] who came up with it.

A: No, no, we got inspired by each other.

S: We got inspired by each other. He got inspired by my shaking up of the negroni, which he hated [a negroni should be stirred, not shaken]. But he took that and turned it into this.

So that viral video that everyone loved so much in lockdown…

A: That was the beginning of this.

S: Yeah, Tanqueray came to me a while later after that and then we met each other. He’s taught me a great deal.

A: And now every time we meet each other…

S: It gets better. It gets better for him!

A: That’s right, I learn something new every time!

Are you a regular at the Connaught Bar, Stanley?

S: Well when I’m here, yes, I try to come in. But it’s hard because I’m travelling all the time.

You live in London, right?

S: Yeah, I live upstairs. No no. But yes, whenever I can. I love it. It’s like the perfect bar. Not like. It is the perfect bar.

TENacious will be available at The Connaught Bar throughout April (until 30th April).

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