Q&A: Tristan Willey of Booker and Dax on Le Grand Fooding, Cocktails, and More


[Photo from Fine Dining Lovers]

It’s back – Le Grand Fooding has returned once again to Brooklyn!  This year’s event, which will be held today and tomorrow (September 27 + 28) revolves around the theme of the Le Fooding Time Mach’Inn, which will highlight the food trends over the past 30 years.

Le Fooding Time Mach’Inn will consist of a 4-course meal paired with three Jameson Black Barrel cocktails – with participating chefs such as Peter Gordon, Yves Camdeborde, Frank Falcinelli, and Frank Castronovo, as well as Jeanette Levis and Tristan Willey (of Booker and Dax) as the featured mixologists.

As Booker and Dax is one of our favorite bars in the city, we wanted to get to know a little more about its bar manager.  Tristan was gracious enough to answer a couple questions for us on Le Grand Fooding and more through e-mail – here’s what he has to say.

The Couch Sessions: How did you come to be involved in Le Grand Fooding?

Tristan Willey: I’ve always admired what Le Fooding was doing, and when the fine team at Jameson looped me in I couldn’t have been more ecstatic.

Can you tell us more about your cocktail for Le Grand Fooding – what exactly is a 2000’s-style cocktail?  What was the process of pairing your drink with Yves Camdeborde’s meal – did you two spend a lot of time collaborating?

The 2000’s were just the start of turning cocktails into culinary creations, so you start to see fresh ingredients out of the kitchen become the driving force behind the drinks.  The big challenge making a drink for this kind of dinner, especially using whiskey, is making sure that the drink doesn’t blow all chance at ever tasting anything else out of the water, so we went with a carbonated drink that was able to use simple ingredients like pepper, salt, and honey. These ingredients were used in moderation to make sure that it was a light and easy drink that went with the course rather than next to it.

Are there any food “trends” or fads that you’ve been a fan of or tried, whether they be in the past or present? (For example… have you stood in line for a cronut?) 

No cronut lines for me… having to shut down the bar late at night (early in the morning) rules that one out.  I’m really into the guest chef collaboration events, if someone is coming in from out of town to work at a restaurant for the night, or the same with a visiting bartender, I am going to try and be there trying to taste something I wouldn’t otherwise be able to.  I want to see more and more roaming chefs. 

Where are your favorite spots to go for a good cocktail in the city (besides Booker and Dax, obviously)?

I have a small group of places I continually find myself at, mainly the Library at NoMad. It’s possible I am there at any given point in a day or night.  Little Branch and Please Don’t Tell for cocktails and Frankies 457 is the staple of my food choices.

This may be a difficult one, but…what’s the best cocktail you’ve ever had?  

The best cocktails are always situational. It doesn’t necessarily have to be the actual cocktail that’s great, but moreso the where, when, and who surrounding the cocktail that really make it great.

For example, the 50/50 Martini at the Library at NoMad before the first symphony concert I attended in NYC.  It was such a simple drink, but in a setting that makes you feel important, on an occasion where you were dressed up and ready for pomp and circumstance, it was perfect.

Originally, The Couch Sessions was primarily a music-based site, so I have to ask – what are you currently listening to?

I have a good list of songs that I am playing over and over again right now:  Hummingbird, Local Natives.  A Fantastic Wave, Alt-J.  My Leather, My Fur, My Nails, Stepdad.