I started curating the concession stand during the HavelFestival.
One thing that I always do when I travel is try the junk food. The chocolate, the salty snacks, the sodas, whatever I can find. Somehow, to me, that is where I really get a sense of what living in the country is like. Restaurants are fine, I love tasting the local cuisine, but on a day to day basis, growing up…I would bet the junk food is at least as representative. Because all the flavorings are there, in distilled chemical form, distributed on a processed potato product or other unhealthy conveyance method.
So when I was presenting the works of Havel, I thought, let’s bring the taste of the Czech Republic here as well. Fortunately, there is a Czech and Slovak Variety Shop in Long Island City, Queens, which provided a full range of the treats. My favorite is the Fidorka, which I had chosen through carefully judged eating in supermarkets and small groceries in Prague.
It proved wildly popular. In fact all the snacks sold out quickly (as did our Pilsner Urquell). Berit Johnson, who was running our concessions at the time, started out as a doubter, but over time became a believer.
I have been curating the concession stand ever since, culminating perhaps with The Pig, which included a full meal, provided by Korzo. But the Fidorkas were not forgotten: they were dessert.
Besides adding a sense of fun, I do think there is something to actually being connected by taste to the theater. Perhaps that is part of why dinner theater and experimental theater have been joining forces so actively recently. It engages another part of the brain and really provides, in neurological terms, a new cognitive framework for the appreciation of the performance.
Which brings me to my Cel-Ray cocktail.
For the Festival of Jewish Theater and Ideas, one of the elements of our concession stand was Dr. Brown’s Celery Tonic, better known as Cel-Ray. A staple of Jewish delis, I first enjoyed it as the perfect accompaniment to pastrami on rye. I don’t eat meat now, but still enjoy the occasional drink of it.
I did overestimate the popularity of the drink. For the uninitiated, celery soda perhaps seemed a doubtful product. With about 50 extra cans, I had only one choice: to make a Cel-Ray cocktail for the after party. I mixed it with Jose Cuervos tequila and called it a Jose Rosenbaum.
Recently, I was approached for a cocktail recipe for a book of recipes by sci-fi authors. I have now gone back and perfected it. For the good of theater. For the good of society.
Here is the secret formula:
The José Rosenbaum
5 parts Cel-Ray
2 part Jose Quervo tequila
1 Mean Bean (a pickled, spicy string bean)
1 Grape tomato
Rim the glass with a mixture of kosher salt, cayenne pepper, and celery salt (my taster, aka my wife Connie, recommends skipping the celery salt…too much celery). Mix Cel – Ray and tequila with ice, stir gently. Pour into an old fashioned glass. Garnish with Mean Bean and tomato.
I’m serious about the Mean Bean. It makes the drink. And it’s delicious. Get it here.