SAN DIEGO – Who doesn’t love “Classic Cocktails and Salty Snacks” and want to become the hostess with the mostess?
That’s the theme of a specialty event presented by Dan Smith and Steve McDonagh, aka the Hearty Boys of The Food Channel fame, at the ninth annual San Diego Bay Wine & Food Festival from Nov. 14-18.
The Hearty Boys, who hail from Chicago, will appear from 4 to 5 pm Friday, Nov. 15, at the San Diego Wine & Culinary Center.
Dan Smith and Steve McDonagh spoke with San Diego Gay & Lesbian News about their San Diego appearance, their new book “The New Old Bar,” their rise to fame as the first gay couple to star on The Food Channel, and how they balance their busy personal and home lives.
SDGLN: What will you guys be doing at the San Diego Bay Wine & Food Festival?
Two cocktails from our new book: an Eastern Sin and a Raspberry Bramble (made with a shrub of raspberries and champagne vinegar) and three bar snacks: Chorizo Stuffed Olives, Wasabi Pea Caramel Corn and Poutine.
SDGLN: What is your new book, “The New Old Bar,” all about?
STEVE: It’s a bar guide for regular people. There are plenty of bar geek books out there written for people like me … this is written for my guests. The regular people who want to know about the exciting cocktail movement in accessible terms. It has over 200 recipes; mostly heavily researched originals and many of my own twists and originals based on pre-Prohibition ideas.
SDGLN: Why do you think vintage cocktails are making a comeback?
STEVE: Because they’re fabulous. A well-crafted, well-balanced cocktail that actually tastes of something (goodbye vodka), is fresh (goodbye little plastic lime thing) and layered with seductive flavors (hello Chartreuse, Benedictine, Galliano!) is a wonderful way to start a meal. Why is our glass held to a lower standard than our plate? And I could go on and on about how I love the ritual of preparation.
SDGLN: What are your favorite cocktails?
DAN: My next one!
STEVE: It changes every day depending on my mood. The weather plays a big role in whether I want something citrusy with gin or something dark and complicated and herbal. That’s what I love about the book; I can choose the main ingredient I’m in the mood for and pick something from the index. I’m fairly certain tonight’s favorite drink is a Bobby Burns with scotch, sweet vermouth and Benedictine.
That being said; my go-to cocktails are the Aviation and the Pegu Club. Those are the ones I most frequently prepare at home for guests and they are the ones I use as gin’s gateway cocktail for the nervous and uninitiated.
SDGLN: How did two actors in New York end up in the food business in Chicago?
DAN: NYC actor = NYC waiter. I worked in the kitchen of a renowned NY caterer and Steve ran big catered events at The Met and the UN. When Steve later moved to Chicago for an acting job, I followed so we could be together. We only catered for some Chicago companies for a short while before we decided it was time to do it for ourselves.
SDGLN: Neither of you went to culinary school. Did that hinder you in establishing your credentials in the business? And did either of you have a business background?
DAN: Nope. We’re really good at what we do, although we’re totally making this up as we go along. It has been working so far.
SDGLN: You started your culinary adventure in Chicago’s famed “Boystown.” How did that work for you guys?
STEVE: It’s funny. So many companies go after the gay buck with such cynicism. We just went there because it’s where we were comfortable and we understood the crowd. We knew the particular challenges/fears that LGBT clients might face in having caterers come into their home. You want to feel comfortable at your own party … so we just focused on what we knew and the rest came.
SDGLN: How did “The Next Food Network Star” impact your lives and your careers?
DAN: It was an awesome start and helped us to create a stronger base.
SDGLN: Why do you guys think that “Party Line With The Hearty Boys” didn’t take off with Food Network fans?
STEVE: I don’t think that’s true. We had a huge fan base with Food Network. I think it took off with fans but maybe not with the network brass. It’s important to note that we were the first out couple to host a TV show in American history. It was only seven years ago, but a lot has changed since 2006.
SDGLN: When did you open Hearty Restaurant and what is the vision for the cuisine? And did your gay fans follow you from Boystown to Lakeview?
DAN: Hearty is very focused on the American palate. It’s foods we grew up with but re-envisioned. The wine list is all U.S. with unusual wines from all over the country. We’re only four blocks from our original spot in Boystown, so we’ve got a large LGBT client base. But the great thing about Chicago is that you don’t really differentiate between the gays and the straights … we don’t need to focus on one community in general as it’s a very blended city.
SDGLN: Hearty Boys Catering, Hearty Restaurant, cookbooks and public appearances … how do you find time for yourselves and your son, and what are your favorite activities away from the business?
DAN: We’re struggling at the moment to find ways to streamline what we do. We want to be able to spend more time as a family. I don’t want to say we want to do less … but we’re finding ways to work smarter. Our favorite family activity is pretty simple; we have a weekend place in Michigan where we go and unplug. It’s a life-saver. For Steve and I, we love home improvement and are always in the process of tearing down something, building something or painting something. We are currently rehabbing our Michigan kitchen on our own (with some help from Jenn-Air!) and recently turned our unfinished basement into an extra guest room/family room.
SDGLN: Where did you guys meet, when did you become a couple, and when did you decide to have a family?
STEVE: Oh, that’s a beer story. It’s way too long to relate without a cold beer in hand. The short, less interesting version is that we first began dating 25 years ago; moved to different parts of the country and have just celebrated our 16th anniversary together. Becoming a family was always, always in the plan. Totally natural progression for us.
SDGLN: If you could have the ultimate dinner party and invite three guests (living or dead), who would be there and why?
STEVE: To me, dinner parties are much more than food and drink. I can take care of great food and awesome cocktails if Dorothy Parker were there to keep the conversation lively and Johnny Mercer got a little buzzed and called us round the piano afterwards.
Ken Williams is Editor in Chief of SDGLN. He can be reached at email@example.com, @KenSanDiego on Twitter, or by calling toll-free to 888-442-9639, ext. 713.