We had an amazing trip to New Orleans for our ongoing tour project, If I Knew You Were Coming, I’d Have Baked a Cake. For a week, we spent the days interviewing local chefs, elementary school kids, artists, and a girl with a really, really lousy breakup history. In exchange for their stories, we cooked them a meal. On the last full day of our interviews, we celebrated with a party at Antenna Gallery, our host venue. Here’s what happened.

At the very last minute, we decided to move the entire party up a floor, and even some of the guests hauled up the tables and cooking supplies. Music needed playing. Punches needed stirring. While tearing apart mint leaves with the refrigerator wide open, I heard a crash.

This was not going to be how I expected it, and that’s what makes a good party a good party.

In New Orleans, where daiquiris are available at drive-through counters, having your drink well-regarded is a good compliment. Having your drink requested is even better. Our first guests took a sip of my drinks and came back for more.

Two punches rounded out the shop table: a tropically-flavored spiced Brugal rum; the other was a Cadet punch, a traditional Southern punch with warming Cutty Sark whisky, aromatic bitters, and a lemon oleosacchrum, a maceration of lemon zest and brown sugar. The lemon settles to the bottom and incorporates the brown sugar throughout the punch. In addition to being a town of beers to-go, New Orleans also is notorious for flaky RSVP’s. A lot of invites never showed, and plenty of people came in off of the street. The punch bowls were running down.

I tilted the bowl to get the last dregs of the whiskey punch, walking a fine line between “citrus garnish” and I-think-this-is-whiskey-flavored-pulp. There were still plenty of thirsty guests. Things would have to get inventive.

I saw a pregnant woman and her daughter walk by. We made eye contact, and I instantly blurted if she wanted a mocktail, not thinking, of where said mocktails were coming from.

I started whacking leftover mint leaves in my hand, extracting some essential oils. I added lemon syrup from Morris Kitchen and some San Pellegrino I had bought at Mardi Graz Zone earlier. I had made these drinks for the students we interviewed earlier in the week. I stirred it up and handed it off. Somebody else requested one.

I started lining up cups for the guests disappointed with our dry punch bowl. I made a spiced rum cocktail with the lemon syrup and leftover pineapple juice from the punch. Mint cut through the sweetness and made an awesome garnish. Eventually, I ran out of the first bottle of San Pellegrino. Then the syrup disappeared, and I cracked open a spiced apple syrup that almost seemed meant for the whisky.

Julie, one of our interview subjects, showed up. Earlier in the week, she told us an incredibly personal story about five key meals in a crumbling relationship she was in. Her boyfriend at the time jilted her mom’s cooking and dumped her while she cried into a tuna sandwich. I mixed a strong apple-mint whiskey cocktail and handed it to her.

“What do you call this?”

I thought about her story and had a fitting name.

“This is Why You Don’t Break Up Over Tuna.”

It was the perfect nightcap for an incredible week of stories and mostly improvised food creations. And those are the best kinds.


1 oz. Whisky (I used Cutty Sark Prohibition Edition Scotch Whisky)
1 oz. Spiced Apple Syrup (Morris Kitchen provided a lovely spicy flavor)
3-4 dashes of aromatic bitters (I used Hella Bitters Aromatic, but Angostura would work)
3 whole mint leaves, bruised with your hand.
Sparkling water, for topping off cocktails

Combine the whiskey, syrup, bitters, and mint leaves in a glass. Top with ice and pour over sparkling water.

Extra special thanks to A&B American Hot Sauce, Brugal RumCutty Sark, Empire Mayonnaise, Good Eggs NolaHella BittersKings County DistilleryMorris Kitchen, Rocket, Sir Kensington’s, Takibi Bakery, Tin Mustard, and We’ve Got Soul

Tommy Werner