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Whiskey 101 with Matthew Biancaniello

The Wednesday Santa Monica Farmers Market is church for nearly every chef, established or aspiring, in Los Angeles. You’ll see bakers slalom past strollers with mile-high stacks crates of peaches and strawberries, restaurants chefs piling artichokes on top of potatoes and one cool, joyful mixologist with two sweet boys in tow, pulling a wagon of culinary curiosities. Matthew Biancaniello is an alcohol alchemist. He can turn salad ingredients into a cocktail and with the a twist of an orange, a cup of honey and splash of whiskey make a mean mixed drink.

We sat down with Matthew in the middle of the market, his canvas bags spilling with flowers, weeds and sprouting seeds, to discuss whiskey (it’s a tough job, but I’m willing to sacrifice on your behalf). You may want to explore what it takes to get whiskey from grain to glass before reading on…

What is the first thing you recall about experiencing Whiskey? Well, my first true appreciation, when I became an whiskey aficionado, came after tasting Laphroaig. You can really taste the salt air and the peat in this Irish whiskey. Terroir goes beyond soil.

What is your favorite sipping whiskey? Redbreast is my favorite sipping whiskey. It’s smooth with a great caramel finish. You can taste figs, spice from the wood and pepper. It’s aged for 12-18 years.

What pairs well with whiskey? Well, you want a powerful, strong flavor profile when mixing cocktails, which is why I like using whiskey. Honey is one, and ginger is a great partner for whiskey.

Why does honey show up so often in your whisky-based recipes? I use both agave and honey syrups with whiskey, but honey is really my favorite; it matches up with whiskey’s robust flavor and stands up with a similar viscosity. I make a syrup using three parts honey to one part water.

Any surprises? Blind tastings are great- I did a blind taste test and was surprised how much I liked Johnny Walker Green. Blends (made from a variety of grains and from various distilleries) are great and smooth.

Favorite Scotch?  I was lucky enough to have a bottle of 30 year old Laphroaig once; that is my all time favorite and very hard to live up to!

Do you have a favorite cocktail or drink you make with whiskey? Champagne cocktails are great- I make it with Laphroaig, the honey syrup and champagne. I also make one with Redbreast (see here).

How about punch? Punch is great for large groups. I get a big bowl and mix whiskey, aquavit, blood orange juice, some other ingredients and put a big chunk of ice cube in there for about an hour before serving. It gets it to just the right temperature and dilution.


Chocolate Meringue Tarts


Pate Sucree au Chocolat (Chocolate Sweet Tart Dough)

3.5 ounces 125g Butter
1/2 cup 100g Sugar
1 tsp Salt
1 Egg
3 Tbsps 16g Cocoa powder
1-3/4 cups 210g Flour


  1. Cream the butter, sugar and salt with a paddle attachment in a stand or hand held mixer. Need a workout? Start with room temp butter and beat with a wooden spoon. Either way, mix until no chunks or bits of butter remain.
  2. Add the egg and vanilla and beat until smooth. Add the flour and stir until your dough just comes together.
  3. Grab two sheets of parchment paper (about the size of a cookie sheet) and a rolling pin (or wine bottle). Roll the dough between the sheets until it covers the entire area. This is a good thickness for a tart crust. Slide this dough onto a cookie sheet and freeze for at least an hour. Or a week.
  4. Preheat your oven to 350F. Grab an 8" or 9" tart pan or a couple of 4" ones. Peel off the top layer of parchment back and cut out circles about 2" larger than your pan. Once you can bend the dough without it cracking, lower it into your tart pan. Don't freak out if it does crack a little; you can patch this up.
  5. Tarts need to have thin crusts- no one wants to bite into a doughy corner. Be sure to thin out the crust, but not so much that you can see metal. If the dough is too warm, pop it back in the freezer for a few minutes.
  6. Grab a fork and dimple the dough all the way to the bottom of the pan. Bake for about 15 minutes for a larger tart and 12 for smaller ones. Set aside.

Chocolate Pudding (makes more than you need, because pudding is great for breakfast).

1-1/2 cups Sugar
1/4 cup Potato or Corn starch
2 tsps Kosher salt
3 cups Milk
4 Egg yolks
7 ounces Dark chocolate (or 10 oz milk)
  1. Chop up the chocolate and set it aside.
  2. Place the sugar, starch and salt in a non-reactive pot (anything but aluminum, really). Slowly whisk in the milk, followed by the yolks.
  3. Turn the heat to medium and whisk continuously until it boils (a little over five minutes). Remove from heat and whisk in the chocolate until smooth. Set aside to cool a bit.

Chocolate Meringue

3 Egg whites
1/2 cup Sugar
1 tsp Vanilla extract
1 tsp Cocoa powder
  1. Place a medium saucepot filled 1/3 of the way with water and bring to a simmer.
  2. Place the sugar, salt and egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer. Holding the bowl over the saucepot, whisk the mixture until it feels warm to the touch.
  3. Place the bowl on the stand mixer (or begin beating with a hand held mixer) and beat with the whisk attachment until stiff peaks form. Add the vanilla and cocoa powder once the mixture is nice and stiff. Spoon or pipe over the pudding and torch!