Rebekah Peppler—the writer, food stylist, and Jarry Issue 6 contributor, who moved from Brooklyn to Paris three years ago—has recently published a book on the French cocktail tradition of l’heure de l’apéritif, fittingly titled Apéritif. If you’re unfamiliar with this world of cocktails, there’s a lot to love. It features a rich and varied history of fortified wines, quenching drinks that aren’t too boozy, and an early-evening setting meant to capitalize on all the flattering light of a Parisian sunset. (We highlighted a few from the book and a couple new drinks as well in Issue 5 in “Les Apéros Légers.”) Rebekah’s book celebrates all this and more, and beneath its surface, she and photographer Joann Pai quietly challenge the norms of the cocktail book genre by creating something of a queers-only paradise for its visual scope. We chatted with Rebekah about this, as well as what it’s like to write a book about cocktails, stocking a bar, being an American abroad in 2018, and more.
Let's start with the last line of your book, which closes out your acknowledgements: "The images included in this book exist in a world in which there are no cis straight white men. You're welcome, and enjoy!" How did the book shape up this way—was it deliberate?—and what's its significance, especially for a book like Apéritif?
This was a deliberate choice. I wanted the visuals of the book to accurately reflect both my aesthetic as well as my life and friend group in France. With that in mind, I made a decision to be consciously inclusionary. A lot of thought and conversation went into the images and I worked closely with my photographer, Joann Pai, to discuss not only setups, light, and composition but tone, inclusion, and accessibility.
In the two worlds Apéritif lives in—cocktail and France—the masculine-feminine binary exists in very opposite ways. I was interested in stepping outside of those binaries to create a book on French cocktails that didn’t feel gendered. I did this both through the people featured in the images and the way we set up the shots but also through the content and voice of the book. Basically, I queered the fuck out of it.
It's incredibly important for queer lives to have visibility. We’re seeing it more and more in television and magazines like Jarry. My ability to bring it into the cookbook space through Apéritif felt appropriate and necessary.
You've had an extensive career in food—developing recipes, food styling, collaborating on many cookbooks, authoring your own. Where did the idea for Aperitif come from? And how is the process of writing cocktail recipes—especially ones that draw from such a rich tradition (your book is as much a fascinating history of spirits as it is a cookbook)—different than writing food recipes?
Whenever you move to a new city you get a crash course in the culture and l’heure de l’apéritif is a huge part of both Parisian and French life. When I made the decision to move to Paris it was in part to shift my focus more to the writing then the styling aspect of my work. Once I realized that no book had gone into depth on the topic of l’apéritif in over a decade I started pitching. Three years later here we are.
The short answer on how the process of writing cocktail v. food recipes differs is the research is even more fun. The long answer is that the bulk (although not all) of my time in the professional food world had focused on food rather than cocktails. This, coupled with the fact that I was new to the tradition of the apéritif, meant that the research had to be way more intensive and immersive than if I had chosen to solely write a book on food. It was also way more fun. Because location is so incredibly important to many of the apéritifs I delve into in the book, I traveled all over France to meet and learn from as many producers as I could. I switched from ordering what I normally order (white wine or Biere Picon) during apéro to trying whatever I didn’t recognize on the menu, evaluating how much cassis different places added to their kirs, noting the ratio of Suze to tonic, and asking my friends to do the same. To write the recipes I relied on classic combinations, nouveau applications, and moments of wild inspiration. I also got myself and my friends pompette (tipsy) on a regular basis. Drinking doesn’t always pair well with work, but sometimes when the drinks—and the inhibitions—go down, the ideas come up.
In our Issue 6 story with you and photographer Eivind Hansen, we highlight how apéritifs are characteristically low-ABV. Have you found this aspect of apéritif culture to inform other parts of France's dining and drinking culture?
Apéritif culture is one of the cornerstones of French drinking culture. Wine overlaps into l’heure de l’apéritif and has just as much of a hold in the history but hard alcohols are a newer thing. Even while deeply rooted in history, France manages to be ahead on the trends and drinking low-ABV is simply another one they beat the rest of us to.
One challenge that I sometimes encounter with cocktail cookbooks is the necessary investment—of adding new, sometimes expensive, spirits to my bar. Do you have any advice for building an interesting and versatile bar, but without breaking the bank?
I’m not interested in doing extra work or spending superfluous dollars on making cocktails at home. I’m there to drink and if I want something complicated or extra fancy, I’ll put on something special and leave the house for it. Most of the apéritifs (which is to say, bottles) I talk about and use in the book aren’t going to break the bank—many of them are under a $30 price point and last a few months stored in the fridge. If you’re not making a party out of it, you’re not using more than one or two ounces per drink. Plus, none of the cocktails require a slew of add-ins to create complex tasting drinks. And, by design, many of the recipes in the book use only the barest of tools: something to measure, something to put it in, ice. At its most complicated, there’s a shaker in there as well.
You split your time between Paris and Los Angeles, and also lived for a long time in Brooklyn. What's your experience been, as an American living abroad in the current political moment?
I chose to start splitting time between Paris and Brooklyn a little over three years ago and had no idea how dramatically the political climate would shift in America. I was in Brooklyn during the last US election and casting my vote with the belief that my godchild wouldn’t remember a world without a US woman president was one of the most powerful moments in my lifetime. Leaving the US to come back to France after that was a bittersweet relief. Then France had their own presidential elections and I had a fear that both countries I choose to call home would lean far right.
I just returned from Apéritif’s US book tour and was reminded of how fortunate I am to have a delay in the news cycle when in France. When I first moved to Paris, I was checking the news first thing to see what happened overnight, but now I give myself the morning to reset and tap into the news cycle when everyone in New York is doing the same. This privilege allows me to stay connected to the reality of my daily life without feeling like I’m losing touch with the larger political landscape.
Politics are more global than ever before, of course, and although sometimes I hate being away from the US and the shared experiences there, I'm grateful for the opportunity to engage with and begin to learn the nuances of my adopted country. It’s never not weird to have a foot in each no matter where I actually am, but my expat community in Paris is strong and politically-minded and for that I am grateful.
All Photos by Joann Pai for Apéritif and used with permission.
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