I had dinner with Maurice Hennessy last night at Lucques in West Hollywood. It was quite a thrill! He is French and comes from a long lineage of distinguished Hennessy men. Their company – Jas Hennessy & Co. sells about 50 million bottles a year worldwide. That’s a little more than 40 percent of the world’s Cognac, making it the world’s largest Cognac producer.
During cocktail hour as we drank a refreshing and imaginative apple fix beverage made with (of course) Hennessy privilege, apple, lemon, ginger and a few drops of vanilla syrup, Maurice shared with me, “Hennessy is a jolly good base for creative cocktails.” He then informed me that his great, great, great, great, great, great, great-grandfather Richard Hennessy was an Irishman, and founded Hennessy cognac in 1765 before moving to France.
Maurice spent his childhood years in the Cognac region of France. He is the eighth generation of the prestigious family. His father had no desire to follow others in the family and instead preferred the sciences. After an internship at Hennessy with his grandfather, Maurice knew his destiny, as long as he could be a farmer too. “I wanted to raise cattle,” shared Maurice with me. “The sweet smell of a dairy farm entices me.” Instead of cattle, he grows grapes and is a supplier to Hennessy. “I’m one of the 1,700 suppliers from various farms that provide various vintages to Hennessy.”
The United States is a big Hennessy market and then there is Asia. When Maurice travels to different clients, he rarely gets to see the destination, because he is too busy working.
As we sat outside the back patio of Lucques, we enjoyed a salad with avocado and ruby grapefruit topped with greengoddess dressing. It was paired with a Hennessy Paradis Imperial in a balloon snifter. “Never heat up cognac. It needs to be served at room temperature to achieve a cooling effect while it reaches your throat,” said Maurice. “It’s a delicate drink with the harmony of dry flowers and a slight hint of spice.”
Our entrees arrived. Some ordered the braised beef short ribs with sautéed greens, cippolini onions and a slightly spicy horseradish cream. I ordered the steelhead salmon resting on a bed of couscous with chunks of summer squash, beautiful nasturtiums and dressed in a green harissa yogurt. My entree was paired with a Hennessy Spice cocktail with Hennessy Privilege, fresh lime, simple syrup, bitters and soda.
Why is it called Privilege? “My ancestors created this for the king of England, George IV,” said Maurice. “Our Paradis Imperial is a unique blend of rare cognacs for Tsar Alexander I of Russia in the 1800s for his birthday dinner. The Hennessy’s Paradis Impérial bottle was redesigned by French Baccarat designer Stephanie Balini. The top of the bottle looks like a Russian hat.”
Dessert was a flourless chocolate torts with roasted dates with a not to sweet sesame brittle and delightful Hennessy whipped cream. Before leaving I asked Maurice what were the benefits of drinking cognac, he replied, “if you drink a snifter at night, you may sleep better, but always drink in moderation.”
I slept like a babe after enjoying Hennessy cognac for dinner and with dessert. Here’s to Hennessy!