The Chew’s Clinton Kelly: Drinking Rules
The Emmy Award-winning host talks whiskey, fashion faux pas, and the reason he won’t drink Rum & Cokes.
There were some tough episodes of What Not to Wear, your old show, when you and your co-host Stacy London had a drink to unwind. Was the alcohol real? “That was real alcohol. I think we were drinking bourbon during those [scenes]. It was usually the last shot of the day and we had a couple sips of bourbon before heading home.”
When you were on that show, was it hard for you to go out and relax and not be bothered by all the fashion disasters around you? “I can’t speak for Stacy, but I know that I have—and have had for a long time—a switch that I can turn on or off: the fashion faux pas switch. If I flick it on I can see every fashion or style faux pas in the immediate vicinity. After a while, I got to shut it off so that my head doesn’t explode. The problem is when people drink they lose their inhibitions and come up to me and ask me what I think about their outfits. If you’re going to ask me what I think of your outfit, I am going to be honest about it. There were times that women didn’t like what I had to say and got nasty with me. That happened once in Boston. And sometimes people get mouthy and will tell me that they don’t like what I’m wearing.”
I imagine the fans of The Chew want to talk to you about other things. “Now they ask me things like, ‘I have a bottle of cotton candy-flavored vodka, what kind of cocktails should I make with that?’ To which I say, ‘I have no idea why you even had that in your liquor cabinet, but try mixing it with club soda.’ It’s kind of awesome to be me, when I think about it, because I feel like there are very few things that people don’t ask me about. They don’t ask me about sports, but other than that I get asked about food and beverages, crafting, decorating, grammar, and clothes.”
You’re in charge of the cocktail segments on The Chew. Was that by design? “I really enjoy a good cocktail and we hadn’t done cocktails on the show at all. One day I said, ‘Why don’t we just do a cocktail and see how it goes over?’ Granted, it’s daytime television, but if Kathie Lee and Hoda [Kotb] can get drunk every day on their show, then why can’t we make a Manhattan or something? And so we did and people really responded to it. And that’s kind of how it happened. I am certainly no master bartender. I would never, ever claim to be one. But I like to have a drink and I think drinking in moderation is totally fun and fine and it is part of American culture.”
The bartender role seems to suit you. “I think I’ve gotten a little bit of a reputation from the show as being a real booze hound, but I’m kind of not. I’m about to be 48 and I can have one cocktail and maybe two glasses of wine afterward nowadays. Or maybe two cocktails and nothing else. But any more than that and I’m feeling it for the next at least 24 hours and it used to be I could shrug those things off by noon. No more.”
What do your fellow co-hosts like to drink? “Carla [Hall] doesn’t drink at all. And Mario [Batali] is always up for trying new things. None of them are big gin drinkers. I like to have a Gin & Tonic from time to time. I feel like Daphne [Oz] is more of a wine drinker. Michael [Symon] likes the dark liquor, like a bourbon or a rye.”
Do you have a signature drink? “My horizons have definitely expanded over the years. I kind of stick to the classics to be honest with you. I don’t like a lot of tricks. The things I drink the most would be Manhattans, Old Fashioneds, homemade Margaritas, Gin & Tonics and another fave of mine is gin with grapefruit shrub, a couple dashes of fennel bitters and club soda. It’s so good.”
Is there a liquor cabinet on the set of The Chew? “Not in my dressing room, contrary to popular belief. I do joke about that on a regular basis. They keep the liquor locked up. Every once in a while they’ll be like, ‘We need a cocktail recipe.’ And then I’ll go into the liquor cabinet and start making stuff up.”
Do you have a big liquor collection at home? “Yeah. It’s kind of big. It’s kind of a mish-mash, though. It’s a deep closet so there are things back there that have been back there for a long time, I’m afraid. I just keep going to the ones that are right in front of my face. There’s the Maker’s Mark. I’ll just take that because I need this to happen immediately.”
Is your home bar stocked with any glassware? “Oh my God, yes. I’m kind of obsessed with vintage barware so I’ve got way too much of it. And it’s too precious for me to actually use. So I find myself just staring at it. I went through this phase where I was having maybe a couple glasses of wine and then going on eBay or One Kings Lane and just being like, ‘Oh, that’s a nice barware set. Let me buy that.’ And then these things would show up. I have more glasses than I do friends. It’s a problem.”
Do you have a favorite cocktail book? “The cocktail book that I keep going back to is The Savoy Cocktail Book, which is really fantastic. I have a first edition hardcover and I just like looking through there and imagining that it’s 1930 and I’m in some fabulous bar in New York City. It’s a trip back in time to when life was a lot more glamorous.”
Jigger or free-pour? “I pretty much don’t believe in measuring anything. Nothing should be measured in life. I like to eyeball it and if it doesn’t work, after I taste it, I can always adjust. There’s something about the measuring that just seems too precise for me and it turns me off. The only time you should measure is when you’re baking because you need those measurements to be pretty precise. That’s science and I feel like making a cocktail is a little bit more art than science. Don’t get me wrong, you have to have a plan. And I can pretty much tell what an ounce of alcohol looks like just by the sound it makes when hitting the glass or ice cube.”
Bourbon or rye whiskey in your whiskey cocktails? “I like a bourbon Old Fashioned and a rye Manhattan. I like Bulleit Rye. That’s usually my go-to. I like Bulleit Bourbon, too. Or I’ll use Maker’s Mark. Those are just the ones I grab first. But I have several bourbons in my liquor cabinet.”
When you were working on your new book, I Hate Everyone, Except You, did you have a drink to get you in the writing mood? “I wrote this book 100-percent sober. Actually, I had been writing the book for a while in my spare time and it’s really hard to shift gears from doing television to sitting down and writing a book. Television is all about mania. It’s just about high energy all the time. When I write a book, I need peace and quiet. So to finish this book I went down to Miami and I took the month of January off from The Chew. And that month, to hit the reset button, I gave up caffeine, sugar, red meat and alcohol.”
Is there a drink you won’t have anymore? “I think the first drink you throw up from you never want to have again. For me that was a Rum & Coke. Still, to this day, I can’t really drink that.”
Clinton Kelly’s new book, I Hate Everyone, Except You, debuted last week.
Interview has been condensed and edited.