Mad Men Food: The Chrysanthemum and the Sword

Cocktail Hour Extra: Tuscan Summer from Great American Ball Park
August 20, 2010
Up and Coming Cincy Chefs benefits Cystic Fibrosis, Sunday August 28
August 23, 2010

There really haven’t been enough meals or cocktails this season (I know poor Michelle has been struggling with her Mad Men Mondays, since no one is doing anything other than drinking straight Canadian Club or Stoli, though I spied a bottle of Jameson for some variety this week). This week, though, Mad Men featured Benihana and Tiki cocktails.  I love how detailed Weiner and the show’s producers are– everything from the rewearing of costumes (unlike modern shows, where everyone wears something different every episode) to its focus on food trends of the time.

We’ve seen a lot of Asiana, particularly with Bert Cooper’s fascination (some might say fetishization) of all things Asian, but this is the first time we’ve seen the trend in food– not coincidentally interlaced in an episode where Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce was pitching Honda.  Teppanaki (also called, erroneously, hibachi) became popular in the US with the opening of Benihana in New York in 1964 (about a year before this episode, so when Don took Bethany, it was probably still somewhat new and trendy).  It was so popular that, according to Benihana’s website, the owner Rocky Aoki made his money back in six months, and soon opened another Benihana in New York– three blocks away from his original location.  A lot of food in the 1960s was “exotic”– teppanaki, fondue, the advent of Julia Child making French food approachable, exotic fruits like kiwis, and the obsession with space and space foods, like Tang– so seeing this reflected in Don’s dates is fascinating– to me, at least.  I’m waiting for Joan to start cooking from Mastering the Art of French Cooking for her loser husband.

I loved that Don had to ask if Bethany could teach him how to use chopsticks.  I forget how exotic chopsticks once were (though I do remember, as a kid, being at the Samurai downtown (which is now a Benihana) and having “training chopsticks” made for me), particularly since we now live in a land of take-out sushi.

As far as the drinks– this is around the time when Tiki was at its peeak, but would soon start its downslide (mostly due to restaurants like Benihana!).  You can read a little more about tiki in my friend Craig’s guest post about Mai Tais, and in his Tiki primer.  I couldn’t tell what Bethany was drinking– it was obscured by the Tiki God and a paper umbrella.


  1. verybigjen says:

    @winemedineme you know I’ve never gone to a Tappenaki. But then I’m rather anti-japanese food.

  2. I thought that this was the best episode of the season so far. Don was back on form again, especially in the way he swatted down that “annoying fly” competitor. I just noticed last night that Bert Cooper continues to walk around the office in his socks, sans shoes. Bert’s an odd one, and definitely has a Japanese fetish.

  3. […] thought was aha! I’ll write about the history of Benihana, which I did. Then Julie posted her version of that post and I deleted my own (my apologies if you saw it then it disappeared). Next! I […]

  4. Best line of the episode was said by the Japanese executives: “How does she not fall over?” re: Joanie. Hilarious! Gawker has a great recap up:

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