Popular reality star, actor, restaurateur and co-publisher of Hip Hop Weekly, Raymond “Benzino” Scott has officially thrown his hat into the spirits ring, where he vows to take on the bigger guys. Recently, through a chance meeting with Meukow cognac Brand Manager, Robert Konieczny, a unique relationship has developed and brewed, destined to combine the competitive elements of Hip Hop with the fine taste of Meukow cognac. The brand, which was first introduced to the Royal Court of Tsar Alexander II in 1850 by brothers Auguste-Christophe and Gustav Meukow, who later founded the A.C. Meukow & Co. House in 1862, thrives today under the leadership of Philippe Coste and his two sisters, Marie-Laure Brugerolle and Celine Viard.
The company is very enthusiastic about Benzino’s new association with the brand.
“I met Benzino in Atlanta at one of the bars,” said Konieczny. “He was sitting by himself and I was introduced by a bartender after I noticed people kept coming up to him and talking to him.” Benzino added that the two quickly bonded that evening, discussing a myriad of topics that were of mutual interest. “Robert is super smart when it comes to cognac, and he started showing me pictures of France and Philippe, the owner, and the whole process.”
Robert offered product to Benzino, who had an opportunity to take a look at the impressive packaging emblazoned with a panther. Once he had a chance to try the product, he was sold.
“I was impressed when I saw the bottle. I said, ‘I’ll try it.’ And as a person who has drunk cognac for years, I used to just drink it as cognac. Some people say they can tell the difference between products like Remy, Hennessey and other cognac, but it seems like they’re just drinking cognac. When I tasted this product, I said, ‘wow, it really has some flavor to it.’ I can taste what they made it with. So, next thing you know, we kept talking and he asked if I would like to fly to France. I said, ‘Hell yeah.’ It turned out to be one of the biggest moments of my life, and I have had some pretty big moments.”
Benzino’s whirlwind visit to Cognac, France for a week’s crash course in the spirits business was fast paced as well as educational. “It was a busy time,” Konieczny admits. “He didn’t expect he would be working so hard. He saw the process from A to Z; How the grapes were grown, how they tasted, etc. We event went to the production plants where he saw the automatic robot packing the product and he found himself tasting product that ranged from $30 to $5,000.” Benzino concurs that it was a surreal experience. “Everything is so old, turn-of-the century, there’s a whole village of 18,000 people and everybody makes cognac. I met Philippe, who is this really suave Frenchman who loves to have a good time. He’s just classy, and a true gentleman. It was beautiful over there. They kept the original structure of the buildings, so it was like something out of a history book. The whole week I was there, they took me in. Their chef even allowed me to jump in and make sauces there and that made me feel good.”
Those who met Benzino found him to be very different than what is the common perception held of celebrities. According to one observer,
“He was so humble. He was talking to everybody. He relates to everyone on the same level.” Impressed by the operations of the family-owned business, Zino marveled, “I saw the barrels they put the cognac in to age it, it was so amazing. They have a woman taster who is a mixologist and every morning, I did something different. I saw the whole process and it was mind-boggling how clean and neat and orderly everything was. They take you on a tour that is like Disneyland. And what’s interesting is that I found myself drinking cognac that was two years old up to over a hundred years old.”
One of the highlights of Benzino’s trip abroad was the invitation he received to attend an A-list charity event with Philippe, which drew over 700 guests from all the major cognac houses. A major success, the event not only raised close to $1 million, but it was an eye-opener for Benzino, who was able to witness and appreciate the level of respect given to Philippe in the Cognac House community. “It was a night to remember,” he recalls.
Inspired by his visit, Benzino comments,
“My vision as brand advisor is to expand the distribution and really go hard. It will be a real competitor to other brands. I want to be like the big dogs; I want to be up there with them. I don’t see any reason why we shouldn’t. The Hip Hop community spends money on cognac. And now that I’m involved, I am encouraging people to try the product and they really like the product, especially the vanilla.”
Meukow Cognac is getting a welcome introduction in Atlanta, where Benzino serves drinks at his bar and restaurant, Benzino’s Crab Trap, located at 903 Peachtree Street in Midtown Atlanta. At the popular new spot, he’s become known as a sauce mixologist, where he has cooked up secret recipes with special spices.
“I just love cooking, and crabs soak up sauces. Crabs take on any flavor. I used Meukaw cognac and while I was in France I got some cream and fresh cheese and made a garlic parmesan sauce. Philippe came to Atlanta for the grand opening and I made it, and now it’s a staple here. We go through two batches a day.”
The rapper/reality star developed his passion for cooking as a kid growing up in Boston.
“I used to listen to this show called ‘Yankee Kitchen’ in Boston and women would call in and share their recipes. Then, when the Food Channel came along I started watching those chefs. But I have
traveled a lot and the first thing I do is try to eat. I have a big palate and I just use what I learned from my mother, father and other people. And you have to Google, too!”
Now that Benzino’s interested in Cognac has brewed, he vows to be with the company forever.
“I’m taking a heavy interest in this.”