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BITES : Battling Vodkas

February 01, 1996|CHARLES PERRY

A family named Smirnov used to make a vodka favored by the czars of Russia. In 1934, when there weren't any more czars, an emigre Smirnov living in France sold the rights to the family name to the Heublein company, which proceeded to make Smirnoff the best-known (and for a long time the only known) vodka brand in this country.

Back to Russia, five years ago. Still no czars, but Communism had fallen, and a young Smirnov named Boris started a vodka company called Pyotr Smirnov and His Descendants in Moscow, Official Purveyors to the Royal Court. Heublein took this ill, since it had purchased the rights decades before and plowed vast sums into publicizing the brand name--$30 million a year in advertising in the U.S. alone. The Smirnoff and Smirnov brands have entered claims against each other in courts around the world.

But Boris is not the only Smirnov around, and Heublein, which lavishly sponsors the Smirnov Foundation in Moscow, has most of the other family members on its side. The relatives have accused Boris of, among other things, stealing family recipes and working for the KGB during the Soviet era.

Dude Bread

Acknowledging that half of all home bread makers are men, Black & Decker has announced a bread recipe contest just for the guys.

The six regional winners, each of whom gets $500 in cash and a deluxe bread-making machine, will be flown to New York in May for the final judging. Grand prize is an all-expense trip to Paris, including a week's stay at Le Meridien Paris and a bread-making course at the Cordon Bleu cooking school. The winner will be decided by a panel of (ahem) female judges.

Male bakers are invited to submit recipes in three categories: healthiest, most exotic and dessert breads. The deadline is April 30. For an entry blank, send a self-addressed stamped envelope to Real Men Bake Bread Contest, PO Box 4320, Manhasset, NY 11030-4320.

And We Thought They Were Mainly for Popcorn

Microwave ovens are a whole new way of cooking, sure, but for a lot of people they're mainly a way of cooking frozen dinners.

Gold Star has decided to face up to this, and its Multiwave II microwave ovens include three "international food keys" labeled Italian, Spanish and Oriental. They're preprogrammed with cooking times for popular ethnic frozen dinners; press the Oriental key, for instance, and it lists sweet and sour, Oriental chicken or beef and peppers. Press Italian and you get lasagna, chicken Parmesan and "pasta dish." (The "Spanish" key handles Mexican foods such as enchiladas and burritos.) At housewares stores.

It's an L.A. Thing

Checkers, a Southern chain of hamburger restaurants, has added Mexican dishes such as tacos, fajitas and a one-pound burrito to the menu in 50 Florida branches. Whoa--not just burritos and tacos but "burritos as big as Santa Monica Boulevard and tacos as deep as Malibu Canyon," according to the singer who appears in the TV commercials, playing his piano in Griffith Park near the planetarium.

Checkers is calling these dishes LA Mex, which it characterizes as "food with attitude." We have to disagree. New York has attitude. L.A., for better or worse, has vibes.

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