The Champs Elysees cocktail is Drink of the Day because it’s Marie Curie’s birthday. One of the most distinguished scientists to ever live, you probably heard about her in elementary school as the discoverer of radium. But there’s a lot more to her than that, considering she was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize, the first person and only woman to win the Nobel Prize twice, the only person to win the Nobel Prize in two separate areas of science, the first woman Professor at the Sarbonne and during World War I she developed the first mobile x-ray units. We’re not sure anyone ever remarked “Marie, every day you look more radiant,” but we’d say she sure earned it. We’ll talk about her a bit and then get to the Champs Elysees recipe.
Maria Salomea Sklodowska was born on November 7, 1867 in Warsaw, Poland. She graduated from the equivalent of high school with a gold medal, but higher education at the time was illegal for women. So she attended what is commonly known as the Flying University, an underground educational enterprise.
She left Poland for France (where she adopted the French spelling of her name, Marie) in 1891. There she continued her studies at the University of Paris and earned a degree in physics. She met Pierre Curie, another scientist, and he wanted to marry her. She refused, as she planned to move back to her native Poland, but then she was denied a position at Krakow University due to sexism in academia. That led her back to Paris, where she got married to Pierre.
Marie and Pierre were employed at the School of Chemistry and Physics in Paris. There they didn’t have a proper lab and worked in an adjoining shed, researching the just-discovered rays emitted by uranium. They noticed that a mineral called pitchblende, which contains uranium, was a lot more radioactive than pure uranium. Her peers doubted her, but Marie was convinced the pitchblende contained another new, even more radioactive element.
Fast forward, she was right. First they discovered a new element Marie named polonium in honor of her native Poland. But they also realized there was something else and discovered radium in 1898. She belted out a lot of scientific publications and soon became the first female faculty member at the École Normale Supériure.
The Nobel Prizes
She did all this before even completing her Ph.D., which was awarded in 1903. Then Marie and Pierre Curie, together with Henri Becquerel, were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics. That 1903 prize was their work on radioactivity. The new elements were not mentioned.
In 1906 Pierre died in a road accident but Marie carried on and in 1911 was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for her discoveries of polonium and radium. That made her the first person and only woman to ever win two Nobel Prizes.
Good times, indeed, but there was a price to pay. Radioactivity was a new thing and Marie was at first unaware of its effects. She’d walk around the lab with bottles of polonium and radium in her pockets. If you need a reminder of how nasty Polonium is, think back to 2006 and Russian dissident Alexander Litvinenko. He was poisoned in London by the FSB slipping a mere 10 micrograms into his tea. Marie stored it in bottles out in the open. In her autobiography she even wrote “One of our joys was to go into our workroom at night, we then perceived on all sides the feebly luminous silhouettes of the bottles of capsules containing our products.” Ouch.
So it’s not much of a surprise that she died of aplastic anemia almost certainly caused by radiation exposure. Even today her lab notebooks are radioactive enough to be stored in lead-lined boxes. Her former lab outside Paris remains a hazard and has been dubbed ‘Chernobyl on the Seine.’ She did at least receive the honor of being interred in the national mausoleum in Paris, the Panthéon. In a lead-lined coffin, of course.
The Champs Elysees Cocktail
Marie Curie was a citizen of both Poland and France. This posed a conundrum on appropriate Drink of the Day candidates. The Editorial Board elected to lean toward France because the best Polish cocktail we know of requires bison grass flavored Vodka. That product is banned in the U.S. due to a small concentration of coumarin. There goes the FDA once again spoiling our drinking fun, even though coumarin is also found in things like strawberries and apricots. Besides, Marie’s greatest accomplishments all occurred in Paris even if they weren’t on the Champs Elysees.
This led to the Champs Elysees Cocktail. After all, what else could be so Parisian as that street name, or French by using Cognac and Chartreuse as its main ingredients? As a variation on another classic cocktail, the Sidecar, it substitutes Chartreuse for the orange liqueur. Chartreuse adds a nice herbal element to the palate, and we advise tweaking the amount of simple syrup to suit your tastes. Just like you might with a Sidecar depending upon the orange liqueur you use.
Champs Elysees Cocktail
- Nick and Nora or coupe glass
- Add all ingredients to your trusty shaker.
- Add ice and shake until frosty cold.
- Strain into pre-chilled cocktail glass.
- Garnish with lemon twist if you choose to.
- Glow in the warm aftermath.