Armand Assante • Actor • Plasencia Alma Fuerte Sixto II
Seriously. You’ve seen him sail the wine-dark sea as Odysseus in the mythological miniseries “The Odyssey” and rise in the mafia ranks as organized crime boss John Gotti. But if you’ve ever seen him smoke onscreen, then there’s something you should know: he wasn’t acting. Cigars are a dedicated passion for the Emmy-award winner, whether the cameras are rolling or not.
“For the past 15 years while I’m grappling with scripts that need work, which can be time-consuming, I like to retreat and basically slow my mind down,” he says. “I’ve always enjoyed how the taste of a great cigar can put me into a nice realm of thinking, a zone I like to be in—to work from—in silence and the quiet of a late evening in my studio. Simple things in my life I never take for granted.” His go-to is the Plasencia Alma Fuerte Sixto II, and Assante is so impressed with the Nicaraguan brand that he’s commissioned the Plasencias to make a cigar for him, which is scheduled to go on sale this year.
Eric Ripert • Chef • Cohiba Behike BHK 56
Eric Ripert, head chef of one of New York City’s most acclaimed restaurants, Le Bernardin, likes the good stuff. His favorite cigar? The Cohiba Behike BHK 56. “When I can get them,” he says, a reflection of just how hard it is to find Behikes nowadays. He usually smokes a cigar on the weekend and he enjoys cigars when he vacations.
Ripert, 56, is the master of fish, turning the catch of the sea into creative expressions that diners and critics rave about. But what’s his favorite non-fish meal? “Lately I’m enjoying cooking and eating different vegetable-focused dishes,” he says. His indulgence in vegetables inspired him to write a new cookbook, Vegetable Simple, which came out in April.
When Le Bernardin was forced to close during the pandemic, Ripert turned to charity. “Le Bernardin partnered with World Central Kitchen to prepare 400 meals a day to be delivered to New Yorkers in need,” Ripert says. “Le Bernardin’s dedicated, food-rescue partner, City Harvest, collaborated with us on this endeavor by delivering fresh produce to us weekly for many of these meals. Cooking for those in need is very rewarding.”
Bill Terlato • Wine executive • Hoyo de Monterrey Epicure No. 2
Bill Terlato, the president and CEO of Terlato Wines, has been smoking cigars since he was young, following in the footsteps of his father, Tony. “He always had good cigars,” says Terlato, who keeps an enviable stash of smokes in his home. He smokes Montecristo No. 2, Cohiba and Partagás, but his go-to is the Hoyo de Monterrey Epicure No. 2, or No. 1. He prefers his cigars with some age, so he has built an inventory. “I’m smoking cigars from ’04 and ’05 now,” he says. “I’m trying to leave them for at least 10 years or so.”
Terlato, 62, normally smokes about three cigars a week, but he steps up his cigar smoking when he’s taking a break from work. “On vacation, I might smoke two or three a day,” he says. While he enjoys a cigar on his patio or on the golf course, he smokes indoors too. “I smoke in the house. My wife Debbie, her dad smokes cigars as well . . . she doesn’t mind at all.” When a friend came over to visit, Terlato lit up and told his buddy that he has a cigar room. “Where?” asked the curious friend. “Wherever I’m standing in the house,” Terlato said.
Shaun Deeb • Poker Pro • Romeo y Julieta Belicoso
Poker pro Shaun Deeb would have dug the game’s golden age. “I would have fit in great: the long sessions, the ball busting, the prop bets, the cigar smoking,” says the 35-year-old. He enjoys when his opponents smoke a cigar, because of the tells. “If they slam out smoke, it means one thing. If they exhale slowly, it’s something else. And if somebody does not take a puff, why are they afraid to breathe?”
Deeb, who’s earned more than $20 million at the tables, currently favors Romeo y Julieta Belicosos, smoked after serious dinners, or with friends at the pool. While en route to a nearby game, however, he might opt for an ACID Kuba Kuba: “They’re perfect for 30-minute rides in the car.”
Following stressful, high-stakes action, cigars are non-negotiable. “Whether I am high emotionally—after a big win—or super down, cigars bring me back to the center.” The mental swings are not always for obvious reasons. “It’s weird, but, for me, winning a tiny amount when I should have won more feels like getting kicked while I’m down. Losing less than I should have . . . That’s a time when cigars can feel celebratory.”
Fred “The Hammer” Williamson • Athlete/Actor • Arturo Fuente Seleccion Privada No. 1
“My first cigar was when I was about 12 years old,” says “The Hammer,” a self-referential nickname that the former NFL defensive end Fred Williamson earned for his forearm smashes to hapless wide receivers. That’s the age Williamson began lighting his father’s cigar because he liked the smell so much. From then on, their ritual began, continuing until Fred began lighting cigars of his own.
The former Steeler, Raider and Chief was a three-time AFL All-Star cornerback who played in Super Bowl I, but he’s been in movies, including M*A*S*H and Starksy & Hutch, a reboot based on the 1970s TV series of the same name. Now 83, the spry actor is still at it, with a new film out now and a couple due for release.
When he isn’t shooting high-octane films, the athlete/actor likes to dine out with his wife, Linda, taking an al fresco, post-meal cigar overlooking the mountains of Palm Springs, California where they live. The Hammer also enjoys smashing golf balls because he’s “happy to hit something that doesn’t hit back!
“Hey, its been a joy ride and it ain’t nearly over yet. You can bend, but you don’t have to break . . . So says The Hammer.”
Pat LaFrieda • Meat Master • Aging Room Quattro Connecticut Vibrato
Pat LaFrieda’s day begins around 3:30 pm and finishes well into the morning, talking to chefs about meat. LaFrieda is the CEO of Pat LaFrieda Meat Purveyors, founded by his great-grandfather in Brooklyn, New York, in 1922. When the weekend comes and it’s time to relax with a cigar, his vocation is never far from that avocation.
“I have a special appreciation for cigar blenders because I blend meats.” Blending creates flavor, the 50 year old explains. “When it comes to cigars, I can’t see how it would be any different.”
“We’re one big family,” LaFrieda says of his company, now based in New Jersey. During the Covid-19 pandemic, they never stopped supplying fine meats and burger blends to more than 4,000 U.S. restaurants. Throughout, LaFrieda has looked forward to the weekends and “three or four” of his favorite cigars, the Aging Room Quattro Connecticut Vibrato, a Dominican toro with an Ecuador Connecticut wrapper.
“Smoking a cigar tells me the weekend is here,” LaFrieda says. “When I’m about to barbecue, I light the grill. Then I light my stogie and season the steaks. I’m finishing my cigar as I finish my meal.”