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Cutting Edge Mixology Techniques | Tony Conigliaro | Pioneers in Mixology | Part Three

In Chefs, Drinks, Innovation, Restaurant on April 12, 2011 at 11:32 am

The relaxed Zen attitude suddenly shifted to a much more zestful spirit for the Mixologists in attendance. This session promised to make accessible the leading-edge techniques that Tony, who has a reputation for turning the cocktailery world on its head, is exploring.

With his jovial British air, he introduced the methods he’d be covering: Aromas,
Rota Evaporation, Why Ingredients Go Together and The Vintage Manhattan, whatever that might be!

1/ Aromas
Parallel to the culinary world, aroma makes up 80% of the flavor in beverages. In everyday bar use, you experience this aroma emphasis via zest garnish, vermouth misting and such flairs. Tony takes a twofold approach to pushing the envelope of aroma: 1/ referencing the world of alchemists and perfumery as inspiration, and 2/ applying science to crafting aromas in cocktails – specifically using herbs, which can become liquid ingredients when their essences are absorbed in alcohols, waters and oils.

As an extreme example, Tony held up a simple egg, the froth of which is used in many classic cocktails like the Peruvian Pisco Sour. The shell is semi-permeable. This got Tony to thinking about how to infuse these froths with flavor before even cracking and whipping the egg. After experimentation, he landed on a process of MacGyver-ian straightforwardness. Place a few drops of herb essence on the cardboard container of your eggs, store in airtight Tupperware refrigerated over night. Suddenly, he presented Calvados (an apple Brandy from Northern France), sour mix, added lemon and an egg-froth with a distinct hay flavor. He had infused the egg froth with an essence of cut grass. Even knowing what was coming, the taste turned out to be an incredibly surprising and pleasant experience.

From the perfumery world, he explained that in cocktails there are also Top, Middle and Base notes, which is why both perfumes and cocktail aromas can “unfold.” These note demarcations come from molecule size – citrus lighter, wood notes heavier. This thinking inspired an infamous cocktail Tony created, the Chanel No. 5.

While the name of the cocktail is no longer in existence (thanks to a call from the attorneys at a certain renowned fashion house), you can still make a wonderful Rose Champagne cocktail, a rose cocktail by another name.

Add a few drops of Rose essence (in essential oil, which can be broken down with a strong neutral spirit, like Everclear) to a sugar cube and drop into a glass of champagne. The champagne is filled with carbon dioxide, the sugar (which has been infused with Rose essence) activates the carbon dioxide, pushing the Rose flavor through the cocktail. It’s a drink that literally blooms Rose flavor as one imbibes.

Where oils do not mix very well with water, there are Hydrosols, water-based essences, made by distilling the essential oil through a still and suspending in water to be used in aroma exploration.  So see, not complex at all.

2/ Rota Evaporation
Honestly, it looks like something from Doctor Frankenstein’s lab and is a contraption that could set you back $6000 – $7000, but it has been used to amazing effect in the culinary world at places like Alinea in Chicago and both El Celler de Can Roca and el Bulli in Spain. With Tony, the beverage world is not far behind.

Rota Vap Rotary Evaporator Tony Conigliaro

RotaVap | Under (reduced) Pressure

What a Rota Evaporator does is distill liquid under a vacuum, which lowers the boiling point, allowing ingredients to evaporate at lower temperatures. This maintains the integrity of the initial liquid – no denigration. Got it? Well, what does all that mean?

Things like horseradish vodka can be whipped up for spectacular Bloody Marys.

With a Rota Evaporator, the distillation process can make straight distillations, hydrosols (remember those?), alcohols, salts, separations and reductions. It’s quite a toy for the intellectual mixologist, even pushing the boundaries into non-food distillates.

Gewürztraminer white wine is most renowned for its flinty notes. With a Rota Evaporator, one could literally distill the essence of this wine varietal into myriad cocktails, using just flint from the region. Why stop there? Next up, a syrup of wine barrel to add Chardonnay woody notes to cocktails.

3/ Why Ingredients Go Together

Beefeater’s Master Distiller knows when to cut the heads and tails (a decision that separates the quality spirit from the beginning & end of the distillation process, which contain contaminants and unappealing flavors) just by the smell of the distillery … a licorice scent in the evening.

Most likely for you and me, we would need help mastering pairing flavors at the level Tony is discussing. These guys use gas chromatography coupled mass spectrometry (GC-MS) to measure chemicals and taste. They then think about overlapping chemicals in flavors, bridging flavors, tastes that we are hardwired to enjoy (sweet) or not (bitter). The takeaway is that there is an entire science behind this for those who want to dig deeper:

Bernard Lahousse | Food Pairing website with Flavor Trees/Wheels
Hervé This | Molecular Gastronomist blog, which is in French so fire up Google translate

Tony encouraged all to use instinct enhanced by science.  Check out this Flavor Wheel for pairing Whisky.

4/ The Vintage Manhattan

What are they? Simply put, aged cocktails. Unfortunately due to many bad, bad factors (oxidation, blending, wood, “stretching”), it’s not as simple as applying the wine vintage process to cocktails. Tony has been experimenting with perfecting a bottled version of The Manhattan for years, and he opens a bottle every few months for patrons at his lounge, 69 Colebrooke Row. He’s gotten all scientific on it using the GC-MS (remember?) to measure the complexity of The Manhattan vintages over time. The idea is to have craft cocktails that can last a week or a week and a half once opened. Even more, it’s to highlight the complexity that goes into the art of the cocktail and create a beautiful product.

Is it necessary? I’m not sure. Most likely the only places that would ever serve vintage cocktails, would have a well-trained bartender who could mix one helluva Manhattan him-or-herself.

For a second I thought, this is the epitome of Tony. If he were a cocktail, he’d be a Vintage Manhattan. Of course the next thing out of his mouth was that while pursuit of the aged cocktail process had been a passion of his dating back to at least 2004, he’s already on to cooking Manhattans Sous Vide and has recently been playing with Sous Vide Negronis.

Yes, all of the Mixologists in the room got a handful of cutting-edge techniques to play with as soon as we find our local (or Amazon-shipped) hydrosols and essential oils, but what Tony really challenged us about was to keep taking from pure science and turning it into applied science, noting that flavor and consistency are as much part of the cocktail world, as the culinary.

And with that, I’m closing up my notebook, now much filled with pure science, & heading off for a Negroni, one of the miracles of applied science.

Pioneers in Mixology

A view from my seat at Pioneers in Mixology

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Introductions to the Elite | Pioneers in Mixology | Part One

In Chefs, Drinks, Innovation, Restaurant on March 27, 2011 at 5:49 pm

It’s early Tuesday morning at the W Union Square.  Well, 9 a.m., not early, but bartender early.  Pernod Ricard is hosting 120 of the most influential mixologists in the Northeast on the first leg of its “Pioneers in Mixology” series, to hit Chicago & LA sequentially.  The day launches an engagement program with bartenders certified by BarSmarts, the only comprehensive spirits & mixology education-and-certification program in the U.S.

After being greeted with coffee and offered a Kahlua topper, I’m taking my seat next to the head bartender of James Beard award-winning chef Jose Garces’ Village Whiskey in Philly, who just arrived in Manhattan via Bolt Bus.  In front of me is an airplane-bottle sized Absolut and pitchers of fresh-squeezed OJ & Grapefruit juice.

Absolut Grapefruit and Orange Juice

An Absolut Good Morning

This 9-to-5 business day will not be a typical 9-to-5 day.  Although judging by the talent in the room, they clearly mean business.  I’d just wrapped up a discussion with chef Jean-George Vongerichten’s leopard-print patterned hair-dyed head bartender of Market in Boston, when the lovably puckish Gary Regan, master of today’s ceremonies and author of many bartending books including The Joy of Mixology, flips on his lavalier mic, takes the stage with a spa-esque zen sound-scape emanating from the speakers  and begins talking about “mindfulness,” a recurrent theme of the day, only to follow with a brief mass meditation exercise and only then onto an overview of the day’s agenda.  All this doled out with expletives worthy of bleepings like the memorable Old-Man-fighting-the-furnace scene in “A Christmas Story”.

Centered, humored and with heady focus in check, we see that Gary has organized the day to be administered mostly by legends of London’s mixology scene, including:

Nick Strangeway | 2008 Tales of the Cocktail “Best Mixologist/Bartender in the World,” the man behind many notable cocktail programs around the globe including the impressive “always fresh” cocktails at London’s HIX, and “colonial” cocktails at New York’s famed Pegu Club, a seminal institution in reviving the mixology movement in Manhattan.

Tony Conigliaro | Proprietor of a two-story venue in London at 69 Colebrooke Row, which drew global attention for introducing molecular mixology to both the vernacular and the palate, all despite initially having no name, only an address.  Upstairs is his cocktail lab where he also does much of the R&D tinkering for DrinkFactory, his global cocktail consultancy.  Downstairs his innovations meet patrons, in what has been termed the coolest lounge in London.

Dushan Zaric & Aisha Sharpe | Dushan, hailing from Eastern Europe, owns Manhattan’s acclaimed Employees Only, and Aisha is a veteran bartender of many bars and a trainer with the aforementioned BarSmarts program, which puts her in a peer set with Dale DeGroff, F. Paul Pacult, Doug Frost and Steve Olson.

Today, this marquee-worthy talent will administer three hour-and-a-half long sessions, each covering one unique aspect that is currently pushing the frontier of the already rapidly expanding mixology culture … and again, interestingly with an overarching theme of Zen mindfulness:

  • Mastery of Service | Dushan & Aisha | a sort of metaphysics of bartender-hospitality
  • Scientific Methods Applied to Bartending | Tony|  bringing even more avant-garde ideas to an audience that already discusses applying the Sous Vide process to hand-crafted bitters amongst themselves
  • Craft of Bartending Using Local Ingredients | Nick | You’ve heard of “farm to table;” meet “field to glass.”
Pernod Ricard Brand bottles

A few more bottles

While I typically like for each post on Stewps to be full of information you can use immediately, in this case I feel like the introductions of this crew and day alone are worthy of a post.  Over the next few posts, I will share the distilled insights, guidance and mastery of these Pioneers in Mixology sessions.  For now, feel free to click the links above to get to know more about these leading forces on the international cocktail scene … and if you’re interested in delving in deeper into the world of mixology knowledge yourself, definitely take a look at BarSmarts.

Check out my take on Tony’s “Scientific Bartending” and Nick’s “Field to Glass” presentations.

Bathing in the Kitchen | Sous Vide Demystified

In Chefs, Eats, Innovation, Nutrition, Reads on March 14, 2011 at 1:09 pm

I am enamored with food.  I watched every episode of The Frugal Gourmet as a child, have journeyed to both CIAs east & west coast, studied in Lyon, France (home of the tire bouchon,) dined my way around Napa & Sonoma vineyards, appeared on a Food Network program cooking in the back country of Montana, spent 10 years with a global restaurant brand, enjoyed a seat at many a chef’s table, flown halfway across the country for a F&W fest on multiple occasions (& trekked via bus, ferry and foot to the remote island of Nantucket for another) … so without any formal training, I’ve picked up a few tricks.

That said, I’ve never been very confident in my own cooking until now.  I wouldn’t even subject myself to it very often – my overcooking and constant prodding of proteins to ensure doneness was neurotically pitiful.  While I adore & respect fresh product & live within stumbling distance to Union Square Green Market, purchases more often than not would rot in the fridge.  This is all before discovering the Sous Vide Supreme.  Nowadays, I might have a custard or perfectly cooked eggs in the morning (what a perfectly cooked egg means is a hot topic in the SV blogosphere,) a perfectly cooked med-rare ribeye for lunch and a perfectly cooked wild-striped bass for dinner.  All made with little prep time or prep skill, in the smallest kitchen I’ve ever had (a trade off for proximity to things like the Union Sq Market).

In short, Sous Vide allows perfection without years of studying the technical craft of cookery.  It’s easy to apply the “diner/reader” food knowledge you’ve acquired over years by the words or spoonfuls of others’ labor.  If you can read a time/temp chart, you are free to explore & apply your knowledge of flavors & cultures with ample additions of risky ideas & whimsy.  On the purely functional side, you can save time & money, if either are your goal.  For time saving, just batch & freeze.  As an example, one flank steak can be portioned & take on several different forms via spicing.  For cost savings, just batch & freeze what’s on sale or available bulk.  When you’re ready, grab a pre-portioned & spiced fish, beef, pork or fowl bag from the freezer & dunk it in the oven.  Sous Vide breaks down connective tissue in tough meat to gelatin, thus enhancing the quality of lesser cuts to fillet standards.  It’s amazing.

Sounds like magic, but it’s more like science. The results are spectacular (especially given the little effort/skill required), but I have to warn you, it ain’t sexy.  It’s just an oven that uses water instead of air.  So it just sits there on the counter at a consistent temperature — no whizzing, sparks or climax during cooking or after, none of that alcohol-in-the-saute-pan flair.

In the hopes that you might want to give this a shot, I’ve compiled my ample research.  Naturally there’s more out there, but this is the best of the best that’s readily available.

FOR THE VERY, VERY INTIMIDATED (and for complete dumb dumbs):

Sharone Hakman for Sous Vide Supreme Register for access to 8 introductory videos.  These are very basic so very good for anyone who’s completely unaware/never used Sous Vide, if for no other reason than just to demystify and relieve any intimidation.  Plus, Sharone seems like a good guy who’s fun to watch.  While these may seem a bit infomercial-ly, give them a pass on that front since after all, the purpose is for them to be very very basic.  (That said, please do yourself a favor & skip all the Richard Blais vids on the SV Sup site.  Blais comes across a million times worse than the worst guy schlocking gimmick gadgets on the last day of a state fair when he hasn’t made quota.  The SV Sup is an incredible piece of equipment and deserves better.)

FOR THOSE WHO WANT TO GET UP TO SPEED FAST:

Jason Logsdon (Cooking Sous Vide website, Ipad/phone application, Beginning Sous Vide e-book/book)  From the approachability and informational aspects, this is the website for getting up to speed on SV (history, how-to and reference tool.)  Spend a few minutes perusing it and you’ll truly “get” Sous Vide.  That said, from the design standpoint, it seems like they’re still using a Commodore 64.  The overall experience is like saddling up next to some fascinating genius in a charmless dive bar.  The Ipad app is a great reference tool for quick access to times/temps.  The inexpensive e-book book is all you’ll need to get started, but feel free to go paperback if that’s your pref.  It’s an easy read & reference.

Sous Vide Supreme time tables Handy quick reference.  If you were on a desert island, had a SV Sup machine & had never touched one before, you’d have everything you’d need to survive on this one sheet.

FOR THE ARTIST:

Chef Joan Roca at Harvard Oh my god.  I watched this entire 2 hour presentation in rapture, breaking out in giddy smiles, oooooohs & ahs.  Please get me to Spain ASAP!  There are more noteworthy chefs in this series that are on my “to view” list.

FOR THE GEEK COOKING AT HOME:

Practical Guide to Sous Vide If you don’t trust the SV time tables of the experts, Douglas Baldwin, a PhD, will get all mathematical on your ass.  He also has some You Tube videos, which aren’t pedantic & I quite like, and a SV Home Cook book, which is not at my local bookstore, not shipped via Amazon nor available electronically.  So I’m like screw that.  It’s SV, catch up with the rest of us on the publication front!  Maybe one day, I’ll stumble upon a copy or it will finally be available electronically.  His creme brulee YT video won my heart.

French Culinary Institute Primer (I & II, charts)  Oh, I love the French.  Starting with a promise of seven installments, the FCI seems to have petered out on April 13, 2010 with two.  Nevertheless, what was completed before surrendering is good in a chef tech way.  Helped me decide not to buy an expensive, mildly effective vacuum machine & just go with Ziploc Freezers & the easy-to-find Ziploc Vacuum bags for my Sous Vide endeavors.

FOR INSPIRATION FROM REAL PEOPLE:

Nom Nom Paleo She’s a fitness nut, but also a working mom & wife who runs the kitchen for a family of four, largely thanks to Sous Vide.  You can go straight to the SV recipes & skip all the paleo cooking, which basically means cooking with fresh whole foods, by clicking here.  But you’ll miss all the pretty pictures, colorful narrative and inspiration to eat unprocessed.  Helped me realize that SV would not only up the amount of healthy, whole foods in my life but also make a busy lifestyle just a notch or two easier.

SV Kitchen Ladies, please invite me over.  Fried chicken, garlic confit, enchiladas, risotto & creme brulee, what can you not do (perfectly) with SV.

FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH:

Having tried eggs at all sorts of temps. IMHO the perfect egg  is 149, wake-up-in-the-middle-of-the-night-craving-them perfect. Ehhh, how do you say in French, “Ahhh, set eeet & forget eeet”?

Long story short, invite me over to dinner & I might show up with a Ziploc of something delicious for you.  If you’re smart you might greet me with something of the same!  If you already have Sous Vide experience to share, feel free to use the comments below.

Grant Achatz Makes the Ultimate Burger | And other Achatz Miracles

In Chefs, Drinks, Innovation, Restaurant on March 12, 2011 at 12:03 pm

Chef Achatz, deserved 2010 James Beard Outstanding Chef winner and one of the most innovative patriots in America, offers up a mouthwatering burger, inspired by the combo of the best elements of a burger with the essence of charcuterie, in the upcoming guy gourmet feature:

Grant Achatz Makes the Ultimate Burger | Guy Gourmet | MensHealth.com.

Later this month, he launches Next in Chicago, with a Paris 1906 menu based on Escoffier’s book.  It’s available for only 12 weeks, as the resto completely changes theme quarterly.  Early summer brings Thai.  Many impressive meals ahead at this place.

Captivating my attention more, next door Achatz is opening Aviary, which applies the artful modernist passion steeped in Culinary (or in this case Mixology) tradition that Grant mastered at Alinea, and pours it over ice.  It’s a cocktail haunt that, while respecting the tradition of crafted cocktails, pulls Mixology out of the pre-prohibition lore it has been mired in for a decade.  Get ready to embrace the idea of innovation in Mixology not served by a retro-speakeasy hipster bartender.  Myself? I’m looking forward to my first sparkling Negroni, G&T with “bubble tea” cucumber pearls, and a Manhattan in the rocks vs. on them.

On the marketing front, Grant has a story to tell.  If you haven’t heard, just Google him.  You’ll see him on Oprah & profiled in the New Yorker (2008).  Finally, there’s an autobiography coming out this month, of which I know little but you may want to do some poking around if you’re into that kind of thing.  What impresses me is that Next needs no marketing, it will win.  It is, to be fair, the biggest, most important, most anticipated restaurant opening Chicago has ever had.

Aviary, on the other hand, as a paradigm shifting concept, in an arena where Achatz doesn’t already have a wealth of cred, is a little trickier.  What to do?  Embrace the new.  Go viral.  Check out the Aviary You Tube channel & you will get as excited about this boite that will forever change gears on the Mixology front, as I am.

I’m starting to sound like a fan boy, but this guy truly interests me & makes me proud.  One last aside, for his Alinea cookbook deal, instead of taking the typical advance & having a “ghost” produce a pretty product, he poured heart, soul & intellect into it and built funding into the publishing contract for a website that enables the book to continue to evolve, as he does.

Next time we’re in Chicago together, Alinea, Next & Aviary.  In the meantime, I’m ready for one helluva burger.

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