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With its ﬂoating mini-meringue, this citrusy vodka-and-Tuacabased cocktail from mixologist Kathy Casey is like pie in a glass.
PASTRY CHEF walks into a Bar…
As kitchens and bars cross-pollinate, American bartenders ﬁnd inspiration in dessert ingredients and techniques
BY JACK ROBERTIELLO
ver the years, the men and women working behind the bar have taken on many different roles: Apothecary, advisor, bouncer and mixologist are some of the most prominent. But lately, as many bartenders push the boundaries of their craft in an attempt to expand the deﬁnition of the cocktail, they’re taking on the role of pastry chef. “The pastry chef and the mixologist have more in common than either of them do with the head chef,” contends Jackson Cannon, bar manager of Eastern Standard Kitchen & Drinks in Boston, a high-end bar and restaurant where drinks like Blueberry Thrill and Raspberry-Lemon Fizz add sparkle to the seasonal menu.
INGREDIENTS IN COMMON Since the pastry kitchen and the bar employ so many similar types of ingredients, including sweeteners, fruits and spices, crossover seems inevitable. “The pastry area is such a great place to look for ingredients and inspiration,” says Kathy Casey of foodand-drink consultancy Kathy Casey Food Studios and
Liquid Kitchen in Seattle. “There’s a plethora of sweeteners, for instance, and pastry routinely uses coulis and purees, which deﬁnitely go well in today’s cocktails.” Some well-known pastry chefs have been getting more involved on the drinks side of the restaurant business. Pichet Ong, chef and owner of P*ong restaurant and the adjoining Batch bakery in New York City and author of “The Sweet Spot,” was the only chef participating in the 2008 Marie Brizard Cocktail Challenge, but expect more crossover in future contests. Johnny Iuzzini, executive pastry chef at Jean Georges and author of the recently released “Dessert FourPlay,” pops behind the bar regularly at PDT, one of New York City’s cocktail hot spots. The name stands for “Please Don’t Tell,” and the place is accessed through a vintage phone booth in a hot dog joint; it’s one of a growing group of hush-hush, speakeasystyle establishments cropping up in major cities. SWEET COCKTAILS EVOLVE Dessert cocktails like the grasshopper, a cool, after-dinner sip of crème de cacao, crème de menthe and vodka shaken
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Dessert Drinks Create Incremental-Sales Opportunities
Not every operation has the time or the resources to devise special dessert drinks, but David Commer, owner of Carrollton, Texas-based Commer Beverage Consulting, has some cost-conscious tips for making dessert drinks a value-added proposition for any restaurant. Commer works with national multi-units to develop new drink ideas and keep bar programs ontrend. While sales of both desserts and after-dinner drinks may suffer in the economic downturn, Commer thinks that combining the two as dessert drinks could spark incremental sales. “People see [dessert drinks] as a lighter, lower-fat alternative to dessert, and they can get the ﬂavors without all the calories,” says Commer. Create New News: The rule of thumb in selling cocktails, notes Commer, is offering something new to capture the ﬁrst sale. A dessert drink can do the trick. Capturing the second sale is a matter of making the drink delicious and craveable, which also means creating one that’s not overly sweet and is sized right. Follow the Food: “Rather than be generic with your dessert drinks, look to your dessert menu and recreate your best-sellers in liquid form,” advises Commer, who used this tactic when working with casual-dining multi-unit Tony Roma’s. The chain’s R&D team wanted to turn its Apple Crisp a la Mode into a drink, and Commer helped create the Apple Crisp Tini, a blended martini featuring Absolut Vanilla Vodka served in a martini glass and ﬁnished with a drizzle of caramel syrup and apple-crumb topping. Cross-Utilize: Key to the apple crisp cocktail is the crumb topping. Tony Roma’s used the broken bits and pieces of crumb topping from the menued dessert’s ingredients. “We were able to use product that would have been loss or waste to create a signature drink,” says Commer, who suggests working with vendors to repurpose existing ingredients on a larger scale. Slim Down: Commer is experimenting with low-fat vanilla yogurt to turn high-calorie drinks like the mudslide into a more smoothie-like alternative that “still satisﬁes a sweet craving, but without the huge calorie intake.”
At Jack Astor’s Bar & Grill, a frozen raspberry twister combines lemon and raspberry Smirnoff with ices of the same ﬂavors. Raspberry liqueur provides the ﬁnal touch at the table.
with ice, have been around seemingly forever. In the late 1990s, bartenders fully explored the possibilities of chocolate martinis and such, and Michael Waterhouse, bartender and owner of New York City’s Dylan Prime, patented the terms “Caketails” and “Pietinis” for his wildly popular sweet-cocktail creations. The form is evolving further, as the latest and greatest renditions keep pace with cutting-edge desserts. Todd Thrasher, sommelier at Restaurant Eve and bar whiz at PX, both in Alexandria, Va., has had great success with such creations as the Butter “Nut” Craig, a pie-inspired drink combining butternut squash, spice bitters, Pyrat rum and Grand Marnier. He’s also known for poaching peaches in Riesling and for his recent
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JACK ASTO R’S
classics like the Ramos Gin Fizz and the pisco, two citrusy drinks that get extra texture from frothy, well-shaken egg whites, the connection between pastry and bar gets even closer. Ingredients like ﬂavored sugars, common to pastry, long ago leapt the divide to the bar, and ﬂavored creams, signature whipped creams, froths and airs can expand the ﬂavor proﬁle of drinks. Edible ﬂowers, dried fruit and even hardcrack sugar offer garnish possibilities. Casey likes the garnishing effect of ultra-crispy, paper-thin slices of pear, apple or citrus, made by dipping fruit slices in simple syrup and drying them between pieces of silpat, a pure pastry technique. Cannon says the technical approach to garnishing drinks is similar to the way a pastry chef might work. Less gaudy garnishes, even restrained ones, like micro-planed pieces of lemon, dried and adorned with colored sugar, can add just the right touch, compared to yesteryear’s multiple chunks of fruit skewered on a toothpick. TAKING PASTRY CHANCES Customers’ willingness to take chances with the pastry course and indulge a pastry chef’s experimental notions has emboldened bartenders. “People are much more open to having a foam or a jelly with dessert or a cocktail than they are with the main course, so trying those things is easier for us,” notes Thomas Wellings, pastry chef at Mio in Washington, D.C. With that greater acceptance come many opportunities. “There’s a symbiosis that can occur,” says Cannon. “With pastry and the bar, you start to get into more of a dialogue with the guests.” And with each other. A pastry chef working at preserving fruit or infusing or macerating ingredients can provide inspiration for bartenders. In fact, says Cannon, the very production process can generate ingredients for a bartender. When Eastern Standard pastry chef Graham Schave worked with rhubarb last year, the byproduct of his efforts was an intensely fragrant syrup. Cannon made a cocktail combining it and the artichoke
This Lemon Drop, a variation that blends vanilla vodka and a sorbet of golden kiwi fruit and lemon, makes a cool ending to a meal.
McGriddle, made with bacon-infused bourbon, maple syrup, milk and egg. Casey, whose new book “Sips and Apps” includes recipes for drinks like the Blue Thai Mojito, with coconut syrup, red pepper ﬂakes, mint and cilantro, recently came up with the Lemon Meringue Puff, a cocktail reminiscent of lemon meringue pie, featuring citrus vodka, Tuaca, lemon juice and simple syrup, topped with a mini-meringue ﬂoater. Clearly, today’s pastry-bar connection doesn’t focus solely on satisfying the customer’s sweet tooth, and, like modern desserts, these cocktails use interesting, sweet-savory pairings and layered, contrasting textures to bring new interest to the category. FANCY FINISHES As bartenders return to using eggs in drinks like Casey’s Lemon Meringue Puff and in
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apéritif Cynar. “We hand products back and forth,” notes Cannon. Making in-house the infusions and other ingredients formerly available only commercially has become second nature to many bartenders, but it wasn’t always so. “The ﬁrst time I made bitters, I didn’t know how to caramelize sugar,” says Thrasher. “I went to the pastry chef and said ‘Hey, how do you do this?’ “There are so many cool techniques that come from pastry that I’ve used at Eve in the past few years,” he adds. He learned how to pull sugar in order to create a drink garnish and says that contemporary techniques like foams, airs and gels started in pastry before moving to the bar. INSPIRATION FLOWS BOTH WAYS Things move in the other direction as well; Thrasher recalls working with a Belgian pastry chef and serving him his ﬁrst mojito. “He loved it and made six different desserts based on the mojito.” When working with Thrasher at Eve, Wellings recalls gaining inspiration from a cocktail Thrasher made with lemon and bay leaf; he adapted the combination to a custard dish. Some pastry-bar relationships have become formalized. Bill Corbett, executive pastry chef at Michael Mina restaurant in San Francisco, creates grenadine syrup in-house and provides lead bartender Borys Saciuk with lemon-verbena syrup and ingredients like mango paper — a mixture of mango puree, egg white and simple syrup that is spread, dried and broken into bits for use as a crisp garnish. Corbett also has started making the tricky gum (or gomme) syrups, used frequently in pre-Prohibition bartending. “It brings up the issue of texture, something pastry chefs may be more aware of when making things like this,” he says. “Gum arabic syrup [an emulsiﬁer] is supposed to be denser than simple syrup so as to allow ﬂavors to linger on the palate, but some bartenders haven’t yet mastered the technique,” says Corbett. TOGETHER IN MEASURES Derek Brown, drink consultant and head bartender at The Gibson in Washington,
D.C., frequently hosts cocktail seminars for The Museum of the American Cocktail, where he emphasizes the importance of proper measurement, an essential in great pastry making. “I say, in cooking, you could put us closer to pastry chefs than savory cooks,” Brown observes, “because there’s more precision in baking and pastry arts than in savory, which is more forgiving. But if you get the wrong balance of gelatin, for instance, your panna cotta just isn’t going to set.” The same fastidiousness needs to be applied to mixology, where it’s important to learn, for example, the effect of different egg sizes, as eggs become standard ingredients in classic cocktails once again.
In the Peppermelon, mixologist H. Joseph Ehrmann of Elixir in San Francisco pours on sweet heat with gin-spiked honey, pepper and watermelon.
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NATIONAL HONEY BOARD
Bar chef Todd Thrasher is known for poaching fruit in wine, making his own cherry cola and spiking white-chocolate drinks with chile powder.
“If they use a whole egg white in a drink, it can make a large, soupy drink and get out of textural balance,” says Brown. “Eggs have a very speciﬁc effect, and they can mute some ﬂavors and emphasize others.”
TAK E -AWAY
SET A PLAY DATE: Make time for bar staff and chefs to share basic information and experiment with crossover potential BALANCE THE BAR: Sweet heat and
T I P S
sweet-and-savory ﬂavors suit modern dessert menus and don’t risk sugar overload
CLEAR & SWEET: Lighten up on the
“Pastry is so much more of a science than savory cooking,” agrees Thrasher. While savory chefs adjust ﬂavors to taste as a dish cooks, in mixology and pastry, constant measurement is essential, and it’s harder to improvise on the ﬂy. Pastry needs to set properly, and drinks can be put off kilter with tiny additions of intense ﬂavors. Wellings compares the traditional, artisanal approach in pastry, where as much as possible is made in-house and from scratch, to the trend among bartenders like Thrasher to make their own infusions, syrups, reductions, bitters and tinctures. Some bartenders have investigated more cutting-edge ideas from the pastry sector. Eben Klemm, director of cocktail development for B.R. Guest Restaurants, a group of 17 restaurants in major cities across the country, turned to Wellings to learn about spheriﬁcation, a process that employs calcium chloride and sodium alginate to turn liquid into a shapeable gel for use in drinks. Casey notes that combinations of savory and sweet, like bacon and chocolate or salt and caramel, are more common these days in pastry, and she feels the bar deserves some credit for leading the way here; consider redpepper-and-salt rims for margaritas. The way pastry chefs are increasingly incorporating savory touches is similar to the way bartenders have always worked. Above all, there’s a glycemic connection between the two disciplines. Alcohol is made from sugars, and for some people, it is as satisfying as dessert. At Eastern Standard Kitchen, both bar and pastry sales are on ﬁre. “In hard times, instead of the $30 steak, people have a $12 steak as their entrée but have a second martini beforehand and then dessert after,” says Cannon. “To me, the craving for dessert looks the same emotionally as the craving for the second martini.” &
cream in drinks and opt for a light, frothy ﬁnish on top instead
FINER FINISHES: Candied citrus, paper-thin dried apples and pears or spun sugar create delicate, eye-catching garnishes for sophisticated cocktails
JACK ROBERTIELLO writes about spirits, cocktails, wine, beer and food from Brooklyn, N.Y.; he can be e-mailed at email@example.com.
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