Are you Getting Fresh with Me?

Displaying something exotic on the bar opens up your guests' eyes to all of the possibilities, and allows you to show off what your capable of working with!

Displaying something exotic on the bar opens up your guests' eyes to all of the possibilities, and allows you to show off what your capable of working with!

The kitchen and the bar have always had a peaceful coexistence and freshness has always been a key ingredient to the success of any kitchen. The same is quickly becoming true as consumers are demanding the same fresh, handcrafted care from their mixologist as they do from their chefs. It’s rare to find a bar chef who can take the principles of traditional mixology, and synergize them with fresh ingredients to create cocktails that take your dining and drinking experience to a new level.

Bar chef Rob Montgomery of Toronto’s Vertical Restaurant imports fresh ingredients from all over the world to give his guests an unparalleled cocktail experience. He agrees that when creating cocktails, it was all about balance. With deep roots in the kitchen, many of the principles of Rob’s cocktails come from culinary applications, but a real passion for service and synergy is what sets him apart. “I like to use fresh and seasonal ingredients when I’m creating a cocktail for my guests, our kitchen prepares seasonal dishes, and our bar program is no different,” he says. “Often, having fresh dragon fruit, key limes, lychees, loquat, or rambutans in plain view sparks a conversation and inspires a you to try something you other wise might not have.” “Keep it simple, do it right, all it takes is a little effort on our part and the results are phenomenal,” says Montgomery. Product knowledge is fundamental to any great bar chef. Knowing the principles of cocktail synergy can help turn an average bartender into a great mixologist. Each element in the illustration below plays a part in the drink’s taste, and ultimately guest satisfaction. With this philosophy in mind you can easily start pairing cocktails with the food on the menu, much like the way we’ve traditionally matched wine and beer with food.

Pairing wine with food is not a new principle, but according to Niagara wine consultant James Gaade, the traditional rules of thumb i.e. pairing red wines with red meats and white wine with chicken or fish have been replaced with the concept that the weight of the wine is paired with the weight of the food. “Light reds like a Gamay are great with swordfish, and a full bodied Chardonnay can really complement a lighter meat dish like a beef stir fry.” The idea is that your food doesn’t overpower your wine or vice versa. Montgomery agrees and adds that using the principles of synergy you can use a sweeter white wine like a Reisling or Gewurztraminer to smooth the flavours of spicy ethnic foods, or a spicier red like a peppery Shiraz to kick the spice up a notch. It just depends whether you’re trying to complement or contrast your dish.

Kevin Healy of the Labatt Institute has some thoughts on pairing beer with food too! It’s not just about drinking Ocktoberfest beer with a fine link of German Bratwurst. Most lagers are lighter bodied beers and will complement a lighter meal such as mild flavoured seafood or game. Ales, on the other hand, are more full bodied and will complement heavier dishes like steak or ribs.

Given that cocktails often have higher margins than beer or wine, having cocktail suggestions for menu items is not such a crazy notion after all. As a mixologist, you want to use the drink to enhance the food experience, keep in mind the following rules when pairing.

Light bodied beers, like lagers, light bodied wines, and sweet and light cocktails will complement light dishes.

Heavier Ales, Spicy, full bodied wines like a Shiraz or Cabernet Sauvignon, or cocktails like a Manhattan, Caipirinha or Caesar will pair well with heavier meat or pork dishes.

Being trained on the products you are serving is paramount to the success of any bar program. Culinary schools spend years teaching their students how to create custom dishes, however, few establishments demand the same level of commitment and bartender training from their mixologists. I encourage experimentation (always in moderation) with the products on the bar. There are so many great products out there, and so many guests waiting to be inspired. Until next month, keep Raising the Bar, because if you don’t, someone else will!

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