Bartenders who work with the kitchen can produce creative beverages.
This spring, head bartender Ashley Meehan was in the kitchen of New York City restaurant Vaucluse watching the pastry chef cooking Morello cherries for one of the desserts he was preparing.
When he had what he needed, he was left with a very light, delicately cherry-flavored simple syrup. He offered it to Meehan and the Clarke Quay cocktail was born.
For months Meehan had been considering making a riff on a Singapore Sling and suddenly she had it. “The Singapore Sling tastes like a liquefied cough drop and I wanted a lighter, fresher version,” she says. Her version contains tequila, tepache, cherry and lemon, served over crushed ice.
“This has been a win-win because I was originally ordering a cherry puree, but ordering it was a bit hit and miss,” she says. “Now, the pastry department has been getting these wonderful Morello cherries and I get the byproduct, which by now is an intentional byproduct.”
When bars and kitchens collaborate, the results can be creative and exciting. But there’s more to it, according to Meehan. “It also makes our food and beverage program look more cohesive,” she says.
There are other advantages, too. By collaborating like this, there’s less waste product, thus cutting costs. Costs are also reduced by placing orders for the bar and kitchen together if there’s an item both use, or by not ordering pre-prepared products, such as the puree Meehan was using. And by collaborating, labor is reduced, saving time.
Working with the kitchen – especially the pastry department – is second nature to Meehan, who sees it as simply part of her job.
“Pastry teams are taught to use flavor, while bartenders are taught about pairings. So they often have more insight, like which flavors would work with a liqueur. It’s nice to include your pastry (and savory) teams because you can share ideas and it gets the wheels turning.”
Because of this, she tries to visit the kitchen every day, even if it’s just to say hi and see what’s cooking. But it doesn’t stop there; recently she saw a vegetable medley platter with a big crown of fennel fronds being delivered to a table of guests. “I thought how amazing it looked and jotted down that I could use the fronds as a beverage garnish,” she says.
In the past, the kitchen, she says, has helped her make smoked sugar for a simple syrup or to pressure cook macadamia nuts for an orgeat that goes into a tiki drink. “It’s an eight-hour process and this chef kept his eye on it for his whole shift for me,” she says.
Another great collaboration between the kitchen and the bar has been the Système D cocktail, which Meehan developed specifically to pair with the seasonal Mille Feuille aux Cerises et Abricots. This puff pastry desert is filled with a brown butter mousse, apricot caramel, soaked Morello cherries, and a scoop of Morello cherry and Kirsch ice cream.
“The Kirsch ice cream is made with a generous portion of Kirsch-sour cherry brandy [read: boozy], so that’s where the inspiration of this stirred cocktail was drawn,” Meehan says.
Le Système D contains Rittenhouse Rye, sherry, apricot liqueur, China-China Amer and citric acid.
“The apricot caramel is very raisiny, and the sherry highlights this unctuous layer. The Rittenhouse Rye is an over-proof and helps highlight the spirit in the ice cream. But I think the cherries are the star in this dessert, so highlighting the freshness of apricot would only do this dessert justice. Adding citric acid gives everything more zip; the Morello cherries are very tart. China-China Amer is a gentian root liqueur and its first use was to aid in digestion. It is quite bitter, but here has a very important post-meal role.”
In fact, she adds, “I learned about using citric acid from nosing around in the pastry kitchen; you use a little bit to add a huge citrusy pop.”
While Meehan works with the kitchen all year long, she says at this time of year things do get more exciting, with the abundance of fresh produce. “In the summer I get inspiration from the rainbow of colors,” she says.
Le Système D
- 0.75 oz. Rittenhouse Rye
- 0.75 oz. Emilio Lustau East India Sherry
- 0.75 oz. Rothman & Winter Apricot Liqueur
- 0.75 oz. Bigallet China-China Amer
- 5 dashes Citric acid
Combine all ingredients in a mixing glass. Add ice, stir, and strain over a large ice cube in a chilled rocks glass. Add branded lemon twist and large ice cube.