Due to some confusion on my part about timings, I’d signed up for a mezcal session at the Royal Sonesta at 1 PM. Getting out of the cab with John the Bastard at the Monteleone after checking into my “work” hotel (La Pavillon, over in the CBD, or Commercial Business District), I ran into a fellow DC-er (DC-ist? DC folk?) and one of my favorite people to hang out with around this city, Gina Chersevani, on her way to the Royal Sonesta for the seminar she was doing with the owner/chef of PS7 (where she works), Peter Smith.
(Enough parenthesis for you?)
I ran into Stevi and since she wanted to go to the mezcal session, but didn’t have a ticket, I gave her mine and instead went to “Plate and Glass” starring Gina and Peter. Now, admittedly, I’m a big fanboy of PS7 – in fact, I’m writing this as I get ready to go down there tonight, I love the food and drinks there and I always just have a great time at the bar with Gina and Frank – but I found I learned a lot.
The class was a lot more geared towards industry than I expected, but in another way, that was good. I don’t have plans to work either behind the bar or in a kitchen. I’m an enthusiast – but I also like to know what it’s like for folks doing the hard work.
The theme for the lecture could be distilled down to “The bar is the spice rack”. You want to figure out what the components are, break them apart, and figure out how they can be put back together. I really want to insert a joke about serial killers in here, but to be honest, it just ain’t happening tonight.
Both Peter and Gina gave examples. Peter, for a Plymouth event, took copious notes on which botanicals were in that gin, then cured pork belly in it for four days, following that with Plymouth for another day. Gina made a drink called the 1100 B.C. that had sherry, lime juice, fig puree, and salt water foam on top. Everything was designed to show off the sherry, and led to an interesting anecdote (which I hadn’t known) on how the saltiness in sherry was why it was traditionally paired with mussels.
And also that the salt water foam wasn’t vegetarian, but Gina suggested checking out National Starch for some interesting samples.
The big thing is that you want to use the minimum amount that you can of your ingredient so you don’t burn out your palate or overwhelm it with one thing. You should always be dialing back how much you use.
The next drink came with food. It was a Stone’s Throw – Balvenie Doublewood, apricot, and a poached apricot on top. Next to it was a scallop boudin, made with Balvenie 21, vanilla, pine nut, and fermented “orange stuff” from, well, on top of the oven – I tried it with a skewer and it was thick, viscous, and delicious. The poaching liquid was made with marigold tea, local honey, and saffron – as the saffron mimics wood. Gina suggested making a simple syrup with saffron or a saffron tea and compare it to woody spirits to see why it matches so well.
The next drink was a Smokin’ Tutu. Previously at PS7 Gina had made an absinthe cotton candy for a garnish, but when the temperature got hot and humid (say, DC or New Orleans in summer) the cotton candy would just melt. This drink had just Plymouth gin and strawberry puree in it, but was garnished with applewood-smoked cotton candy that had been compressed and hardened. Still, it melted in your mouth, or if you added it to your drink.
Basically they smoked the sugar (which made it hateful, so it was mixed with regular sugar), made the cotton candy, then cryovac bagged it.
The next combination was – well, amazing.
Gina told us to forget about citrus all the time for your acid in a drink. Instead, for the S’more Rum, made with Zacapa rum, she used chocolate. Cherries and corn whiskey were combined fora month, then very bitter dark chocolate with zero sugar was added. This made what was basically a “chocolate bittering agent”.
Lynnette Morrero talked about the Zacapa rum a bit – how it is made from “sugar cane honey”, aged in different barrels to get different flavors, such as charred and uncharred, bourbon barrels and sherry casks, including Oloroso and Pedro Ximenez. She likes the sweet and savor balance. The drink was topped with a marshmallow whip – egg whites (5), sugar (2 cups double strength sugar syrup), water (cup of), xanthum gum (Mallow Root, 1 tablespoon), and vanilla to taste. You mix it and add it to an ISI, keep everything super cold, keep it charged, charge the heck out of it. After it’s put onto the drink it’s torched a bit, which cooks the egg some.
I couldn’t get over how good this was, especially with the food – the S’more Pork. It was a macaroon with almond flour and vanilla, the pork being salta (I think that’s how you spell it) made with Zacapa, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger, three weeks in that, hung for four months, wrapped around the macaroon and topped with tonka beans and cocoa nibs.
At this point they kept talking and some great points came out that are useful both inside the industry and outside.
“If you want to get your chef involved with the bar, the best thing you can do is give the chef a drink.”
With the chefs I know – uh – that’d have to assume he (or she) doesn’t already have one? (I kid, I kid!)
Another way of tasting spices – put a bit of them in water, taste the water. That’s something I plan on trying here in the next few weeks to work on my tasting notes.
Not too much water, obviously, but you can dilute things a lot before you lose its taste. For instance, to dilute all the flavor from 1 ounce of rum takes nearly a gallon of water.
You want the front and the back of the house to work together. Even if the chef hates the bartender, they can still work together, and if the chef knows how the liquors/etc. taste, it will help him with his food in matching. At PS7, cocktails outsell wine – and you can make more money off cocktails, according to them. The combination of the kitchen and the bar is a marriage. Gina says the best cocktail book is actually a cookbook by Alice Waters.
I couldn’t get over how much I enjoyed the session. It really helped make up for some of the other ones that were just incredibly boring or bereft of useful information. And now I really, really need a hit of PS7, so off I go!