15 October 2010

Drink Factory Interview- Chad Solomon and Christy Pope

Chad Solomon/Christy Pope Drink Factory Interview

Christy Pope & Chad Solomon have been an integral part of the New York cocktail scene for the past decade, having worked behind the bars of Milk & Honey, Pegu Club, Little Branch, and Flatiron Lounge, and have since consulted on beverage programs for hotels, restaurants and bars around the world. In 2006, Christy & Chad emerging from their collective work at Milk & Honey, founded Cuffs & Buttons Cocktail Catering & Consulting.

1. What is the first cocktail you ever made?

Christy: I am afraid all the drinking has left me a bit foggy on the actual first drink I ever made, so I will answer this in two parts…
-First drink that I ever “uncovered” was the Casino cocktail form the vintage book “Just cocktails.” I remember finding the recipe and taking it in to M&H the next night, I was working with Joseph Swartz and we looked at the recipe and adapted it, he made it, we drank it, and soon I was recommending it to guests with great delight, and thus it was cemented into the Milk & Honey drink compendium.
-First drink that made that made me “think” I was “the shit”, the “show off” drink was the Queenspark Swizzle, it was always such an “ooh, ahh” presentation, and swizzling just felt sooo good ; )

Chad: Margarita, at the Cellar bar in the Bryant Park Hotel- it was the first drink I served behind any bar, on my first night on the job. It’s funny that it turned out to be a Margarita, because I’m originally from Texas and my birthday falls on Cinco de Mayo, which is like national Margarita day.

2. What are your 3 favourite drinks? With recipes if you have them; old, new and your own.

Christy: Old- Classic Daiquiri: 2 oz Light Rum, 1 oz Fresh Lime Juice, ¾ oz Simple Syrup
New- Red Hook: (variant of Brooklyn by Enzo) 2 oz Rittenhouse Rye 100pf, ½ oz Punte Mes, ½ oz Luxardo Maraschino
Mine- Tequila Eastside (aka. Platino Fresca, or South Central): Same drink but has been put on menus with different names- 2 oz Silver Tequila, 1 oz Lime Juice, ¾ oz Simple, muddled cucumber and mint

Chad: This question is a non-starter for me, and my usual smart-ass response to this type of question is, “the one in my hand.” When and where am I drinking my supposed favorite drinks? For me it boils down to the time/place/occasion that I’m going to consume a drink in. I’m pretty equal opportunity if the drink is well made and the occasion is appropriate, and I don’t play favorites with my own creations.

3. Tell us about a new flavour you have discovered recently.

Christy: Asian Green Peppercorn… probably seems obvious, but true Asian green peppercorns do not exist stateside, not even at the NYC spice mecca Kalustyan’s… they have bags labeled “green peppercorn” but they are black in color and do not compare in flavor to the bright crisp heat of the Asian variety. My initial discovery was made 2 years ago when Chad was consulting on a project in Egypt and he came back with all these amazing bags of spices he got at the souk, and my favorite was the green peppercorn… beautiful Kelley green in color and taste, it’s a fresh heat. Then, a couple of months ago I was consulting on a job in Hong Kong and had an amazing dish of beef and green peppercorns in sauce, and again, these amazing Kelly green colored peppercorns dotted the plate with such a bright intensity! Much brighter in intensity with a round and lingering heat compared to the black, white, or pink peppercorns.

Chad: Until recently I had never tasted turmeric on its own. I haven’t done anything with it yet, but it’s something I’d like to explore.

4. If you could pass just one thing on to an apprentice bartender, what would it be?

Christy: Don’t run before you walk… Bartenders in their first year are trying to make molecular cocktails and they can’t even execute a proper sour. Learn and understand the fundamentals… they create the foundation from which you can then build on.

Chad: Ask a lot of questions (especially how and why) about everything that happens behind the bar. Curiosity can’t be stressed enough.

5. What does the future hold for yourself, and what do you see happening in the future within the industry?

Christy: For me, I am very excited about my future, which means focusing on our own brand, Cuffs & Buttons™. We are in the process of obtaining our own storefront…i.e. bar which will mean that we are able to showcase our point of view on cocktails, as well as I will be dedicating more time and energy to further growing C&B cocktail catering… we have already built such a great foundation in the catering community, and I’m excited about growing further in that direction. As for the future of the industry, it’s going to be interesting… I think that TV is going to get hold of the community at some point and I am a bit leery of how that might affect things, but overall there will always be a few auteurs working on a smaller scale, and pushing the cocktail further.

Chad: For my future plans: Ditto Christy’s answer. With the exception of NYC and SF and a couple of smaller markets, the cocktail renaissance/revival is still very young in America, so there is tremendous opportunity here to open establishments and educate in the secondary markets. Also, I think for this to really take hold and grow, it has to reach out to a wider audience beyond bartenders and cocktail geeks.

6. What has been your biggest satisfaction from working behind the bar?

Christy: It has brought me out of my shell. I am (to my deficit) a very quiet and reserved person, bartending makes you interact, it’s taken me a while, but I am far more social than I used to be. Also, I know I can walk into any party and make it better by shaking up a few drinks!

Chad: The people I’ve met, and friends made both in and out of the industry. Aside from all of the learning and the passion for cocktails and bartending, you never know who you’re going to meet sitting across the bar from you.

7. If you were to have a conversation with a cocktail (and presuming it could talk back to you and tell you its past), which cocktail would it be and why?

Christy: I have two…
-Manhattan… the power conversations and deals that have been made with this cocktail in hand would be both fascinating and quite salacious too!
-French 75… pure romance, the name, wartime, its masculine and feminine, it evokes the true glamour of Hollywood, and it was on the set of Casablanca!

Chad: I could say the Cock-tail, Manhattan, Martini…. But, I’d be much more interested to talk to Pisco Punch, to hear about all of the terra it supposedly stomped in late 19th/ early 20th century San Francisco… or better yet- Aleister Crowley’s Laudanum Cocktail- that would probably be a real boomer.

8. What influences your drinks from outside the industry?

Christy: Pop culture.
Chad: The exploration and search to achieve better flavor takes you straight to the more advanced kitchens/Chefs. Outside of that- travel, books, music, and humor are all places I find inspiration.

9. If you were to break a bartending golden rule, what would it be?

Christy: I’ve never been a rules person, there are exceptions to everything.
Chad: Break them all and often… there are exceptions to everything, the important thing is to use common sense.

10. Outside of flavour and the craft of the cocktail, what in your opinion affects the appreciation of cocktails the most?

Christy: Ambiance. At the end of the day, it’s only us in the industry that nit pick over exact balance and brands and technique. The general public just wants something that tastes good and gets them on their way to being happy and relaxed, in an environment they enjoy. It is important for us to labor over the details of cocktails and make them as delicious as possible, but the ambiance is just as critical and should never be left behind.
Chad: The setting and the experience a person has while drinking them.

11. If you were to champion a cocktail, which would it be?

Christy: For an aromatic, it doesn’t get better than an Old Fashioned. For a sour base cocktail, the Daiquiri is my fancy!
Chad: Thug Passion.

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