Think like a chef, but don't be a chef...

I am pretty well known, to have the opinion, that chefs are upfront, when it comes to culinary skills and knowledge and commitment. Bartender are somewhat lazier and unfocussed; also there are much more great chefs as great bartenders.

However what seemed to be a valid slogan [work more like a chef] - seems now to backfire.
In the last competition I have seen recipes [more or less all recipes], which were definitely inspired by the cuisine style of mixology. Fresh [and somewhat "different"] ingredients went all over the drinks.
While the balance of all drinks were far off, it was [except of very few exception] just a promising picture - or was it?

Now I am in a catch-22 situation... on one hand, fresh ingredients are key to the success of good bartending - on the other side there is so much more to consider.

Fresh ingredients is only one part of it.

And there is the laziness of bartenders coming again into play.
At this point I have to mention, that this correlates strictly to bartenders in the Middle East. If I see recipes from other countries, there is more hope - even if I also realize, that there can be also too much creativity... simple is better.

This all let me toggle back and claim: think like a chef, however work like a bartender!

These points might be a help for anyone, who wants to create drinks:

  • Key is the spirit. Use different flavors to compliment, to highlight or also to attenuate given flavors of the used distillate. Don't add flavors, because these a fancy...
    • In one competition, which is already longer time ago, there was one recipe which paired Ron Zacapa with cilantro. Ballsy move - and it wasn't that bad [still the balance was lacking] - however overall it didn't work well - the flavors were confused. Ron Zacapa is a rum, with a lot of roast aromas - burnt sugar, caramel, nuts, honey, vanilla - everything but green aromas like cilantro - apparently this cocktail could have been better with tequila, which usually features a vegetal character. Especially important: give the drink the character of its base spirit!
  • Consider the balance. Unfortunately most drinks here are lacking balance - even in the lowest installment: the balance between sweet & sour. The drinks in most bars [and competitions] are far too sweet. Higher levels of balance would be the balance between the character of alcohol and the dilution; the balance between aromas - between spice, roast & vegetal aromas. 
  • Don't fake mastership. What especially upsets me is, that bartenders show off, without any solid justification. The drinks of all bars are lacking even in the most basic qualities: e.g. temperature! Not only here, bartenders would have a problem to just make a good [but basic] whiskey sour. You will get it too sweet or too sour, definitely too warm, and then often just with the wrong whisk(e)y. No a basic whiskey sour is not made with Scotch - and even if it is made with American whiskey [hooray], Jack Daniel's is not the perfect brand for it [this gives me the idea, to write up a whiskey sour post- stay tuned]. A master knows. Balance. Technique. Produce/Product. Presentation.
  • Mastership goes through repetition. And I repeat myself :) A bartender should learn to mix classic drinks. Before he is doing his/her own cocktails. It is pretty much a mutual acknowledgement, that great chefs [in whatever cuisine] mastered classic French cuisine. There are exception of the rule, but if it comes to "dinner cooking" [and this except sushi], chefs have had mastered the mother sauces; they are able to make a perfect omelette etc. A bartender analogue has to master a proper Martini cocktail, Manhattan, Old Fashioned, Margarita, Sidecar, Irish Coffee and so on...
  • Learning by drinking. Yes, this is a repetition. I have said this the first time, when I was writing up my [desperate] post about the UAE Monin cocktail competition. Bartenders just need to learn, how classic drinks taste - this might be again analogue to good chefs - they are trying, even adventurous produce and classic dishes. A bartender should try classic cocktails and understand. Off course he/she should also try ingredients alone.
I am again going too much back to the skills of a chef. And this is not totally wrong - the only thing is: a chef has to build his dish around the protein - a bartender has to build his/her drink around the distillate. If this is considered, we might face better times of mixology!

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