As we head back into restaurant reopening and the slow march back to normalcy, it is important to consider what parts of that normalcy we might want to return to. 10 months is a long time, especially in the restaraunt/bar industry. Whole trends can come and go in less time than that.
So, what can one reasonably expect as restaurants and bars begin to reopen? Will fancy cocktails still be the new thing? Or will people crave simpler drinks? This is not even considering non or low alcohol liquors. And what about kombucha?
One thing that is sure to stay, are culinary cocktails, the use of cooking techniques (gastriques, spices, flavored syrups, etc.) in the making of drinks. Once that genie was let out of the bottle and into the cocktail glass, there was probably no way to put him/her back in. And that is a good thing. Bartenders aren’t certified California food handlers for nothing. However, we do hear the term bar/chef bandied about quite often, but what does an actual bonafide real life chef think about it? Chef does mean “chief” in French, and that distinction is not lost on anyone in the restaurant business, especially not bartenders.
Recently we caught up with Tyler Florence, Food Network TV host, cookbook author, restaurateur, Marin local, and perhaps most importantly, a chef, to glean his thoughts on the matter.
IJ) What brought you to Marin County in the first place?
TF) My wife, Tolan, grew up here, and her family is still really close. We’d always talked about coming back and I’m so glad we did. I absolutely love this area and everything it has to offer.
IJ) You left the partnership at El Paseo before they closed, do you have any plans to open a new restaurant or retail shop in Marin?
TF) As of right now, no. We’re finishing up construction on a new steakhouse, Miller and Lux, at the Chase Center, so that has all of my focus. But that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t consider it if the right opportunity presented itself. I’d love to have something in Marin again down the line.
IJ) How has Covid impacted what you have been doing in the last 10 months?
TF) My business is divided into two big buckets, so there’s a lot going on. The restaurant group, which we call The Greater Organization, includes my flagship Wayfare Tavern, Tyler Florence Fresh at SFO, and the new steakhouse. Obviously, that has suffered greatly, as we’ve seen all across the industry. We’ve had to turn inward and really look at our business models. We pivoted at Wayfare by starting a fried chicken truck and making neighborhood drops of our fried chicken dinners, which has actually been really successful. But without travel and with no Golden State Warriors in-person games, our other two spots haven’t been able to adjust in quite the same way.
Fortunately, the other half of my business is a media company, and through that, we’ve had a ton of success over the past year. Everyone wants content! We’re fortunate to have amazing brand partnerships and we create dynamic short-form videos telling their stories, plus we launched our new brand “Wolf it Down” this year, which includes a YouTube channel, a newsletter, an e-commerce shop, and online cooking classes, which we’re most excited about. You can sign up and buy tickets on our website www.wolfitdown.com.
IJ) What do you think of the “bar chef” movement? In particular the use of culinary techniques in drink making?
TF) I think there’s a lot of crossover between the kitchen and the bar, especially these days. Between fun ingredients and cool techniques – like infusions, torching fruit, unexpected pairings – there’s a whole fun world to explore.
IJ) What have you seen in culinary cocktails that gives you pause as a chef?
TF) Personally, I’m kind of a straight shooter when it comes to cocktails – less is more. I love a little chile heat, so a jalapeno margarita is up my alley. And recently I made a batch of cranberry-infused Manhattans that I loved. But overall, not such a fan of anything too fruity, foamy or blended.
IJ) What have you seen in culinary cocktails that have impressed you as a chef?
TF) I think the overall creativity behind the bar has been fun to watch, especially when it comes to ingredients. Things we may not have thought of a decade ago – like infusing tea or herbs into cocktails – are now often front and center on a bar menu.
IJ) A great garnish helps us taste with our eyes first before we taste with our mouths. Are there any cocktail garnishes that you’ve seen that have wowed you?
TF) I’m a huge garnish guy – I truly believe that those last two or three ingredients to land on a plate are the difference between a good dish and a stunning dish. For a cocktail, I love something that I’m going to want to eat or interact with, like a piece of shrimp in a Bloody Mary, or a citrus peel to run around the edge of my glass.
IJ) How important is glassware?
TF) My wife loves going to estate sales and picking up dishware and glassware, so I’m not kidding when I say we have a glass for every type of occasion and drink. I think when you’re focused on bringing out the best properties in the cocktail and also making it look beautiful, it’s important to use the right vessel. That said, I’m not telling anyone not to pour your double martini into a highball.
IJ) What advice would you give to a person who wants to add a culinary slant to his/her bartending.
TF) I think to really just focus on what’s in season, and what flavors work together. The same way I would partner ingredients in food that complement each other, is how I would think about crafting cocktails. And don’t be afraid to experiment. I always say that there’s no such thing as failure, there’s winning, and there’s learning.
IJ) What is your favorite cocktail and why?
TF) A Marin Joe’s martini with two olives, with my father-in-law Larry Moss playing piano in the background. That’s always a happy scene for our family.
Tyler Florence’s Carrot Margarita
5 ounces tequila
1 ½ ounces Damiana* or Cointreau
3 ounces carrot juice
1 ½ ounces lime juice
1 ½ ounces orange juice
1 ounce simple syrup
Mix salt and cumin together 2-1. Rim the glass with a lime slice (to wet it) then dip the rim into the salt mixture, fill with ice. Mix all liquid ingredients in a cocktail shaker. Shake and pour into ice filled glass. Garnish with Lime wheel and paper straw.
*Damiana is a type of Mexican herbal liqueur that some suggest was the original ingredient (not triple sec) in a margarita. The herb damiana (turnera diffusa) is reputed to have aphrodisiac effects and the liqueur is often given to Mexican couples as a wedding gift.