There’s a respected cocktail joint on Toronto’s hip and happening Queen Street West called BarChef (or Barchef or Bar chef – the place’s website seems a bit confused as to the actual spelling). In any case, the name had me scratching my head a bit wondering what a “bar chef” actually was. But after researching my story on cocktails for an upcoming Tidings story it became very clear to me that Canada’s top mixologists are much closer to being chefs than they are to being traditional “bar tenders.”
“A mixologist is a creator, an artist,” says Pierre-Olivier Tempe whose company MadeWithLove hosts cocktail contests across Canada (I will be reporting on the 2012 Toronto competition which happens on March 26th). Talking to mixologists across the country and reading some of their intricate recipes confirmed that they really are chefs of the liquid domain. Not only do they create original recipes (sometimes on the spot based on a customer’s preferences), they also have to possess an intimate knowledge of not only wines, spirits and liqueurs but of mixes, syrups, bitters, garnishes, fruits, glassware and, in some cases, liquid nitrogen, dry ice and other such things that typically fall into the molecular gastronomy realm.
Some (in fact, a very select few), like Toronto’s Nishantha Nepulongoda who bagged the MadeWithLove 2011 Toronto competition, use a specialized kit (he’s the only one in Canada that was awarded one) to make alcohol “caviar” (which he used as a garnish for his winning creation.) I caught up with him at the newly opened cocktail lounge in the Marché restaurant in downtown Toronto for which he has created some signature drinks. The restaurant, which had been a Toronto staple under the Mövenpick moniker, was relaunched after a six-year absence in 2010. The cocktail lounge is a new and very welcome addition.
Nepulongoda whipped up a few interesting cocktails that combined a range of mixing techniques and flavouring ingredients. Having determined my taste leaned towards “spirit-forward” concoctions and hearing of my potentially lethal love of green Chartreuse, he served me a rather surprising combination of bourbon, bitters, orange and the green monster itself. The thing that surprised me most was how each component, though harmonizing beautifully, also stood out distinctly – even the Chartreuse which, at best, represented mere drops in the final drink.
You’ll hear more about Nepulongoda and other Canadian cocktail wizards in the May/June edition of Tidings. In the meantime, here’s a signature cocktail that Nepulongoda created exclusively for Marché.
1 oz Skyy vodka
1 oz Cointreau liqueur
2 oz fresh grapefruit juice
1/2 oz fresh lime juice
1/2 oz sugar syrup
1 tsp Campari
Glassware : coupe glass
Method : rinse glass with Campari. Shake all ingredients with ice, then pour into coupe glass.