How the 'Liquid Chef' Mixes LA's Best Cocktails
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because a million Carthusian monks can’t be wrong.
By Eugene S. Robinson
In this occasional series, OZY takes to streets and neighborhoods across the globe to ask a simple question: “How was your day?”
I like to be one of the first people in the building when I’m running a bar. Part of that is my work ethic and part is I just like the time to be alone with my own thoughts. Even if all I’m doing is restocking bottles and glassware, it’s about getting the place spotless and perfect by the time the first guests arrive.
I think I’m one of only three people in the world to work at both Eleven Madison Park and NoMad. Eleven Madison Park won the award for best restaurant in the world in a 2017 poll and that doesn’t come without a cost. One of the three best bars in the world? It’s incredibly intense and was the professional equivalent of getting my teeth kicked in, nightly. But I wanted to study with the best in the world, so you go to where they are. I’m 36 now; four years in, I’m still pretty new to the game.
One of the reasons I sort of don’t like the title “mixologist” or even “beverage consultant” is that it’s nowhere near descriptive enough to describe what we’re doing, which is really a lot closer to being like a Liquid Chef than anything else. But I didn’t like being called a disc jockey either when I was DJ’ing — I mean, I wasn’t jockeying discs, so it seemed kind of small and almost thoughtless.
It’s incredibly intense and was the professional equivalent of getting my teeth kicked in, nightly.
Dining and drinking at places that put a premium on the experience, though, means in real, practical terms you know more about the guests than you would in other places. Part of doing this well starts with keeping a notebook, since you might be seeing guests two or three times a year, and you have to remember what they want and how to make it. You can figure out how to make a lot of drinks by looking things up on the internet, but this might just mean you weren’t prepared, and you don’t work in places like Eleven or NoMad if you’re not prepared.
Look, I’ve always been a cocktail nerd. Loved the culture, spirits, where they come from, all of that. Doing music like I used to was sort of perfect for that, and DJ’ing is a lot like bartending. The not-so-nice parts of the job are pretty much the same: people asking you to play songs they hum for you at the DJ table, people trying to get you to create a drink they sort of remember from the last time they went drinking with a friend.
The difference is, as a DJ, I shake my head and wave them away from the booth. At the bar? No. But, yeah, the bad parts can be the same. People who have had too much. So, an occupational hazard.
I just got back from vacation in Mexico. When I’m in bars, even a cantina in San Miguel, I try to unplug. I like to drink wine, or rum on the rocks. Nothing fancy. I started thinking, though, that I wanted to make a drink for you all. So I picked something for each letter in OZY. It’s totally new.
For the letter O, I picked oloroso. It’s a sherry, fortified and sort of hot. For Z, I used Zucca, an Italian bitters made from rhubarb, which gives it its bitter notes. And for Y, I picked yellow Chartreuse, a French liqueur first made in 1737, by Carthusian monks. The color chartreuse was named after the spirit. When I have some time, I’ll make one for you. It’s sort of like a Manhattan.
Right now, though? After starting the cocktail program for Delilah in Los Angeles and doing the bar menu for Melody, where I’m a partner — it’s a restaurant and wine bar concept opening in July — I’m doing the drink menu for Poppy, in Hollywood. So I’m a little busy.
Want to see Matt in action and try the OZY cocktail? He’ll be at OZY Fest 2017 in New York City’s Central Park on July 22. Get tickets.