One of my favorite seminars at the Food and Wine Classic was Tony Abou-Ganim's party punches and sangria class. A pioneer in the world of classic cocktail making, Ganim is known for establishing cocktail programs at prestigious bars in San Francisco, New York, and most recently Las Vegas. Referred to as the Modern Mixologist, Tony takes a culinary approach to cocktails and considers himself a "bar chef."
Earlier today I had the chance to speak with Tony over the phone. To see what the fabulous Abou-Ganim had to say in my exclusive interview,
Tony believes that when it comes to food, wine actually pairs better than a cocktail. While he loves to start a nice meal with a cocktail and end it with a strong spirit or dessert drink, in terms of fine dining, he leaves the food pairings to wine.
PS: What trends do you see in mixology?
TAG: We call it market fresh mixology. More and more people are utilizing seasonality to make cocktails. It's the culinary approach to cocktails. Don't wrestle with mother nature. Use ingredients that are in season.
PS: Why do you think people are so into classic cocktails now?
TAG: I think it was the missing link in the evolution of the culinary arts. Thanks to the rise of celebrity chefs and the Food Network, people have become more aware of cooking and entertaining at home. Most people these days know how to navigate a wine list and it was only natural for people to become more interested in cocktails.
PS: What is your signature drink?
TAG: It's called the Cable Car. I developed it in 1996 at the Starlight Room in San Francisco. I hope it becomes a classic cocktail and that in 100 years people are still drinking the Cable Car that Tony Abou-Ganim created in 1996.
PS: Do you think it's important to have a specialty cocktail when entertaining?
TAG: Absolutely! Specialty cocktails make it easier for you to host and it makes it more fun. I recently hosted a party where I gave every couple a muddler as a party favor. I gave a quick demo on how to make a mojito and set out a bunch of limes and simple syrup. Everyone made their own mojitos which made it easy on me because I didn't have to make a million mojitos.
PS: What do you think makes a good mojito?
TAG: The mojito is the simplest, most difficult drink to make perfectly. Love, you've gotta put love into it. If I order a mojito and the bartender doesn't get excited about it I know it's not going to be good. But if the bartender says, "I just got a bunch of clementines from the market, can I make you a clementine mojito?" I know it's going to be good.
PS: What's your advice to the home mixologist?
TAG: Learn the basic techniques. Search for a balance, the ying and yang of sweet and sour. Understand the flavors, taste everything. Use fresh, in-season produce. Once you know the basic techniques, the simple recipe you can have fun with it and utilize fresh seasonal ingredients. Now bing cherries are in season, so why not pit a bunch of cherries, muddle them with sugar, add ice and cachaça, and make it a bing-cherry Caipirinha?
PS: Vodka or gin?
TAG: Gin for the classics, but I'm pro vodka. It's a great spirit that has a bad rap in bartending.
PS: Martini or Manhattan?
PS: Shaken or stirred?
TAG: Depends if vodka or gin. If vodka shaken, I believe the ice crystals open up the vodka. If gin, stirred. Shaking gin will only dilute it.
PS: Straight up or on the rocks?
TAG: Straight up.
PS: Lemon twist or olive?
TAG: Lemon twist.
PS: Pineapple or cherry?
PS: San Francisco or Las Vegas?
TAG: San Francisco.
PS: Bourbon or Scotch?
PS: Red or white wine?
TAG: White wine.
PS: Margarita: frozen or on the rocks?
TAG: On the rocks.