Drink Up is a bi-monthly column created by Swing contributor Kristen Oliveri. In the column, she speaks to the world’s leading mixologists, bartenders, wine makers, beer makers, sippers and taste-testers who provide insights into where you try your next drink and what it should be.
BarChef, a dimly lit Prohibition-style Modernist cocktail bar based in Toronto, Ontario, creates unique drinks that delight the senses. Owner and creator Frankie Solarik is the mastermind behind the concept that creates “dishes” (AKA cocktails) like “Black Truffle” comprised of black truffle snow, smoked salt, coconut foam, dill frond, lime zest, gin, coconut liqueur and elderflower liqueur. Solarik has risen to fame not only in the Canadian cocktail scene, but way beyond, and has subsequently published a cocktail book that shows how to master the art of cocktail making at home. Solarik sits down with Swig contributor Kristen Oliveri to talk about his cocktail philosophy, his guilty pleasure cocktail and what’s next for him and his burgeoning business.
Q: BarChef takes a modernist approach to cocktails. Can you explain what that is and how you execute it?
A: The Modernist program at BarChef is the ideology of incorporating a multi-sensory approach to “cocktails” with the use of modern equipment, ingredients and techniques. It allows me to create a tactile and emotional experience for the guest, utilizing the guest’s past references of flavor, texture, aroma and nostalgic experiences and use those as a tool for animmersive and visceral experiences. We take the perspective of challenging the conventional model of a cocktail and seeing how far we can push the genre. All the Modernist options incorporate different presentations with a big emphasis on aromatics and other senses, not normally associated with cocktails, like the ideology of the vessel being presented in different environments on the service piece for texture and touch when picked up or brought towards the mouth. They really do challenge the traditional model of “a cocktail must be served in a glass.” My main motivation artistically is to challenge that and provide the guest with a new experience.
For example one of our newest additions to the menu is the “Night Blossom” presented as a Ramen type experience with “noodles” made of spirits and liqueurs such as cacao and green Chartreuse, violet, balsam fir bitters and honey—all consumed with chopsticks and a ramen spoon. Another is the “Essence of Fall” presented in an encapsulation of experiencing a forest floor with aromatics activated at the table of cedar, moss and soil. The idea of truly blurring the lines between a cocktail and a dish.
Q: What is your overall cocktail philosophy?
A: First and foremost, the flavor must speak for itself. Regardless of how dramatic or beautiful the presentation is the flavor profile will always be the most important thing. I also put a huge emphasis on mouthfeel. I think that with this style of cocktail I would do a bigger mouthfeel than is necessary for the palate to recognize the subtle nuances and complexities. Therefore, a big necessity for me is monitoring the dilution and temperature of the cocktails.
Q: How did you get started in the industry?
A: I began bartending in a cigar bar at the age of 18 in London, Ontario. Hearing the gentlemen and ladies talk about the flavor, aroma and pairings of what they were smoking and drinking peaked my interest. I then moved to Europe and eventually New York, where I was fortunate enough to work with passionate and talented people along the way who have contributed hugely to my career.
Q: You’ve recently written a book entitled The BarChef. What can readers expect to find inside its pages?
A: The idea for the book was not only to provide recipes for every step of the cocktails I create including all the bitters, syrups and infusions, but also to generate a huge visual aspect as well, almost like a coffee table book. It goes into depth about the creative process, flavor pairings and inspiration for the cocktails. I was also fortunate to have a big inspiration for me, Chef Grant Achatz, contribute the foreword.
Q: Can you share with us your favorite cocktail recipe and its inspiration?
A: My current favorite option on the menu is the “Night Blossom”. It consists of a cacao and Chartreuse branch, a julienne of violet, balsam fir and honey, a maple and almond orgeat snow, spheres of patchouli and Amaro, and gels of violet, mint and Chartreuse. A cocktail of bourbon, Islay scotch, almond orgeat, rosemary syrup and maraschino is poured tableside.
I was walking my dog one night after service in a park near my house and came across a beautiful tree that was so beautifully lit with leaves and buds of purple flowers. I began working on the cocktail version of that scene the following day. It’s a true representation of my expressionistic approach to cocktails—a manipulation of perception with a contemporary approach.
Q: What’s your favorite ‘guilty pleasure’ cocktail?
A: To be honest, I love a great Martinez or Negroni, but I have been known to enjoy a double Jack Daniels and Coca Cola now and again.
Q: Where do you see the cocktail industry as a whole going?
A: With people having greater access to recipes with cocktail books and other cocktail publications, guests are becoming more appreciative of the cocktail genre. People are making things at home and are generally excited about what’s happening in the industry. Additionally, bars and restaurants are putting a huge emphasis on cocktails. We must always respect the classic cocktails, but it’s nice to see people opening up to new experiences.
Q: What’s next for BarChef?
A: My business partner Brent VanderVeen and I are excited about a couple of concepts that we are looking forward to opening in Toronto in 2016. They are ambitious projects that I think people are going to be really excited about. I would also love to open a Modernist concept in the US—there have been many offers recently, so I guess we will see what happens. Either way, it’s going to be an enormous year for us. As a cocktail focused company, we are really looking forward to seeing what we can achieve.
(Photo Credit: Leanne Neufeld Photography)
Cover photo features the “White Cider” cocktail