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When Worlds Collide

April 11, 2012

Over at Canigetasample, I used to chat quite a bit about my disdain for “fusion” cuisine. Specifically, the crappy neon lit, house music pumping “asian fusion” spots opening up all over the east side of the city. They are the worst. Their business model seems to be anchored in delivering less than stellar versions of many different cuisines so that instead of doing one thing particularly well, they offer pad thai and miso soup. Thanks but no thanks. But these types of places are just one subset of what “fusion” cuisine can really be. Some of the smartest and most talented chefs around the world are developing eye-opening blends of regional techniques, flavors, and ingredients to produce food that is both unique and familiar. So shouldn’t we be able to do the same with booze?

As I mentioned before, I’ve been working on a few recipes to get ready for this year’s Kentucky Derby party and there’s no question my basil julep has made the cut. But we just recently realized something pretty exciting. This year’s derby happens to fall on May 5th, which for all you non-Spanish translators out there, also happens to be Cinco de Mayo. Finkel is Einhorn. Einhorn is Finkel! And this is when my brain went crazy!

But blending regional flavors into cocktails isn’t as easy as some bars would like you to think. I would argue that this type of cocktail creation is in some ways even less forgiving than cooking fusion cuisine. Too often ingredients are added simply for their name alone as their subtlety is lost during consumption. A good example of that was this Empellon Manhattan (seen above). Don’t get me wrong. This drink tasted damn good and paired perfectly with the amazing Empellon Tacos. But the mole bitters and shaved chocolate didn’t resonate so much for me. Background flavors at best, these “Mexican” additions to the classic American cocktail couldn’t stand up the bourbon and sweet vermouth.

The cool thing is, when it comes to cocktail making, so much can be tweaked with those same four ingredients. Maybe it’s a simple shift in quantities, or maybe its something more complex like extracting the chocolate flavor directly into the bourbon. Looks like I better get back to work with the Derby just a few weeks away!

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