When you think of farm to table, the idea behind a chef using only the freshest ingredients while supporting local farmers is impressive. When chefs utilize locally sourced, sustainable products and serve them to their customer’s tables scores big for diners in North America today. More and more people are health conscious these days, and one of the reasons behind the popularity of the farm to table movement is because consumers would much rather put money in the pockets of farmers than the big chain retailers. It is a well-known fact that fresh farm products are higher in quality and a lot more environmentally friendly. Products tend to travel less distance before being consumed which means less burning of fossil fuels. Studies have shown there has also been quite a significant decrease in health-related issues for those who opt for fresh farm products and incorporate this philosophy into their diet and lifestyle. And now Farm to bar is a thing.
There is no doubt that cultivating relationships with farmers supports local agriculture and contributes to economic growth. The relationships formed with purveyors also offers many benefits such as getting first-hand knowledge of the best seasonal ingredients. Despite mitigating factors like weather, accessibility and limited variety of specific products, the farm to table concept has proven to be a hit. As a restaurant professional, some of the most common feedback I get from diners is that you can taste the difference when a chef uses locally sourced products. They also love and support the idea of helping sustain the local agricultural scene. Farm to table additionally brings joy in discovering unique local organic products they would not have found on their own. But what about bringing this concept to the bar? Is it possible to have healthier alcoholic beverage choices by using farm fresh ingredients when making cocktails?
The thirst for knowledge and passion grows for a lot of very serious mixologists in the United States like Bespoke Solutions; they are known to be pioneers of the growing “Farm to Bar” concept. Together, they have a combined total of around 60 years of industry and bar experience. Some of their most recent and notable credits both behind the bar or as management include re-opening of The Iconic Rainbow Room NYC, managing Peacock Alley, and opening La Chine at The Waldorf Astoria, serving as Beverage Director and creative mind behind The Gin Parlour at New York’s Barclay Intercontinental Hotel. Bespoke is also the Mixology team behind Secret Summer, New York City’s only farm to bar cocktail festival.
Every mixologist knows that using the best ingredients makes the best cocktails. Executive Mixologist Tony Edgerton believes that farm to bar only makes perfect sense as you are supporting local businesses, cultivating personal relationships with the farmers while providing the best, innovative experiences for your guests. “We consider this to be a natural evolution of our experiences and influences. This whole idea spawned while running a bar program for an exclusive farm to table restaurant on the upper east side of New York City. We are always striving to make a better, more complex well-rounded cocktail just as a chef does with food.” This started with using ingredients and flavors right out of the kitchen to pair with the dishes on the ever-changing menu. That is really where the partners of Bespoke honed the idea and concept.
Award-winning mixologist Orion Berge has been the Beverage Director and Certified Sommelier at some of the top hotels and restaurants throughout the United States. “The Bespoke cocktails utilize exotic flavors and juices which everyone knows are best when just at the peak of ripeness. We also use a wide variety of spices, roots, and herbs, which also produce the most depth of flavor and fragrance when they are fresh. What this all boils down to is a cocktail that is alive and exciting.” Orion says that farm to bar opens a whole new world of flavors on the palate.
Running a farm to bar concept also helps restaurants develop a unique sense of distinction and seasonality which allows them to differentiate themselves from the competition. Executive Mixologist Devan Van Eyck is another principal of Bespoke and a current bartender at The Grill, recently named as one of the New York Time’s Top Restaurants of 2017. Devan says in major cities like New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Portland, Oregon and now in Detroit’s up and coming cocktail scene, the idea of fresh ingredients is commonplace. However, the idea of locally sourced, farm to bar cocktails is still not practiced. Devan says for a lot of bars, and restaurants find it impractical investing the time to build a farm to bar program.
Passion is the most significant element of executing a farm to bar concept. One of the philosophies at Bespoke Solutions is to have one foot firmly rooted in the past and one in the future. The original cocktail legends of the past went the extra mile to create and get their hands on new exciting ingredients to be innovative and unique. Bespoke would like to further that tradition but in a modern way. To do this, any mixologist must have the full command of flavor profiles, knowing what ingredients compliment each other. Another critical factor is getting a complete grasp and knowledge of your spirits. It just isn’t possible to marry elements without knowing if it correctly enhances or match the spirits you are using.
Thinking outside the box is also critical to executing this type of program. As far as determination, you need to be willing to go out and forage fresh ingredients, put in the extra time outside of the bar to research to make service to the guest seamless. Passion speaks for itself in mixology. You can teach skills, but you cannot teach passion.
A farm to bar program will also not be possible without the right team. The three principals of Bespoke pride themselves on creativity, integrity and a never-ending thirst for knowledge. “The level of experience and skill we bring is pretty rare in this industry, but, more than that, we genuinely enjoy working together” according to Tony. Sharing the same kind of aesthetic, synergy makes a secure collaboration that results in heightened creativity and achieving the best results. It is always an excellent opportunity to be able to bounce ideas around with the same people who share the same values and passion.
Drinking should be fun! It’s, even more, fun when you are drinking something you know is made with only the finest, locally sourced ingredients. A quality product always makes the guest experience. It’s a fact. As a bartender, you can have all the knowledge, experience, creativity in the world, but it has to translate over to the guest. This is what impressed me with the folks at Bespoke. Their service is unparalleled, and they took the time to explain the thought process behind making my drinks.
Curiosity, humility, a willingness to experiment and failing all comes in the territory when creating something unique. As a bartender, it always helps to have a good palate just like a chef. It pays to have the experience to know what general flavors combine well, and in what proportions. Above all, you have to be willing to collaborate and work with a team, cultivate relationships with local purveyors, your customers and especially your kitchen.
For those who aspire to get into this whole new approach in mixology, Bespoke recommends to read and learn from those who started mixology. It’s nice to keep up with the current trends in social media, but it is also vital to root yourself in the classics and use them as a formula for innovations.
Bespoke says one of the best parts of the bar business is at its core; it is a trade. Just like being a blacksmith, skills and knowledge are often passed down from generation to generation. Bespoke has been lucky enough to have mentors to lean on like Frank Caiafa, the author of the Waldorf Astoria Cocktail book. According to them, it is their privilege to give back to aspiring bartenders who wish to learn “real mixology.” As part of their North American farm to bar initiative, Bespoke is thrilled to join Toronto’s ever-growing cocktail culture. They will be launching their specialty farm to bar concept in Canada and leading the bar program at Greater Toronto’s newest waterfront destination restaurant called POSTA in Port Credit, Mississauga. No matter where they are, this team of talented bartenders will always ensure they keep the quality of their creations intact without pretension, showcase professionalism behind the bar while bringing a taste of New York, all with an abiding sense of merriment.
Cristina Carpio is a television personality, brand and restaurant strategist as well as a passionate food and beverage expert. Travel and living life to the fullest is in her DNA. In addition to hosting Going Global, Cristina is a country ambassador for a global immersive dining platform and has a column for a noted North American food and beverage industry magazine. She has also been recognized for her work and involvement in charitable and community projects and has hosted several prestigious festivals, fashion and cultural events.