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01.14.11 by  

Oh Frankie You’re So Fine

You blow our mind. Your handiwork behind the bar — cocktails with jelly cubes, bonfires, smokes, essences, mists, foams, raviolis — should come with a warning: The experience you’re about to have will rock your gray matter. Yes, BarChef, please mess with our heads.

You know that guy in school who liked to screw with your head just because he could (and because he’s pretty darn good at it)? That guy is now doing it for a living. Frankie Solarik, owner of BarChef and master mixologist, has made it his mission to make sure when it comes to cocktails, what you see is not what you get. Whether plated, paraded with smoke, foamed, misted or jellied, all of his drink components are designed to create an experience that transports you to a time and place you love. So, yeah, he’s screwing with you, but it’s all with good intentions. Here are a few of his next tricks, along with some ways to infuse a little Frankie into your next Happy Hour.

If dry ice is a little too advanced, a nice foam, mist or infusion can add a smoke and mirrors effect.

served raw: you’ve been known to create a mini bonfire on your bar to craft a cocktail. what other tricks have you got up your sleeve?
Frankie Solarik: The bonfire is the technique used for preparation of the vanilla hickory-smoked manhattan. We take a pile of hickory chips and throw vanilla pods in, and then set the cocktail on top. The drink itself is made with whiskey, hickory smoked syrup, vanilla-infused cognac and cherry-vanilla bitters. You flame the chips and extinguish them to create smoke and cover everything with a bell jar. The smoke infuses into the manhattan.

Our whole thing is that we place all bitters, syrups and infusions on the bar in 70-ounce jars and take out what we need with ladles so guests see us craft cocktails as they order. They see the vanilla beans in syrups, they see fresh rosemary soaking in rosemary bourbon — we make the experience personal right in front of you.

Essentially you’re talking about sitting at a sushi table watching chefs prepare your order and it’s personal. We do the same thing with cocktails.

With molecular drinks, we’re doing mists, foams, baths and jellies, and things like that. For instance, we’ve got a mojito with a beach essence. I take a bowl about 4 ounces and fill it with coconut oil, hot water and dry ice, so when it’s brought through the floor, it brings the essence of coconut smoke throughout the bar. We’re told it smells like Coppertone, so when the drink is presented your mind recreates the memory of the beach before you even taste it.

We also do a cocktail called the Mad Man, which uses a cigar mist and a tobacco-infused bourbon. When working with tobacco, it can be overpowering and so there are many subtle nuances and edible components to the drink. I work with raw tobacco and still have to be very careful with the amounts used, even with the mists and essences. You’re using the olfactory system to experience the drink by smelling it. There’s also a side of tobacco and cherry jelly cubes.

Warning: Bar-top bonfires are reserved for the highly skilled. Stick with candles and garnishes if you're pyro-technique is still being perfected.

you’ve raised the bar on handcrafting, how are you going to top yourself?
Everything I do is derived from so many different experiences, so I raise my own bar by using ingredients not associated with consumption like tobacco and leather. The idea is to provide an experience that takes guests to a special place outside of a bar so we create special memories through the medium of a cocktail. We’ll often hear someone say their drink smells like a campfire or the fireplace in their cottage, so it correlates to a specific time or place for them. It gives people a warm, happy feeling. That’s my goal.

I drive myself to work with new ingredients like frankincense and different roots and barks that I’m not currently using to see how I can correlate those to new memories. It’s ever evolving and my head is constantly thinking of the next thing.

you’ve been quoted as saying you like “messing with people’s heads” with things like jelly cubes and “ravioli” in drinks … we love that idea! anything that rookies can do to &%*&^% with friends during a cocktail party?
When looking at its most simplistic form, take the idea of infusing. Say you have friends over and they all love gin martinis. If you were to prepare a dill-infused gin or a honey-and-black pepper vermouth, so visually it reminds them of a past experience — they love martinis — but when they taste it, it explodes their whole palate and creates a whole different set of memories. That’s the easiest trick to do at home. Mists like dry ice and liquid nitrogen will just get you hurt. You can also bring the complexity to a cocktail through syrups, like a star anise and cinnamon-infused syrup, which would create a whole new experience when added to a classic drink.

how would you describe the perfect Frankie Solarik cocktailing experience.
My personal favorite experience to provide is to have someone come in who is not necessarily familiar with cocktails or spirits and not actually know what a great cocktail is and I take them through the process of finding out what they like. For example, if a woman tells me she enjoys a gin and tonic, we’ll do a gin base. We know she likes tonic, so she likes something a little bitter. I’ll then create something using that information to give her a whole new perspective on how she enjoys cocktails. For me, a great experience to receive is simply having a person behind the bar who is passionate. Even if I just want a bourbon manhattan, I want it balanced with a couple dashes of bitters. People need more passion and pride in what in they do.

what’s the limit on where this food-meets-glass movement can go?
I kind of stop myself at edible cocktails. I’m not too down with that. You’ve got a margarita sorbet … is it a margarita or sorbet? I stay away from that. I’ll add edible components to my cocktails but I still want a drink. There are so many complexities with mists, smokes and dehydrated components that allow us to provide a whole experience. Even when I present a cocktail on a plate, people are blown away by all the elements that provide and accentuate the main drink. The idea is that you explain to them how to consume the cocktail and what each component is used for. We present drinks the same way a server would present in a restaurant — by discussing the purpose behind each of the four of five components used in the cocktail.

Strawberry-Infused Gin

Frankie Solarik’s infusion 101.

  • 2 quarts strawberries
  • 70 ounces gin
  1. Soak strawberries in gin for 1 ½ weeks in a sealed container.

Thyme-Infused Spiced Rum

Frankie Solarik’s herbal twist on the spirit is best served when mixed with a cold ginger beer.

  • 20 sprigs thyme
  • 50 ounces spiced rum
  1. Soak thyme in spiced rum for 1 ½ weeks in a sealed container.
  2. Shake over ice with ginger beer and strain into a martini glass for an incredible cocktail.