Video: ‘World’s Greatest Bartender’ talks craft

Jul. 11, 2012 | 0 Comments

BY JASON GENEGABUS / jason@staradvertiser.com

When the Halekulani decided to rebrand the bar inside its popular French restaurant La Mer, executives didn’t just look on a local — or even national — level.

<em>Colin Field. (Star-Advertiser photo by Bruce Asato)</em>

Colin Field. (Star-Advertiser photo by Bruce Asato)

The hotel went all the way to Paris in order to recruit mixologist Colin Field, who developed a brand new drink list and trained the restaurant’s bar staff on not just how to make the drinks, but the history behind each one as well. Named the “World’s Best Bartender” in 2001 by Forbes, Field is currently employed by the famous Ritz Hotel in Paris.

That’s where Halekulani Chief Operating Officer Peter Shaindlin went calling in December, after a previous trip in 2010 got him thinking about French bar culture in the early 20th century and the popularity of the aperitif, a cocktail designed to help stimulate the stomach before eating a meal. L’Aperitif at La Mer takes the drinks of that era and matches them with a series of small bites developed by Halekulani Executive Chef Vikram Garg.

“There’s always a beginning to something,” said Garg during an interview last month at the hotel. “L’Aperitif is a beginning to a beautiful meal at La Mer. It’s a doorway to a bigger part of the food. It’s something that stimulates your palate and builds your appetite.”

<em>The Serendipity Cocktail at L'Aperitif. (Star-Advertiser photo by Jason Genegabus)</em>

The Serendipity Cocktail at L'Aperitif. (Star-Advertiser photo by Jason Genegabus)

Added Shaindlin, “What we’re finding is that people are coming into L’Aperitif for just a drink and are so enthralled by the experience that they ask for a table, and that’s never happened before.”

Inviting Field to rework the drink program at L’Aperitif was part of Shaindlin’s strategy to keep things simple and straightforward. Instead of getting extravagant with exotic ingredients and presentations, each cocktail pays tribute to the era with classic preparations that aren’t much different than what bartenders in France were doing 100 years ago.

“It’s all about sophistication and simplicity,” Shaindlin said. “Less is more. It’s harder to work with less ingredients and be brilliant. And Colin succeeds.”

Take the Serendipity Cocktail, described on the L’Aperitif menu as “the most fashionable cocktail in France today.” Field developed the drink in 1994, using a “very serious and respected French apple ‘cognac,’ as I would qualify it.” After mixing in some fresh mint, apple juice and sugar, it’s topped with champagne and served with a bite of Big Island goat cheese and pickled beetroot atop a cinnamon tuile.

<em>Preparing an absinthe cocktail at L'Aperitif. (Star-Advertiser photo by Jason Genegabus)</em>

Preparing an absinthe cocktail at L'Aperitif. (Star-Advertiser photo by Jason Genegabus)

Both the food and cocktail look like things you may have ate or drank before, but Garg and Field truly elevate them from simple to sublime. A quick stir should precede the first sip, then follow with the bite of food. Not only does the cocktail taste fantastic on its own, but also pairs nicely with the cheese and beetroot flavors of the accompanying bite.

Other favorites during a visit to L’Aperitif last month were Field’s take on an Old Fashioned and his Havatini, described on the menu as “a concentrated mojito in a martini style.” Again, the drink itself was great, but the accompanying oyster topped with lychee-ginger sorbet had me wondering why I’d never tried these flavor combinations before. Field’s Lillet-based cocktail, the Esprit Chanel , and his Mach 2 — made with Laphroaig whisky and tasting like a glass full of liquefied smoke — are also worth a try.

(Click here to see a scanned copy of the L’Aperitif menu.)

Along with more than a dozen cocktails, each priced at $20, Field brought in the right equipment to offer a proper absinthe program. A number of different brands are available, and the bartenders at L’Aperitif have been trained to stop and share the liquor’s history while preparing the unique water drip, spoon and sugar cube used in making a traditional absinthe cocktail.

“It’s all about simplicity,” said Field. “These cocktails are very precise and take a bit of work to prepare. … My style of training is not to (just) teach people how to make these cocktails. It’s also to help them understand why these cocktails existed.

“Once you spend some time with me, you not only know how to make these cocktails, but you also understand the logic and story behind (them).”

Field took some time to talk about his craft while in Honolulu last month. Here are some of his thoughts on what it was like working in Hawaii, what it takes to make a great bar (and bartender), and why respect is important when making cocktails.

‘Colin Field: Working in Hawaii’

‘Colin Field: Making a Great Bar’

‘Colin Field: Secrets of a Great Bartender’

‘Colin Field: Respecting the Craft’

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“Grind Time” is always looking for the latest places to get your grub on. Email Jason Genegabus with restaurant, bar or any other food/drink-related item at jason@staradvertiser.com.

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