The Modern Mixologist: Tony Abou-Ganim
What do we look for in a cookbook? In no particular order, I might suggest a good recipe, inspiration, permission to be creative and, importantly, entertainment. With that in mind, if you are going to buy just one cookbook this year, you really should make it Tony Abou-Ganim’s stunning new addition to the culinary bookshelf, The Modern Mixologist.
OK, technically it’s not a cookbook, but it deserves to stand shoulder-to-shoulder (or cover-to-cover) with Childs, Batali, Ramsay, et al because it delivers on all the things we have come to expect from the very best in culinary literature.
Like most cookbooks, the star of the show here is the collection of recipes. But don’t think that gives you licence to skim over the chapters preceding them. Yes, I could have done without the history lesson (do I really want to know about “The Spritzer Years” or that Robert “Rosewood” Butt gave us the Long Island Iced Tea), but I can forgive it for what envelops this chapter. We learn in his introduction that this guy has been lining them up for over 30 years. He became hooked on bartending seated at his cousin’s bar in Michigan in 1978 from where he developed his passion for cocktails and the camaraderie of bar life. He has been “spreading the love” ever since. In that time he has found the infusion of “classic cocktail making with modern culinary ingredients and ingenuity” has given credibility to the latest industry moniker: the bar-chef.
And bar-chef he most certainly is. The secret in successful mixology, he says, is “recognizing the flavor profile of each ingredient and how they interact to influence and compliment each other.” And, just like a food-chef, he advocates tasting and more tasting as key to this. It’s “art over science”, he says, and following some simple principles (less is more, starting with a base spirit) he empowers us to create considered, exciting cocktails from home.
Like all chefs, we need the right tools. Abou-Ganim sets out precisely what you might need and how to use them, from the muddler and jigger to the Lewis Bag. Then, with the assistance of thoughtful photographs, he explores the mixing methods called upon to make the perfect cocktail. I hadn’t heard of rolling as a technique in mixing a drink, but I know now why it is used, which type of cocktail requires it and exactly how to do it. The section devoted to mixers and garnishes is, frankly, almost of biblical importance for anyone who wants to take mixology seriously (I had no idea, for instance, that a Balsamic Vinegar Reduction could work in a libation let alone how to make one, or that Grenadine is frequently better made at home!).
And so to the recipes themselves. They are marvellous. Inspirational, in fact, insofar as I want to work my way through the book and make each one (maybe stamping my own personality on one or two, just as he gives you license and encouragement to do). No better tribute to the recipes could be served than by reproducing the very first of the book to tantalize your taste buds: the 323. In a mixing glass add strawberries, basil leaves and balsamic vinegar reduction, and muddle. Add gin and lemon sour. Shake with ice until well blended. Double strain into a chilled cocktail coupe. Garnish with a strawberry half.
Get the book.